Music Q&A: Penguin Café Orchestra

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Arthur Jeffes continues the legacy of his father Simon’s band Penguin Café Orchestra with a new collection of musicians. Album The Red Book is out on 17 Feb and they play RNCM, Manchester, 21 Feb; Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 22 Feb; and City Hall Ballroom, Sheffield, 26 Feb.

Some bands fight not to be pinned down by a legacy, but you seem to have taken the opposite approach. Why do this?

Having played a series of gigs with my dad’s old band in 2007 to mark ten years since his death, I’d not planned to do anything else with his music. Then about a year after those gigs a friend was organising a tiny music festival in Italy and asked if I could bring a few friends and play some of my dad’s tunes. I did, then one thing led to another and we kept adding friends to the line-up so we could play this track or that. By the summer of that next year we were playing to thousands of people at Glastonbury and the year after that at the Proms at the Albert Hall – all because people missed my dad’s music just as much as I did. From there we started adding new pieces as they emerged and seemed to fit. I’m very glad it went the way it did.

When did you begin writing  and how collaborative was it?

It really started at the end of 2012 when I was doing some commissions for NASA in San Fransisco. It was more collaborative than our first in the sense that we didn’t do it with a deadline in mind so all the tracks took shape organically and according to who was about and in the mood.

Have members Neil Codling [Suede] and Cass Browne [Senseless Things, Gorillaz] given you a different musical perspective?

Cass brought in this amazing log drum the size of a sofa and we wrote a couple of tunes based around that – not quite hip-hop but a pretty hefty percussion-base. Neil is such a great musician that he could no doubt pass in any genre-specific band without anyone suspecting another background.

Do you feel more or less inclined towards eccentricity than your dad?

I think if we can explore ideas and experiment with stuff while still writing music that connects with the human heart then we’re being true to the musical world my dad created.

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