Portishead (band)

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A keen music fan enjoys the Q magazine Portishead special

Portishead is a band of 19th century hardcore rappers. They invented scratching and inspired bands such as Run DMC and Public Enemy. It is also a coastal town in North Sommerset, England that was named after the band to celebrate their international success.

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...a popular beat combo, who bring pleasure to fans and newcomers alike with their enjoyable, sing-a-long melodies. Best known for their singles Sweet Chimes, Glory Hole and Bob the Builder (Can We Fix It?).


Formed in 1837, the band now known as "Portishead" quickly gathered attention as the music of the future, today.

Early Days[edit]

Originally, the lineup was Jack Farmerly, Cecil Henderson, Eric Stapleton-Furness and Nell Minto. Having met in a gin house and toasted the health of Queen Victoria one too many times, they agreed that they should form a trip-hop band and name it after their home town. The success of "Chapel-en-le-Frith", as it was then known, was very limited with only modest single sales. After just three albums, the entire lineup fired each other, citing artistic differences and a need for more gin.... lots more gin.

First Revival[edit]

The late 1880s saw a resurgence in the Derbyshire music scene, and the band was revived by one Gordon Diggley, who was keen to experiment with new sounds. "Chapel-en-le-Frith" performed a number of live concerts with session musicians, but many former fans, now well into their sixties, felt that the soul had gone out of the music. Diggley agreed and executed all contributors; this was later released as the ironically-named limited edition album "Chapel-en-le-Frith Live".

The Quiet Years[edit]

After Diggley's untimely death, in a tragic syphilis accident, "Chapel-en-le-Frith" went dormant again. There are few stories from this time and war meant that people tended to talk about other things, such as the horrors of the Western Front, the insanity of Kitchener and the weather. What is known is that, during the early 1920s, one Alfred Underhill began to acquire the rights to the "Chapel-en-le-Frith" name and back catalogue.

Second Revivial[edit]

In 1934, the world was astonished by the quiet emergence of the Shropshire funk scene. Clearly, Underhill saw that his time had come and held a small "Chapel-en-le-Frith" gig in Berlin. In tribute to her years of loyalty, the one surviving original fan, Bertha Gibson, was invited to take a front row seat for a remixed version of All Mine, featuring original recordings of Farmerly and Henderson. It was to be the last time anyone saw the 107 year old Gibson, when a particularly high note resulted in her spontaneous combustion. The following year, Underhill renamed the band in tribute, now referring to his project as "Bexhill upon Sea".

War Service[edit]

Scenic Bexhill upon Sea, during a palm-tree phase

During the tricky days of World War II, "Bexhill upon Sea" were invaluable in preserving the nation's morale, with a regular Sunday night slot on the Home Service. Underhill also played to the forces in a series of motivational concerts where they revisited their greatest hits and, each night, climaxed with the slow-funk flava of "Hitler has only got one beat-b-b-beat-b-b-beat" (strangely, never released as a single). Some fans regard this as a golden period, due to the unswerving purity of the essence of trip-hop in the Music Halls.

By 1972, everyone was sick of World War II. Fustrations ran high, which ultimately resulted in the implosion of the 84 year old Underhill. In the years that followed, "Bexhill upon Sea" became a shadow of its former self, fractioning into an infinite number of tribute bands playing rather low-quality pub gigs and the annual BexFest.

Third Revival[edit]

Slavery: a game the whole family can play!

However, once again, luck smiled on this band. In 1989, Bristol Council declared a need for a trip-hop band of their own, having failed so miserably with their earlier attempt, "Sizeable Assault". The town's first-born children were sold to the people of Wales for slavery and for medical experiments, so that the 152-year history of "Bexhill upon Sea" could be purchased from the descendants of the original lineup and recycled.

And also because the children were pretty annoying, never did their homework and would sometimes say rude words.

Work Harder You Little English Bastards[edit]

Passed on to the people of nearby Portishead, the band was renamed for the final time. From this moment onwards, the distinctive sound of "Portishead" was heard to wash over the Bristol Channel, where the first-born Bristolian child slaves, caged in their factories in Cardiff, could come to understand that their drudgery was not in vain.

