Genre: Art Rock and Jazz
The band was formed in Bristol in 1991, by Geoff Barrow, Beth Gibbons and Adrian Utley. Previously, Barrow had been working as a tape operator (including work with Massive Attack and Tricky)[ Gibbons was singing in pubs, and Utley had played jazz guitar for Big John Patton and The Jazz Messengers. The trio created the short film To Kill a Dead Man, which was heavily inspired by espionage films, and its accompanying soundtrack persuaded Go! Beat Records to sign the band.
[Portishead’s first album, Dummy, was released in 1994. Despite the band’s aversion to press coverage, the album was successful in both Europe and the United States (where it sold more than 150,000 copies even before the band toured there). Dummy spawned three singles, “Numb“, “Glory Box” (which was used in the 1996 film When the Cat’s Away) and “Sour Times“, and went on to win the prestigious Mercury Music Prize in 1995.
After their initial success, Portishead withdrew from the spotlight for three years until their self-titled second album, Portishead, was released in 1997. The album’s sound differed from Dummy, characterized as “grainy and harsher.” Three singles, “All Mine“, “Over” and “Only You” were released, the first one achieving a Top 10 placing in the UK.
Roseland NYC Live (1998)
In 1997, the band performed a one-off show with strings by the New York Philharmonic orchestra at Roseland Ballroom in New York. A live album primarily featuring these new orchestral arrangements of the group’s songs was released in 1998. There was also a long-form VHS video of the performance, and a DVD followed in 2002, with substantial extra material including many early videos.
Hiatus (1999 – 2005)
For the next few years, the band members concentrated on solo and other pursuits. In February 2005, the band appeared live for the first time in seven years at the Tsunami Benefit Concert in Bristol. Around that time Barrow revealed that the band was in the process of writing its third album. In August 2006, the band posted two new tracks on its MySpace page–described by Barrow as “doodles”. Around the same time, Portishead covered Serge Gainsbourg‘s “Un Jour Comme un Autre (Requiem for Anna)” on the tribute album Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited.
On October 2, 2007, Portishead stated that the new album, titled Third, had been mixed and was nearly complete, and was due for release in early April 2008. The release was later pushed to April 28. On December 8-9, 2007, the band curated the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Minehead, England. The festival featured their first full live sets in nearly 10 years. They premiered five tracks from the new album; “Silence”, “Hunter”, “The Rip”, “We Carry On” and “Machine Gun”. On January 21, 2008, a European tour to support the album was announced, together with a headline spot at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 26, 2008.
Portishead’s newest 11-track album “Third” was made available on last.fm the week before release, attracting 327,000 listeners in just under 24 hours. It was the first time Last.fm had made an album available before its official release date. The site estimates that a quarter of a million people have visited their site expressly to listen to the Portishead tracks. The album was released on April 29, 2008 to coincide with band’s appearance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. On May 29, 2008 Portishead’s Geoff Barrow realized a “boyhood fantasy” when Chuck D of Public Enemy joined the band onstage at the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona. He contributed a freestyle rap over Portishead’s single ‘Machine Gun’.
On May 18, 2008, Barrow expressed the band’s enthusiasm for recording new material on their official website’s blog, stating that he “can’t wait to write some new tunes.”
On December 3, 2008, Universal Music Japan released the albums “Dummy” and “Portishead” as limited SHM-CD version.