Four years ago, rave ruled Britain. The youth was out in the country,
dropping E and dancing the night away in barns and warehouses. Three
years ago, trip-hop emerged from Bristol and ever increasing BPMs became
a thing of the past. Massive Attack and their former cohort Tricky
released albums and were showered with critical acclaim and media
But, the kings of the hill were Portishead, a position attested to at
the Ď95 Mercury Awards, when they beat off their fellow Bristolians to
claim the coveted prize. Then, almost as soon as they had appeared,
they were gone.
Now itís 1997. Trip-hop is all but forgotten, the Mercury Prize has
returned to Bristol, but now itís Roni Size and drum ní bass that rule
the roost. However, Portishead are back with a new album,
"Portishead", and a tour. Programmer and Percussionist Geoff
Barrow is just as happy they are no longer the Ďiní thing.
"If itís because of trends with-in the press, then weíre just as
glad weíre out of it. Because if it was a fad trend, itís over, and we
can still make records. If people are still interested, then thatís
what weíre about. If people arenít interested, we soon know about it.
Theyíll stop buying our records."
This attitude is echoed by guitarist Adrian Utley. "Itís treacherous
being part of a trend, isnít it?"
They never considered themselves part of a Bristol scene and the
category is one that they dislike. According to Adrian, these
categories and scenes have nothing to do with music. "Itís a press
thing. Thereís bands from other cities doing music thatís similar, but
they wonít get lumped into the same thing because theyíre not from
Geoff says that the band has always considered themselves "massively
individual" and donít see themselves as part of any scene.
"Weíve never really been part of any other band, we donít work with
other bands. We wanted to join together and make something that was
absolutely solid. We donít have people whoíve produced other records
produce ours. Generally, everything is done by ourselves and itís
The new, eponymous Portishead album is a darker, grittier affair than
its predecessor "Dummy". While many bands would drag out the
tired old cliche - "Itís a reaction, right, against the whole music
biz and the press and stuff", Portisheadís reason is a lot more
personal and honest.
"We kinda got into a difficult time making the record," is how
Adrian explains it. "We got into a hole where we almost lost
vision of what we were doing."
To which Geoff added "Up shit creek without a paddle".
Adrian agreed and continued. "For about a year and a bit, we just
made a lot of music we werenít actually finishing and we were getting
really frustrated. We lost our way, the light almost went out."
Geoff said they had three aims. "To make a heavier record, a
"Thatís only two things," Adrian pointed out.
"And a better record. Being influenced by hip-hop, I always thought
that was about a rougher, heavier sound. We were heavily depressed and
that possibly effected the way it came out."
Adrian said that it was frustration and anger that gave the record its
sound and that can be heard in Bethís vocals.
The darker sound has lead to the band being described as Goth. For many
bands, the word "Goth" strikes fear into their heart, with
ideas of small club ghettoisation and weird fans. Not so Portishead, in
fact they prefer the description to Ďtrip-hopí. Adrian has no bad
opinion of Goth because he doesnít know much about it. "The Goth
bands that I know about, I think are alright - Bauhaus."
The Goth link was consolidated by their inclusion in "Hex Files -
The Goth Bible", in which they were linked to Bristol Goth band
Whores of Babylon. So how do they feel about being part of a different
As they both exploded with laughter, all Adrian managed to get out was
that it was incredible and that he was stunned, while Geoff thinks itís
"absolutely brilliant." There is a connection with the Whores
of Babylon, Portishead shared a studio with them. They also got(h)
Whores lead singer, Sean, to sing on the new album with them.
While "Portishead" is only their second album, it could have
been their third. Before Adrian joined, Geoff and Beth had been working
on material for 4 years. So they donít consider "Dummy" their
As Adrian put it to Geoff, "You could have released an album long
before, but you didnít. It was incredibly carefully considered and by
the time I got involved, it was very intense. Even though only one
track came out of the original sessions, a lot of stuff was discarded
that could have been released and judged as an earlier thing."
As a result, they donít feel constrained by the attention their first
release got. On the contrary, Geoff considers it beneficial.
"The whole way it was received in the press, it is good, in the
sense that it does allow us to carry on."
And carry on they have. The new album was launched in grand style in New
York where the band was backed by an orchestra. So, why did they decide
on the States instead of home?
According to Geoff it was an exciting place to play, while Adrian added
that it gave them more of a buzz. "It definitely put an edge on it
that it would not have had in London."
Geoff explained why that was. "We wanted to take the whole idea of
using strings and stuff to a different country. We wanted to make it
seem really special for ourselves to enjoy. I think a lot of people
have done it in the UK."
Since then they have embarked on their first tour in over 2 years and
they are glad to be back on the road. Adrian said this because they
want to gauge the reaction of the fans to their new stuff.
"You make a record, it takes you two years or whatever and we talk
to a lot of people who didnít buy the album, who were given it. When we
go out and play, we desperately needed to see people who had bought our
records and talk to them, play a gig and see what was going on."
To which Geoff added, "that whole music industry thing, the press,
the record company and everything, is completely out the window. Itís
the only contact we ever have, as a band, to the people who buy the
Adrian also pointed out the creative advantage to touring. "We can
now start thinking about how weíre going to play the stuff live, and
reinvent things and just enjoy it. And be creative,"
In the end, thereís not much more anyone could ask of them.
by Donnacha DeLong