FLASHBACK: Portishead

by Hannah Galvin

Take a “tea-boy” and a bar singer. Throw in an unemployment agency and a pair of musical-open-minds. These are the prime ingredients of how Bristol band, PORTISHEAD came to be of existence!

The name came about as it is the what the suburb is called in Bristol, England where the band’s co-founding member Geoff Barrow grew up. Not being much of a fan of the suburb of Portishead, Barrow upped and left when he was promised a job at Bristol’s recording studio, Coach House (it was here where he served tea to the executives).

After watching bands come in and out of the Coach House’s doors, Barrow itched to create music that was expressive and non-conforming.

After meeting [the now lead singer] Beth Gibbons, the two realised they had the same musical intentions – that being producing music that drove itself away from the norm. After writing music together, the pair met with jazz-guitarist Adrian Utley at Coach House and recorded together. As a result, ‘Sour Times’ was conceived. Oh and MTV actually played music, who knew?

By 1993, Portishead were a formed band, sound engineer Dave McDonald was included and a three-track demo was created. Universal Music Group’s Go! Beat Records signed Portishead after listening to the demo. This came about as they invited Barrow to play it for them.

A year later, the band released Numb – the mini album released through Go! Beat. It was this same year that the band wrote, arranged a soundtrack and starred in their short film To Kill A Deadman. If you’re familiar with the band’s cover art of their debut record, pay close attention around the three minute mark.

Portishead seemed to be shooting a lot of goals at this early point of their career. They then released their debut record Dummy. This particular release was deemed album of the year by The Face, Melody Maker, Mix Mag and The Daily Telegraph.

As years progressed, the band made greater achievements. Three years after the release of their debut, their self-titled, sophomore album had hit the shelves. The band and fans watched as Portishead skyrocketed in the music charts; particularly in the UK where it sat at number two, behind the Verve‘s Urban Hymns.

The year of 1998 saw the band take to the Jazz World Stage at the Glastonbury Festival. They also released their live album PNYC.

The new millennium had Utley of the group collaborating with film director Nicolas Roeg to soundtrack ‘The Sound Of Claudia Schiffer’ – a silent film for an upcoming BBC series.

The band also created their website Bristol Sounds to promote Bristol’s music scene. It was on this website that by 2001, the band announced that they’d be recording their third album here in Australia!

Another year went by and Portishead had a DVD released containing promo videos for some of the band’s tracks, as well as their short films To Kill A Deadman and Roadtrip.

After Utley’s other project, it was obvious that this point of the band’s life saw the members out and about in the entertainment industry doing their own thing. This was strengthened as Beth Gibbons released her solo album in the year 2002 and toured with it. However, there was never any intention of leaving the Bristol band.

Finally, after years of not really working together publicly, Portishead announced their third album’s release, conveniently titled Third. Seven years after the first announcement of the LP’s recording process, Portishead finally released the record in 2008.

Playing shows here and there, you may have caught the outfit at last year’s Harvest Festival.

An iconic band to the underground scene, we can thank Portishead for being the pioneers of what we now know as trip-hop.

Published on Purple Sneakers.