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Penguin Cafe at Birmingham Town Hall

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by dpm (subscribe)
dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Music inspired by Antarctica
Penguin Café kicked off their 2019 tour at Birmingham's Town Hall and it was with some regret that they announced that on the first day someone had stolen their tour van! Still, not to be daunted, the band had reached Birmingham and will no doubt follow through the rest of the tour – with or without their van.

The new album, Handfuls of Night, began life as a commission from environmental charity Greenpeace to create tracks inspired by penguins in the Antarctic. Initially four pieces of music, all linked to a different species of penguin, it has now been expanded into a full album and the tour sees the group performing the entire album live.

Penguin Cafe at Birmingham Town Hall
Penguin Cafe

Each of the penguin tracks focuses on an element of the bird so Chinstrap evokes the gregarious nature of these sociable penguins, Gentoo aims to capture the birds' movement as they dive deep into the ocean, Adelie pictures the bubbles rising through the water as the penguins bullet through the waves and Emperor Origin recalls those huddles of freezing emperors in punishing blizzards.

Other tracks on the album and performed live evoke the beauty, vastness and yet vulnerability of the Antarctic with songs including Winter Sun, Midnight Sun and At The Top of the Hill, They Stood.

The original Penguin Café was founded by the late Simon Jeffes and the current Penguin Café was formed in 2009 by his son Arthur who keeps alive his father's legacy. He does this by creating new work in a similar vein but also performing live music from the original orchestra. So after the interval, the audience was treated to more familiar music including Perpetuum Mobile, The Sound of Someone You Love Going Away and It Doesn't Matter, and the ever-popular Music for a Found Harmonium.

There was also plenty of opportunity to hear Penguin Café tracks from their previous albums including That, Not That from A Matter of Life…and Ricecar, Protection and Wheels Within Wheels from The Imperfect Sea.

Presenting the concert and explaining a little behind many of the songs was Arthur, steadfastly paying tribute to his father and his father's legacy. A short encore included Arthur playing Harry Piers, his piano solo in memory of his father, and Rescue – which is apparently about a guy who is rescued from sinking into a sand dune!

Penguin Café's new album is officially released on 4 October but audiences in Birmingham and beyond have had a sneak preview which proves the group is keeping alive the innovative and eclectic music which was Penguin Café Orchestra. For full details of the tour go to

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Why? Eclectic and innovative music performed live
When: 28 September then on tour
Phone: 0121 780 3333
Where: Birmingham Town Hall
Cost: From £22.50
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