Details from the Wilton Church concert,
during the Salisbury Festival

Penguin Cafe Orchestra publicity photograph


Air a Danser

This was written in 1978 after hearing a piece of Madagascan zither music bought to my attention by Rocky who worked at the Village Bookshop in Regent Street. He had a wonderful knack of sifting through the records in his shop and presenting his customers with a gem or two every visit. Air a Danser is not Madagascan zither music of course, more of an Englishman's reaction on hearing it.

Cage Dead version 2.0

In August 1992 when I heard of the death of John Cage I immediately recognised his influence and how he would be missed. At the same time I recognised his name as a strong melodic / harmonic cell and quickly wrote this piece which simply spells his name in canon over four octaves, three durations and two transpositions a fourth up and a fourth down. There are endless variations presenting themselves and this is version 2.0. The only unregulated element is the piano part which plays the notes DEAD in free time.


While I was working on this piece I met and worked with Kathryn Tickell, year's Festival). I can't exactly remember at what stage in the writing of the piece I involved her, but it is, very much concerned with continuous melody, drones and reedy sounds, all ideal for the Northumbrian small pipes which is how we originally recorded it. Tonight's version features strings, harmonium and piano playing the melody which show really that instrumentation is a question of function rather than classification.

Southern Jukebox Music

When I wrote this piece in 1984 it felt somehow related to the distantly remembered country music I had heard in the early sixties, particularly Floyd Cramer Around this time I visited a bar in the swamps of Louisiana which had an amazing selection on its jukebox both of Cajun and country music. My dream was for this piece to be heard on this same machine one day.

Numbers I to 4

A long term source of inspiration has been the observation that within the fabric of sound, especially, 'musical' sound there are clearly discernable numerical patterns and relationships which can in turn be applied to compositional structures. This piece celebrates this fact, the main melody being derived from the major triad, which can be seen here as the fourth, fifth and sixth harmonics of the harmonic series, while the rhythms and changes result from further simple numerical juxtapositions.


For a while in the early 80's I was very taken with Pibroch, which could be crudely described as classical Scottish bagpipe music. This piece reflects the structural device of repeating the pentatonic melody with increasing ornamentation, though in this instance in a fairly rudimentary way. The central diversion is pure (basically) pentatonic fantasy.

Perpetuum Mobile

This piece gets its name from the phrase heard throughout either whilst being changed by what is going on around it or when it itself explores a few other possibilities only to be returned to its own 'groove'.

Nothing Really Blue

This is one of the pieces that seems to progress by finding the smallest movement possible to effect a fundamental harmonic change, and then again and again. This one seems to have picked up a whiff of something from the American South, hence the title.

Telephone and Rubber Band

While making a phone call in 1980 I got a combination of a ringing tone and engaged tone. It was very musical and I recorded it immediately. I then made a tape loop of it and performed a few other instruments with it including a rubber band stretched on the back of a chair. We've been playing with this tape for 14 years and the fact that the recording of the phone is that old is beginning to lend the piece an unexpected air of nostalgia.


So called because of an apocryphal story of Pythagoras being chased by assassins. When he found himself at the edge of a beanfield, due to his rule of having nothing whatsoever to do with beans, he was unable to escape and thus faced the unfortunate consequences. This is reinforced by the beans in Zydeco.


When I wrote this piece I was to find it modulating in a rather conventional way. However this is how I wanted it to be. A case of spontaneous modulation. When it was performed in the open air in Bologna in the summer of 199I it still had no name and a query to the audience concerning a particularly bright star overhead brought the response 'Vega'!

Surface Tension (where the trees meet the sky)

The second (though earlier) piece starts with a fifth on C and using the seventh harmonic as the agitator and then moves around using small changes of interval in a search for resolution.

Oscar Tango

After I wrote this I thought it resembled a Tango but realising that I was no expert I gave it a name that partly suggested the kind of alphabet used in radio communication to demonstrate the non-authentic use of the term.

Music for a Found Harmonium

Walking one evening in Kyoto in 1982 I found a harmonium on the top of other bits of scrap wood apparently discarded in the street. On contacting the owner who was indifferent to its future I took possession. I played it a great deal for a few weeks and this piece is one of the fruits of this experience.

Lifeboat (lover's rock)

For a long time I have been very interested in Venezuelan music and the cuatro has been a favourite instrument. It is unique to Venezuela. When I had the opportunity to visit Caracas I acquired a new cuatro immediately and played it in my hotel room. This piece emerged. The bracketed 'lover's rock' is, as well as being dead romantic, a nod towards the value and inspiration of reggae.

Steady State

So called because it is built on a steadily repeated four bar pattern that accompanies the melody first solo, then harmonized, then as a round.

Scherzo and Trio

Initially a name for this piece was elusive so I opted for an 'off the peg' title that seemed appropriate and inappropriate in equal measure.

Giles Farnaby's Dream

Originally composed in London in the sixteenth century by Giles Farnaby, this piece is well known in early music circles. When I first heard it at a harpsichord recital in a gorgeous renaissance room in Florence, I was bowled over by the vision of the harmony. It has stayed with me ever since and it was a real collision of influences -English renaissance/ Venezuelan traditional (jarobo) - which took place when I concocted this arrangement in 1976. This one is, I freely and openly admit, a genuine and blatant crossbreed.

Simon Jeffes 1994


Simon Jeffes

Early on as a composer he found himself parting ways with the established avant-garde. After exploring the ambiance of rock and ethnic music he formed the Penguin Cafe Orchestra in 1973 which by its nature freed him from the constraints which go with being part of a particular musical 'culture'. He has worked also with Carmel, Caravan, 101ers, Sex Pistols/Malcolm MacLaren, Andre Gregory, Twyla Tharp, Mort Shuman, David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto and most recently Baaba Maal. David Bintley's ballet Still Life, at the Penguin Cafe for which Jeffes orchestrated eight of his pieces is in repertory at the Royal Ballet.

The Penguin Cafe Orchestra

Penguin Cafe Orchestra was formed in 1972 by Simon Jeffes following the manifesto contained in a spontaneous poem about the Penguin Cafe. At that time there seemed to be no context for the kind of music that Jeffes was writing and the notion of the Penguin Cafe became the umbrella under which he worked. Since then Jeffes and the Orchestra have consistently worked in an independent way and their work has been recorded on a series of albums, the most recent being Union Cafe on the ZOPF label (distributed by Polygram). The Orchestra has performed throughout tile world and television appearances have included a South Bank Show devoted to them.


This page was last updated on 26/07/06