Dominic Allum took a trip to a one of a kind Nottingham music venue, Peggy's Skylight, and shares his thoughts on GoGo Penguin's performance.
Venturing solo to Peggy’s Skylight on a windy Tuesday night, I take up a stool at the centre of the bar, admiring my perfect view of the dimly lit stage. Whilst the instruments remain unattended to, and the rest of the audience are busy being wined and dined (I can only look on with envy at the delicious food being consumed), my eyes wander around the truly beautiful venue, observing the pictures of Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis that line the adjacent wall.
A quincentennial jazz venue, it creates an intimate, cosy atmosphere that oozes sophistication - a setting that therefore requires a fittingly majestic act to inhabit it.
This task was perfected by Manchester trio GoGo Penguin.
Only their fourth gig in two years due to the pandemic, the band has been disrupted not only by the effects of Covid, but by the departure of one of their members. Leaving the group due to ‘creative differences’ (they strike again!), former drummer Rob Turner has since been replaced by fresh-faced Jon Scott. One of the finest drummers working in the UK, he slots effortlessly into the new line-up, immediately playing with a natural ease and endearing joyfulness.
No rust in sight, GoGo Penguin kick off with the back-to-back of Atomised and Signal In The Noise – two tracks from their 2020 album, finally getting a live rendition. A true master of the piano, Chris Illingworth propels the band forward, hammering away at the keys with an intensity that is restrained only by his lightness of touch. I came to the gig thinking various melodies on the latest album must have been achieved using a loop, yet as I watch Illingworth play with one hand on top of the other, sustaining challenging rhythms in a far from easy tempo, I realise this is not the case.
''The audience is given a chance to catch their breath back and reflect on the musical masterclass just witnessed''
Breath-taking is a word that can often be overused, but it seems the only one suitable to describe the wall of sound GoGo Penguin create from just 3 people. Whether it is the frenetic energy of Kora or the enchanting twists and turns of fan favourite Bardo, the band transfix those in attendance, knowing exactly when to slice through the noise with moments of captivating quietude.
As the band leave the stage for an interval (a sight rarely seen at gigs), the audience is given a chance to catch their breath back and reflect on the musical masterclass just witnessed. What then follows for me is perhaps one of the more surreal 15 minutes I’ve experienced at a gig…
Turning to my left, I begin chatting to the man next to me at the bar. Informing me that Sleaford Mods once opened for his band back in the day when he was living above Rough Trade, he represents one of the many loveable misfits and rouges to be found down the backstreets of Hockley. As we sip on our pints, he leans over with a mischievous grin, offering a game to help pass the time.
“How would you rate everyone in the audience’s hair from 1-10?”
He states casually in a manner that suggests this isn’t the first time he’s played this game.
“Who would be your 10/10 hair – the cream of the crop – and who would be your 1/10 hair – time for a chop?” (Yes, he actually said this).
Deciding to partake in his challenge, I gaze around the room for a few moments, before offering my verdict.
“That’s exactly what I thought!”
He shouts, smiling like a mischievous school boy, before offering me a tenner to go and tell the person I’ve just rated as having 1/10 hair my judgemental verdict. Although incredibly broke, and a tenner seeming a fruitful reward for very little work, I decide to pass on this offer. My desire not to cause offence this time outweighing my desire to be one step closer out of my overdraft.
He looks around the room once more, clearly searching for inspiration for his next question, however before a new game can commence, GoGo Penguin return to the stage to a hearty applause.
''Its spellbinding minimalism retaining everything that is to love about their classic sound''
…Back to the music.
Picking up their instruments, they storm into brand new single Ascent. Not even officially released yet, the audience are treated to its live debut, its spellbinding minimalism retaining everything that is to love about their classic sound, whilst still showing new inventiveness in the textured layering of their instruments.
With the audience under their thumb, the trio delight once more, Nick Blacka dancing with his double bass as he alternates between bow techniques and fingerpicking, plucking the strings with a concentrated urgency. As the evening builds and builds, the band reach a crescendo in the form of One Percent, its stomping, relentless outro resulting in a standing ovation that is more than deserved.
Whilst the crowd refuse to return to their seats, Blacka addresses the audience with a heartfelt sense of gratitude at being back in front of live audiences. As they finish with the gift of GoGo Penguin classics Hopopono and Protest, it is clear the rest of the band share these sentiments, with glances being passed between each other and the audience as a feeling of communal delight fully envelops the room.
One of those truly special performances that lingers in your head long after the venue doors have been locked, and the band have moved onto a new city. Hopefully it won’t be too long again before they return to ours.
Edited by: Amrit Virdi