From Celtic folk to avant classical minimalism, the PCO's eclectic career compiled in...
Suzanne Hutson 2002
If you are in any doubt as to who The Penguin Café Orchestra are, think back to that quirky tune on the One2One advert made up of telephone dial tones and jerky violin ? Yes, that's them. Or more precisely, him; the Penguin Café Orchestra was founded in the mid 70s by one man, the late British composer Simon Jeffes, as a soundtrack for a fantasy café whose daily specials were the re-written laws of physics and music.
A former music student, Jeffes' dream - which came to him during a bout of food poisoning in the early 70s - was to write and perform music which drew on styles and cultures all over the world. The PCO was the realisation of this dream, and A Brief History shows off the huge range of influences which shaped the PCO's charmingly unique and eccentric sound. It's all in there, chirpy Celtic folk tunes, minimalist drones, choral chants; and through it all, an almost hypnotic rhythmic repetitiveness which brings a dreamy, sleepy quality to even the livelier tunes.
Today, Jeffes' music remains delightfully unclassifiable, whilst its accessibility makes it beloved of advertisers and Café del Mar chill-out album compilers alike. In the 70s however the PCO was radical, even revolutionary, catching the attention of Brian Eno who signed them to his Obscure label. Other evidence of Jeffes' eclecticism; brought in as producer by Malcolm McLaren to raise Adam and the Ants from punk to pop and chart stardom; arranged the strings on Sid Vicious' version of "My Way". Need I say more?
A review cannot really do credit to this album. The PCO is a legend, and the music on A Brief History tells the story of an immensely creative and joyous force in music. Irrepressibly chirpy, irresistibly quirky and undeniably original, here is music to bring sunshine to a Sunday morning.