I have seen them live several times, so I leapt at the chance to buy tickets for their performance at the Snape Proms tonight. There was no disappointment. They were supported by Tom Baxter, a singer songwriter who played guitar in a very classical fashion. He explained he had spent a long time travelling and living in India which had influenced his song writing. His original material was touching and sweet and he often referred to the work of Rumi poets. His guitar playing very skilful and he had a strong voice, high at times, and a nice presentation manner.
His set included one or two of the Penguin Café musicians and eventually they were all on stage. I thought that Tom's voice complemented the sound of Penguin Cafe very well. After an interval Penguin Café filled the stage, and introduced by Arthur they wove a complex and layered set of old numbers performed by the original PCO and new work that has been developed in the three or four years of the reboot. Fascinating to watch was the harmonium working with its back off so you could see the pedals, levers and bellows working. The musicians swapped instruments with ease, including ukuleles, glockenspiel and melodian. Tom Baxter came back in stage several times though not to sing. It turns out they had all spent quite a lot of time together playing in Italy and on tour, obviously a welcome addition although the man sitting next to me found him 'boring' as he kept telling us all in a loud stage whisper and he grumbled about the sound production, Snape Maltings, the middle-class audience and everything else it seemed all the way through which was distracting (go home if you don't like it!). Thankfully he did eventually and left us in peace.
It was great to see young, cool (mostly male apart from a female cellist) musicians playing traditional instruments such as violin, viola, piano with real skill and virtuosity but having real fun, less formal than a traditional orchestra but using the same talents.
Using the original PCO repertoire is a smart move as there is lots of very good work which is well known and favourite amongst long-standing fans such as myself but it is refreshed by the new work of the next generation of penguins.
I will be looking out for their next gig soon.
* sorry no photos for this post - which is a shame as none were allowed even in the interval so Penguin Cafe lose out on that bit of free publicity I guess