Today is the day of the official first rains of the monsoon in Bombay. Usually its the sort of day that sees halted trains, traffic jams and people running helter-skelter looking for cover and transport. It’s a nice day to talk about Portishead, who I am listening to currently over the sound of wind and rain and the smell of freshly soaked earth.
I still quite clearly remember the first time I heard Portishead. The song was Glory Box and it was used in a Levi’s 501 TV ad. In a way I think the ad’s cool retro feel with its sinful looking storyline gave the song the sort of slow-motion-smoky-sexy vibe that only enhanced it all the more.
The original video of Glory box (the song used in the video) is quite surreal and is a far cry from the slick production value of the Levi’s ad. You can view the original here. The person who posted the video has disabled the option of embedding on websites, so I can’t put it up here. It’s still worth a look, for the sake of comparison. If you don’t feel like navigating away from here just yet, here’s a live version of the same song:
Portishead are Beth Gibbons, Geoff Barrow, and Adrian Utley. Portishead is also the name of a town a short distance from Bristol. In fact, the band is amongst the early progenitors of what came to be known as the Bristol sound. This eventually gave rise to an urban art movement, the musical byproduct of which we now know as Trip-Hop. (On the more art side of things, another such child of the Bristol underground art scene is Banksy, who’s work you should look at in parallel to see the then and now of this movement). This is where Portishead is, on the map. I doubt they really live there anymore.
Glory Box is from their first album, Dummy (1994). One of my favourite tracks from the album Sour Times. I think one of the reasons I like the song is because of a guitar solo of sorts after one of the choruses which is strangely reminiscent of The Shadows, a band I remember hearing on vinyl since I was two years old.
Another song you should listen to (in addition to the whole album of course) is Wandering Star.The next song I’d like to feature for this article however, is Numb. Urban sound is a rather vague term to use to describe a band’s sound or music, but there’s something about this song that reminds me of changing tracks on a train.
Their next big release was a self titled album that came out in 1997. The overall sound was a lot more mature, yet harsher and eerie. Perhaps the eeriness is something that set itself in my mind once I saw this video:
They eventually went on to release a few live albums and a third album (called Third, 2008). Third has a far more contemporary sound that I’m still getting myself used to.
Portishead is currently on tour in Europe and will be heading to the US in September. Rumours about a fourth album in the works are also currently floating around.
This is the first in a series of articles where I’ll be writing about bands and music that I love and listen to. Putting it down here gives me the opportunity to research their histories and also that of the genres they belong to. I’m hoping this endeavour will eventually act as stepping stones towards newer music.
Videos thanks to YouTube users: janchin, xxXDEMOXxx, raymondlarios, justsigrun, JazzCloud and nrok02.