Founder of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra


The obituary below was taken from the original official Penguin Cafe Orchestra site,, which no longer exists (so don't try the link!).

Simon Jeffes on the steps of Wilton Church, Wilton - September 1994

Photograph by Roger Elliot - 1994
(Reprinted with permission)

Simon Jeffes

The proprietor of the Penguin Cafe has died. Simon Jeffes died on the late afternoon yesterday, 11th December [1997], following treatment of a serious brain tumour. He died peacefully in the company of his son Arthur and his close partner Helen Liebman.

In 1972 in the south of France, following a dream, a poem came to Jeffes, on the beach. It began "I am the proprietor of the Penguin Cafe. I will tell you things at random".

The Penguin Cafe Orchestra was formed by Jeffes in response to his dream. At that time there seemed to be no context for the music that Jeffes was writing. The Penguin Cafe became the umbrella under which he worked. It would exist at any time in any place. In 1973 the first Penguin Cafe Orchestra album was released, "Music from the Penguin Cafe", on Brian Eno's Obscure label. This was the beginning of a new genre of music, accessible, revolutionary and minimal at once. Jeffes himself described it as follows:

"Ideally I suppose it is the sort of music you want to hear, music that will lift your spirit. It is the sort of music played by imagined wild, free mountain people creating sounds of a subtle dream-like quality. It is cafe music, but cafe in the sense of a place where people's spirits communicate and mingle, a place where music is played but often touches the heart of the listener".

Simon Jeffes was born in Sussex in 1949. Much of his childhood was spent in Canada. After returning to England with his family, he studied classical guitar. He worked both in the avant garde melier and in the rock world where he became involved in experimental collaborations and wrote orchestral arrangements for singers and groups. At this time he was perhaps best known for his arrangement of "My Way" as performed by Sid Vicious in "The Great Rock & Roll Swindle".

Since the formation of the PCO, Jeffes and the Orchestra have consistently worked on an independent path. A series of albums have emerged, most recently, "Union Cafe" and the live studio album "Concert Program" which encapsulates the live studio performances of PCO in its most recent incarnation.

In the last three years Jeffes's direction changed. He moved to Somerset with his close companion and partner Helen Liebman and built a new studio. He was working on new pieces when he found that he was suffering from a rare form of brain tumour. He bore his illness with good humour and until very recently was continuing work on his musical ideas.

"The Proprietor went on to explain his cafe. He said that the random, chance element in life is totally vital. It is through fear we allow the repression of spontaneous and unpredictable actions and events in order to make life "safer", the creativity that arises naturally from the hurly burly of human life could be destroyed and lost. He kept saying "Come to the Penguin Cafe where things just aren't like that !"



This page was last updated on 26/07/06