Monday, February 17, 2014

Penguins in Deal

The Orchestra That Fell To Earth
The Lighthouse, Deal
Saturday 15th February 2014

This place opened over the winter while I was away, part of the ongoing evolution and expansion of the vibrant music scene in Deal. I'm guessing TOTFTE got this booking off the back of their ecstatically received late-night woodland set at Smugglers Festival (near Deal) last summer.

It's the same five-piece that I've seen a few times now (Annie Whitehead, Jen Maidman, Steve Fletcher, Geoffrey Richardson and Liam Genocky), playing more-or-less the same set of Penguin Cafe Orchestra material (plus a coda of their own invention, and an encore-coda of Harry Belafonte's "Yellow Bird" which had everyone singing along). I think there were a couple of pieces they've brought into their repertoire since last summer, though. Annie played another stringed instrument (a cuatro? or some kind of bass ukelele?) on at least one number, as well as her usual minimalist bass playing on another, so I think that was a new development. Otherwise she played her usual brilliant trombone, Jen played everything, Geoffrey switched between violin, viola, ukele, tres (I think), Steve on keyboard, harmonium and at least one stringed instrument, Liam on assorted percussion (including his zebra-skin drum). Geoffrey shared some more anecdotes about PCO leader Simon Jeffes and his time in the group, mostly ones I'd not heard before. Jeffes seems like he was a really interesting person... the brilliance of the music speaks for itself.

From "Air A Danser" through to the "In the Back of a Taxi" encore (with said coda) they had the place spellbound. Although it's basically a pub (with revolving doors!), people were mostly seated, faced the stage, and listened respectfully throughout. A lot of love and respect for the musicians was clearly evident in the audience (mostly from the same age bracket, although most of Cocos Lovers and some other younger Deal music-heads were there). Nice mix from Dave Hatton, all the Penguins looking like they were having a great time. "Liam's beard is feeding back" joked Jen as Dave dealt with a minor feedback issue while Liam reknotted his remarkable beard to stop it interfering with whatever he was about to percuss upon.

As with Arlet a couple of nights earlier, I was reminded that four or five of the right musicians, sufficiently attuned and well set-up, can, with acoustic instruments, do everything that a full-on electric psychedelic band can do, in terms of trance-inducement, rhythmic 'breathing', texturing, drive, pulse and dynamics. The intriguing "Numbers 1–4" early on in the first set had me completely gone in the way live Hawkwind or Gong might.


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