Cultural Impact[edit]

The secret of their success: twiddling knobs

The modern "Portishead" are now known for starting the explosion of trip-hop during the mid-1990s, where lots of bands decided that raiding the local Vinyl Exchange and destroying expensive turntables was an excellent way to make lots of money. Astride these petty imitators, however, were three giants of the genre: Bert Gobbins, Griff Borrow and Adrienne Hurtley. Selected by the people of Portishead, they now rule local music with an iron fist to ensure that the children of Bristol never return to wreak their terrible revenge.

Under the new name, "Portishead" have now released seven studio albums, one cynical remix album, two live albums, eighteen singles and one video that is so obscure, it might as well be a Japanese horror film. Modern-day fans will argue at great length about which album is greatest, never mind which song best defines their sound, but ultimately they will all be wrong - for the greatest "Portishead" album is the one they haven't made yet.


Highest UK chart positions are given for released singles:

  • I Love The High Peak (1834)
    • 1834 "Echo" #7
    • 1834 "Following" #12
    • 1834 "Scrumpy" #3
  • The Imponderable Lightness of Gin (1835)
  • Last Call (1836)
    • 1836 "Chain" #274
  • Chapel-en-le-Frith Live (1887)
    • 1887 "Screams" #93
  • Bexhill (1943)
    • 1943 "Oh, that cheeky Herman Goering!" #1
    • 1962 "Sing or we'll lose" #17
  • Dumber (1992)
    • 1992 "Nummy" #1
    • 1993 "Sweet Chimes" #7
    • 1993 "Glory Hole" #13
    • 1995 "Sweet Chimes" (cynical rerelease) #13
    • 1995 "Pondering Car" #57
  • Glory Chimes (1995)
  • Portishead (1997)
    • 1997 "Cowboys" #86
    • 1997 "Ball Shine" #8
    • 1997 "Hover" #25
    • 1998 "Lonely Poo" #235
  • Flowerland NES Live (1999)
    • 1999 "Bob the Builder (Can We Fix It?)" #1
  • Turd (2008)
    • 2008 "Machine Gunning Small Animals" #28


  • Goza fushiya Portishead ichi ichi! (1991)
  • Flowerland NES Live: The Motion Picture (1999)

Bootlegs, Unofficial Releases and Rip-Offs[edit]

Unsurprisingly, the internet has offered many opportunities for amateur recordings of live "Portishead" music to leak out without the customary level of studio polish. These can be found through various peer-to-peer networks, if you think you can get away without the record companies hunting you down like a 75-stone pig.

  • Portishead Live in Leatherhead (1993)
  • Portishead at the Isle of Wight Orgy (1994)
  • Portishead does Dallas (1997)
  • All Tomorrow's Portisheads (2007)

A number of other bands have attempted to ride on the coat-tails of "Portishead" by using ambiguous-sounding names (for example, "Pootishead", "Pottyshed", "Sportyshed", "Bawdy-bed" and "Status Quo") on compilation CDs, which were distributed free with copies of The Big Issue. Nobody knows who the composers and artists truly are, although it is widely suspected that they are just a bunch of ugly virgins with over-powered computers.

Collaborations and Solo Work[edit]

"Portishead" are responsible for remixes and covers of a number of tracks by other musicians and performers. Ordinarily, this would be a good idea and can allow the best talents of both to be merged into one incredible sound. However, all that actually happened was that the original song was overlaid with periodic (wark) (wark) sounds.

  • 1993 Depeche Mode - Waking in my Condom (Portishead remix)
  • 1993 Insane Clown Posse - Bucketful of Razors (Super-dub Portishead flava)
  • 1994 Black Sabbath - Cardinal Sin (9" Portishead cut)
  • 1995 Enya - Bios en Salia (Turbo (wark) (wark) version)
  • 1996 Falco - Rock me Amadeus (Portishead's "Not Shite" remix)
  • 1997 REM - Shiny Happy People (Go Fuck Yourself version)

Bert Gobbins has been attempting to pursue a solo career for some time now, as he is sick of being asked when the new album is coming out. He has made a number of cameo appearances on albums by such talents as Tom Jones, Elvis and John Otway (as well as anyone else who would have him). He offered to perform as the new Freddie Mercury for Queen but was ultimately turned down in favour of David Hasselhoff.

