Instruments of pleasure: (5) Natalie MacMaster and the magic of Cape Breton
Bella Ciao; big on Netflix, remembered from the 1960s London-Irish folk scene, discouraged in Italy

Instruments of pleasure: (6) Music for a Found Harmonium by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Patrick Street or Sharon Shannon

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Simon Jeffes: I found this album at Amazon

 

Twenty-three years have passed since the untimely death of Simon Jeffes, co-founder with Helen Liebmann of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and getting on for 40 since he wrote Music For a Found Harmonium on an instrument he found in a back street of Kyoto.

It is a simple but startling piece of music, much more impressive to my ears than the ensemble's Telephone and Rubber Band, acclaimed by some as its most notable work.

 

.

It repeatedly crops up in the repertoire of Irish traditional musicians.

I first heard it played by Sharon Shannon but there are versions galore, including - and here I am indebted to "Claymore" and his reference at the Mudcat folk discussion group many years ago - a "West Va" variant used "as a clogging piece, getting faster and faster" renamed Pandemonium. I am unsure as to whether West Va means Virginia or Vancouver.

Someone else in the same Mudcat thread, "Clinical Celt" wrote of the Patrick Street version: 'The rhythm guitar is really brilliant [except that he had a different way of saying really - Ed]! I'm a pretty fair bluegrass/celtic guitar player, but this guy (whoever he/she is) makes me feel like an idiot."

It appears the guitar player may have been either Ged Foley or the late Arty McGlynn, both outstanding musicians, depending on which Patrick Street line-up was being refereed to.

I chose not to include this item in the Cover Story series, mainly because I couldn't locate the Pandemonium adaptation mentioned above. 

But of the three I feature, I prefer Patrick Street. Perhaps readers will know better and think differently. And I am entirely sure others will champion interpretations I have overlooked . 

Comments

Bill Taylor

This is certainly PCO's most iconic piece - I first heard it (and them) when I saw a lovely and much under-rated Australian movie from 1986 called "Malcolm." This was the music from it. Coincidentally, I was in Australia in 1994 and found a cache of Penguin Cafe CDs at a flea market in Fremantle. Grabbed them all. A few years later, the exact date escapes me, Lesley and I saw the band live in Toronto - not exactly the original lineup but still one-of-a-kind and quite wonderful.
Penguin Cafe's original "Music for a Found Harmonium" is by far the best. Patrick Street's version adds nothing and perhaps takes something away. Sharon Shannon's is simply annoying.

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