Anyone who knows about cutting-edge British music will be well aware of Portishead, much in the same way that they will be aware of Massive Attack. The band is essentially a four-piece hub of band members, with various live add-ons and a huge number of regular session musicians who help with the live recording.
Who is Portishead?
The one track that you might have heard by Portishead is 'Glory Box'.
Portishead is a group that uses a mixture of sampling and instruments with the unique and incredible voice of Beth Gibbons. They sound rather like Massive Attack, but have more emotion, raw energy and their music possesses a somewhat transcendental quality.
The driving force behind the band is the sampler and DJ, Geoff Barrow. Having picked up all he could about experimental sampling working as a tape operator for the Coach House recording studios in Bristol, Geoff left the company in 1991 and started auditioning for singers to realise his dream of a new style of music. At the same time, Beth was trying to find a proper singing job. She was working as a singer in a cover band on the Bristol pub scene, and the two met through the Job Centre in Bristol. Geoff had already auditioned 50 singers. Finding that they had similar musical ideals, Beth got the job. Together with jazz guitarist Andy Utley and Dave McDonald, now both full members of the band, they began to write and record material.
So Why Portishead as a Band Name?
The name for the band came from a tag that Geoff got while working on the first Massive Attack album. He was known as 'that guy from [the town] Portishead'. Portishead is a town near Bristol and the name stuck.
This was the product of that collaboration. Their first album, Dummy, came out in 1994, a year after signing for UK record label GO! Discs. In that year it won the Mercury Music Prize for best album, beating off competition from better-known bands such as Oasis, Blur and Elastica and experienced artists such as Tricky and Polly Jean Harvey, as well as being named Album of the Year by music industry magazines The New Music Editorial, Mixmag and The Face.
Also in 1994, the singles 'Glory Box' and 'Sour Times' were released, 'Sour Times' being the first. The airplay that it got both in the UK and the States raised the profile of the band to unforeseen levels, and put them in the running for the prizes they later won.
Having originally said that he wanted to produce ten albums in ten years, Geoff has got a little behind schedule. Portishead was released in 1997, relying largely on the acclaim given to Dummy for publicity. Tracks include 'Cowboy' and 'Undenied'.
This is a recording of a Portishead gig done in the Roseland Ballroom in New York1.