Adrienne Hurtley released 17 solo albums between 2001 and 2004. Nobody bought any of them, although they are sometimes given away free in copies of The Guardian on Saturdays.

Recent Events[edit]

The inspiration behind the most recent Portishead album

Following the release of Flowerland NES Live, "Portishead" remained keen on experimentation with the Black Art of trip-hop. The June 2006 issue of Nude Musical Express reported that Hurtley had selected the album title A Vinyl LP Wedged In A Log For No Apparent Reason but then rejected all of the 24,654 tracks recorded so far in favour of more hours in the studio. The only reason their record company tolerates this nonsense is because you don't argue with anyone from Bristol, not without getting a thorough beating (albeit one that is done in time to some astoundingly laid-back ambient music, a bit like a Japanese horror film).

A further announcement from "Portishead" in November 2006 revealed that there would be no further announcements about the new album. This was followed by more non-announcements in January 2007 and March 2007, where it was reinforced that absolutely nobody should ask about the new album.

In May 2007, the organisers of the 2007 Chef Aid festival announced that "Portishead" would be playing a live set but insisted that they would not answer questions about when the next album is coming out. This performance featured the first original material for 8 years. The band never confirmed how they became two-dimensional and poorly animated.

Following eleven years of evasiveness, "Portishead" finally announced that the new album, imaginatively entitled Turd, was released in April of 2008. This caused much rejoicing in the sophisticated music press, tempered somewhat by the additional news of their upcoming collaboration with Vanilla Ice.

The Future[edit]

Of course, talk will now turn to when "Portishead" will be releasing their next studio album and whether it will be as good as their early material, I mean, they're all getting on a bit now aren't they? When one considers the ten year gap between their most recent release and the previous release, one can possibly conclude that we have heard the last of them. Perhaps the 'Gin Effect' has returned to haunt them. (wark, wark, ooooooooooo)

The Town[edit]

Portishead Town is a small, boring, and sleepy dormitory town for Bristol, the local chav factory. The Council of Convoluted and Painfully Slow Working Death of the Common Stiff, or North Somorset Council, thought about restoring the train line to and from Portishead but, since it was a sensible idea that'd be a good use of resources and money, was scrapped. This was also influenced by how clogged up the only two entrances and/or exits from the town there are. THere is a local school called Gordano that is extremely boring and churns out the best results in somorset, or avon, or something like that that nobody cares about. It has recently tripled in size due to a horribly infectios wave of houses that ravaged the landscape.


  • Although many believe the backing track for modern "Portishead" tracks to be the (wark) (wark) sounds from the BBC Sound Effects Volume 8 album, this is actually a tribute to the native langauge of the inbred people of Bristol.
  • If the album Dumber is played backwards, there is a secret message encouraging you to drink more gin - not the decent stuff, mind. Just the cheap rotgut that would have been consumed during the 1830s.
  • Nobody has ever managed to own all of the albums. By a strange quirk of superstring theory, copies of Bexhill will transmute into cufflinks if they are placed within 25 metres of Flowerland NES Live.
  • Lonely Poo was released as a special charity single for Children in Need. To this day, 1998 remains the only year when Children in Need made a loss by having to pay people to own a single.
  • There is no truth to the rumour that Glory Hole is about soliciting anonymous sexual contact through the gaps in the walls of public toilet cubicles; in a 2002 interview, Adrienne Hurtley revealed that it was actually just about bottoms.
  • Some people are still reading this so-called "trivia" in the belief they will learn something about "Portishead" that hasn't already been rehashed whilst waiting for the next album.
  • "Portishead" are very nice to their mothers.