Erased Tapes has the privilege of reissuing Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s final studio album Union Cafe, including a vinyl edition for the first time, out December 1to coincide with the 20th Anniversary of Simon Jeffes’ passing in 1997. The Penguin Cafe Orchestra was the brainchild of the English composer and multi-instrumentalist Simon Jeffes (1949-1997). It was 1972 in the South of France when Simon had an unfortunate experience with food poisoning which lead to a much more fortunate circumstance when a vivid dream, induced from his illness and depicting a dystopian future, conceived the Penguin Cafe Orchestra; a charming place where solace, harmony, and the orchestra’s unique music could be found amidst brutal concrete structures and darkness. For the following 25 years, Simon carried out this vision bringing brightness into a world full of noise. Sadly, after his passing, the original orchestra disbanded, but the doors to this happy place reopened when his son Arthur Jeffes decided to continue his father’s legacy under the name Penguin Cafe.
Speaking about the record, Arthur Jeffes said: “Union Cafe marked a move towards a definitive English pastoral sound combined with larger string arrangements set against longer solo piano pieces. With this last album they got even closer to the PCO idea of squaring the circle of intellectually challenging modern music that is still actually beautiful. For me this has always been a contender as my favourite PCO album, and the fact that it never ended up on vinyl was more to do with the way things were in the early ‘90s, and chance rather than it being deliberate. So in that sense this release is righting an old wrong. The slow development of the pieces means that you can really get lost in them and vinyl is of course the perfect way to do that.”
Growing up, Simon Jeffes travelled all over the world as his father’s work entailed many foreign postings, his early life was spent on the move around Canada and Europe. He played in an R’n’B band at school and when he left, he studied classical guitar and music theory at music college. Swiftly disillusioned with the factory-like conditions in which he was being taught, Jeffes dropped out and joined a 10 piece avant garde guitar ensemble, Gilberto Biberian’s Omega Players. Following this, in 1972 he got on the Trans Siberian Railway and spent four months at the other end in Japan. This was where he first became interested in ethnic music, particularly African sounds, which you can often hear on the work of PCO.
The music of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Simon broadly regarded as “a very big yes to the survival of the heart in a time when the heart is under attack from the forces of coldness, darkness and repression.” When forced to describe it more precisely, he called his music “imaginary folklore” and “modern semi-acoustic chamber music.” Simon Jeffes always conceived his Orchestra to be a fluctuating unit rather than a tightly cast group: aside from one other founder member, the cellist Helen Liebmann, there were no regular performers. Dozens of players passed though the Orchestra’s ranks in the 24 years of its young life. “It is my context as a composer,” he said. “I write for people rather than instruments.” The line up on Union Cafe included Annie Whitehead, Ian Maidman, Julio Segovia, Jeffes’ old friends and allies Geoffrey Richardson and Neil Rennie and of course, Helen Liebmann.
Union Cafe was the fifth, and the last studio album by Penguin Cafe Orchestra. It was initially released in 1993 merely on cassette and CD, and will now be given a new breath of life, for the first time available on vinyl, and another chance to reach old and new fans alike.
The continuation of the PCO began at London’s Union Chapel in 2007 when Arthur and the original musicians commemorated Simon 10 years after his death. Another 10 years forward, 2017 will see Penguin Cafe pay tribute to him once again at the Union Chapel on December 11 where they will perform Union Cafe in full – a union from all corners of this magical world.
'Union Cafe' tracklisting:
1. Scherzo And Trio
2. Lifeboat (Lovers Rock)
3. Nothing Really Blue
4. Cage Dead
6. Yodel 3
8. Another One From Porlock
9. Thorn Tree Wind
10. Silver Star Of Bologna
11. Discover America
12. Pythagoras On The Line
13. Kora Kora
14. Lie Back And Think Of England
15. Red Shorts
16. Passing Through