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Date: 20/07/13

Penguin Café Orchestra - "Air" (1984)

There's one of tham thar 'meme' thangs on the loose again, pardners! Time to round the boys up and head them off at the pass!

"Head them off at the pass!!? I hate that expression!!" <BANG!>

I got it from Louise, who got it from Phil, who - first time round - got it from Anna, who got it from Ned, who got it from Phil Freeman, who got it from Simon Reynolds, who got it from Dan, who...well, as you can see, it's been around a bit.

Bearing in mind that the current hot, puthery weather is not likely to last, and never wanting to miss out on an opportunity to show how au fait I am with what's going on out there, I started a list of my own...only to find that, firstly, I could only come up with six tracks which really hit the spot; and secondly, that I had written about five of them before. Like here, here, here, here, and here.

One track I haven't talked about, though, and whilst it has nothing on the face of it to do with summer as such, it conjures up an image and an atmosphere which I associate with summer. Bizarrely, however, the image and atmosphere it invokes is one from a good couple of decades before I'd ever heard the piece in question, and more than a decade before it had even been written.

About the piece first: it's Air by the Penguin Café Orchestra, the eclectic group led by composer and musician Simon Jeffes (1949 - 1997), and features on their third album Broadcasting From Home. It was written - as all PCO's material was, either totally or in part - by Jeffes, and features the standard line-up of the band at that time, augmented by the electric violin of Marcus Beale.

Now to the image in my mind. I have a picture - a clear one - of standing on the bridge (since filled in) on Railway Road, looking east across the bottom of the valley to Alfie Green's haulage yard and up the deep-green, tree-covered slope leading to the houses, the chapel and the woodyard on Clayton Road. It is mid-summer, the sun is out and whilst there are no clouds in the sky, the air has a faint haze to it caused by the thin cloud of fine dust being blown slowly out of the steelworks which stands to the right of my vantage point. The steelworks is just about to go into its annual two-week shutdown for maintenance, which is the only time of the year when the dust didn't feature.

The thing is, although this picture is very strong and clear in my mind's eye, I can't guarantee that I ever actually saw it quite like that. At that age (I would have been about ten at the time), I would seldom have ventured down that end of the village, and would probably have been too wrapped up in myself to notice my surroundings very much if I had.

Perhaps it exists in my head merely as an ideal of what a hot, sunny July day would have looked like from that vantage point.

Wheresoever it comes from, though, it is what is conjured up by this sublimely atmospheric piece, a form of heathaze in musical notation, and a tribute to Simon Jeffes' abilities as a composer.

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