Review: Penguin Cafe, Bury St Edmunds Festival, The Apex, Sunday May 22

Penguin Cafe, Bury St Edmunds Festival, The Apex, Sunday May 22

Trying to categorise the music of the Penguin Caf� is , it has to be said, rather tricky. As a ‘re-booting’ of the Penguin Caf� Orchestra, and led by Arthur Jeffs, son of the founder Simon Jeffes who died in 1997, the band mostly plays the original repertoire, with just a few new compositions.

That the music means a great deal to people is clear, from the size of the audience on Sunday evening and the standing ovation at the end. But what exactly is it?

Elements of folk and minimalism are blended in a curious gentle, simple musical style, reliant on repetition, limited harmony, steady rhythms, short melodic phrases, and a texture which incorporates piano, strings, percussion and various plucked instruments.

Basically it’s a unique phenomenon which does not fit easily under a standard heading. The audience on Sunday evening was a mixed bunch – from quite young children to the elderly – again testament to a wide-ranging appeal which defies categorisation.


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The opening bars of the best known pieces – Aerodancing, Music for a Found Harmonium and Telephone and Rubber band were met with recognition and applause. One of the original pieces Southern Jukebox Music, was played by this band for the first time.

The four new pieces played contained some interesting musical features, whilst retaining the basic elements of the original genre.

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The atmosphere at this concert was quite captivating, drawing you in with its hypnotic and relaxing sounds - both a tribute to something from the past and an indication that there’s plenty of life left in this eccentric and individual style.

Wynn Rees

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