THE music of Simon Jeffes’ Penguin Café Orchestra remains inescapable – almost 14 years after he died of a brain tumour.

The Orchestra were a free-thinking folk collective, led by classically-trained British guitarist, composer and arranger Simon, who played a dazzling array of unusual instruments, including the cuatro, ukulele, omnichord, penny whistle, ring modulator, rubber band, milk bottle, soloban, spinet and electric aeolian harp.

You may think you haven’t heard of the group, co-founded by Helen Liebmann, but you will definitely have heard their best-known tracks Perpetuum Mobile and Music for a Found Harmonium, both of which continue to feature in films, on television and on high-profile advertisements.

Now his son Arthur Jeffes is carrying on his family’s legacy, touring with a new ensemble entitled Penguin Café. And, as he explains, its evolution wasn’t calculated in any way.

“In 2007 (for the 10th anniversary of his father’s death), we got together with members of the old band, my dad’s line-up when they last played, and performed three dates at the Union Chapel in London.

“It was lovely to hear the music being played live again to an audience. It was a really world-changing experience.”

Quite a number of the original band didn’t feel that they wanted to continue in the same vein and so Arthur mulled over the possibilities for a year or so. Things came to a head when he was asked to play some of his dad’s music in a small festival in Italy.

“There were just four of us and we played a bunch of the old tunes. This new experience felt so right in so many ways and I didn’t want to stop it. A few more people started playing with us and we got asked to play in places and to do a few more concerts, and it snowballed, really.

“And we have moved forward – last year we played at the Albert Hall. The following that my dad’s music has, what it represents, the enthusiasm for that is still out there for it and for this style of playing and writing. It’s inclusive and, above all, very generous, and there’s a real space for it, especially now.”

The new tour is coming to The Anvil on Thursday, February 10, at 7.45pm, where Penguin Café will play alongside the Portico Quartet under the banner of Music Beyond Mainstream.

Arthur says: “My dad had a slightly prophetic vision of the future where everything is desensitised and dehumanised, and there’s a great big camera in the corner watching everything that you do – like the more grim aspects of The X Factor world. Although I would say that anyone playing music, however it comes about, is going to be a worthwhile enterprise in some way.”

It’s a real treat for me to chat to Arthur as I have always loved his dad’s work. I even have the opportunity to ask if there’s any link between the group and the penguins in Mary Poppins who, of course, run a café!

Arthur laughs: “I guess he must have seen Mary Poppins and maybe... I have always wondered that myself.”

Does he have any anxiety about tackling such a beloved body of work, which he’s adding to with his own new Penguin Café album?

“I was concerned that I didn’t want to dilute the original idea. We’re revisiting it in a way that I don’t think has been done before. It’s important that we keep the principles and ideals very much in mind when we move forward.

“These new pieces have come out while we have been playing my dad’s music. Writing within this Penguin Café world is a very productive and fertile way for me to focus on the compositions. It’s a comforting umbrella which lets us explore and develop.

“All the fans come up after gigs and really encourage us not to just become a museum of the old stuff. While it feels right and is being well received, we have to keep a very careful check that it’s just not for the sake of it.”

And will he try to bring the former members all on board again in the future?

“I had the idea of a Penguin Café festival where we could perhaps invite everyone who has been involved over the years. We could work out common themes – it would be lovely.”

So what does he think his dad would have thought of his career change (Arthur studied archaeology at university)?

“I definitely grew up with a healthy fascination with all the myriad instruments lying around but my dad was always very careful not to encourage me into music. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

“I think once he died, and I became involved the heritage, it became more and more that the language I could speak best is musical.”

Tickets to see Penguin Café and the Portico Quartet at The Anvil, priced £15, concessions £9, are available from the box office on 01256 844244 or online at