Go Go Penguin talks influences, famous friends and tequila on tour

A couple of months ago, our in-office DJ, Angelica, played an album that piqued my attention and ripped me away from who-even-knows-what-I-was-meant-to-be-doing. That album was Go Go Penguin’s Man Made Object.

That album is musical perfection.

Their soundcheck came with complications and threatened to get in the way of my interview with the Manchester-based trio, but I wasn’t going anywhere. Just as the two-hour mark saw me getting nervous, my knight in, well, all black, announced that, “Go Go Penguin [were] on their way!”

Quickly I rearranged the conference room so that it didn’t feel so formal and just as I’d positioned them in the perfect spot for the selfie I was going to take with them, they came strolling in – pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, drummer Rob Turner, and manager Joe.

I had them sat in front of me in a neat row. They look like obedient school kids but that image is quickly shattered when I ask them about their CPT trip so far.

“Well,” Nick starts, “nothing really touristy. We went to a bar and got smashed! But it was accidental!” It always is, isn’t it? Chris interrupts: “I got lotsa friends here in CPT and we went to meet them. It was a sunny day and things just sort of snowballed, you know?” Yes, I do know.

One of the friends they were referring to was an incredible lady, Alliz, whom I would go on to meet over dinner two hours from that moment. Amongst the collection of bands she manages is American jazz funktronica duo KNOWER, who were also on the jazz fest line-up for that night.

Turns out that KNOWER were right there beside them, soaking up all the sun and tequila that Yours Truly on Kloof has to offer. “It was the first time we actually had a bit of a conversation with them, you know, rather than just seeing them in passing, says Nick.

We go on to talk about other bands they’ve shared line-ups with. Coming up, a regular on their line-up was singer/songwriter Dowdy Matsiko. “We’ve toured with him a lot. I guess it’s ‘cause we get on with him so well,” muses Nick. “And we love his music”. Maybe it was his accent, maybe it’s my spelling, or maybe Dowdy is lousy at social media, but I couldn’t find his music anywhere.

Then there’s Austrian composer/producer/keyboardist Dorian Concept. At least I have a link for this guy. They tell me how they always find themselves bumping into Cory Henry and Snarky Puppy, sharing festival line-ups, the jazz fest line-up being no different.

We talk about touring and how it gets in the way of the creative process. The flip side of that coin, however, is that their experiences on the road inspire the music as well. For the most part, the struggle is finding the energy to get into studio. “And your headspace has to be right,” adds Nick.

Rob speaks up for the first time: “The way we write as well, you know, one person will come up with an idea usually but it’s always developed together so unless we can get in a room and we’re not absolutely exhausted, it’s just really tough to get those ideas developed.”

I had just asked each of them what their most recently played artist was on their Spotify when I got the dreaded knock signifying one minute left. Chris manages to squeeze in that Joe (manager) has been feeding him a lot of hip hop. “I find it quite useful to get ideas for playing piano [from hip hop]. Melodically and harmonically I’m happy with my playing but rhythmically, that’s the stuff that’s really giving me a lot of ideas,” he says.

Before our time is up I ask for a selfie. Manager Joe steps in and offers, instead, to take a picture. What a legend. What legends!

I thank them for their time, wish them luck for their performance, and we part ways.

While the energy emanating from the Moses Molelekwa Stage was excited and electric, everyone fell silent as Go Go Penguin took to their instruments. Chris pierced the silence with a dreamy classical piano intro. Nick and Rob burst into the atmosphere with driven jazz/rock/electronica rhythms and bass. The ebb and flow of the set saw it build to a dramatic crescendo, and, just as powerfully as it started, there was silence.

The three naughty English lads from earlier had transformed into masters of music, right before my eyes – the classiest aural sex.

The best part about everything was logging onto their Instagram account (here: @Gogo_Penguin) the following day to see that they’d ended their CPT trip with a visit to Boulder’s Beach, home of the penguin.