Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Portsmouth Sinfonia ‎– "Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays The Popular Classics" (Transatlantic Records ‎– TRA 275) 1973

Most of the Obscure Records mob could be found on this album by
the self-proclaimed "world's worst orchestra",there were in fact many much worse,or few better,The Portsmouth Sinfonia.Which was founded by Gavin Bryars of "Jesus' Blood" fame, in 1970, when he was lecturing at the Portsmouth School of Art....hence the Portsmouth bit.
Bryars wanted to engage the masses,thats 'us' by the way, with classical music,largely thought previously to be fucking boring by the target audience, and sought a way to liberate the form from the pomposity of its largely stuck-up Toff heavy audience. His idea was to form an orchestra of the 'people' that's still us by the way,.....I don't feel patronised, do you?.... Anyone could join, regardless of skill,even you!?

The orchestra comprised of known musicians,which included most of the UK avant-garde crew,as well as Brian Eno (clarinet), playing instruments they had no previous knowledge of. Virtuoso players and ordinary-ish folk who had never played an instrument in their lives,played side by side.The music would be played by ear so no sight-reading skills were therefore required. The virtuoso players kept everything vaguely within the realms of what might be called a tune, with the other players reaching for (and missing) notes nearby. The result was a fascinating atonal mess, a noise which was considered profound by several of Bryars classical contemporaries.
They sound not unlike a school orchestra,hiting that mysterious tone that compells one to laugh uncontrollably no matter how many times you hear it. I was once a witness to my nephew's school orchestra,he was one of the violinists,and as soon as the first few notes rebounded off the walls like Freddie Kruger's fingers sliding down a blackboard, me and my Girlfriend had unstoppable hysterics.The proud parents that surrounded us displayed a mixture of disgust,awkward acceptance,and slight annoyance....i just couldn't stop! Amid the giggling i managed to explain the joy i was feeling as tears streamed down my face,and that it was nothing to do with the awfulness of the playing.It was the sheer charm and innocence of it was JOY that we were expressing.....JOY...understand?
Although this project had an interesting central concept,it quickly caught the public's attention as strictly a comedy turn.
As the personel included most of The Scratch Orchestra,and AMM,as well as Eno and Steve Beresford among others, this certainly had plenty of serious experimental musicians involved.
Somehow, I can't imagine the equivalent happening in the contemporary classical/minimalist scene in the United States.In the UK one cannot be seen,or heard, to be taking oneself too seriously,and always have the obligation to make fun of ourselves.....even the Avant-Garde ones.
The Bonus track, "Classical Muddley" is a parody of those 'Hooked on Classics' records which also tried to introduce 'the Classics', to the great unwashed proletariat by placing a disco beat behind a mix of popular classical works. Us factory fodder types were obviously too thick to appreciate the finer things in life without a bit of dumbing down.
The results of this experiment led to the Portsmouth Sinfonia's records being pitched at the comedy market which earned them a cult following, enough for them to be selling out the Royal Albert Hall by 1974!?


1.From Peer Gynt Suite No. 1:"Morning" 3:23
2.From Peer Gynt Suite No. 1:"In The Hall Of The Mountain King" 3:00
3.From The Nutcracker Suite:"Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy" 2:18

4.From The Nutcracker Suite:"Waltz Of The Flowers" 4:05
5.Fifth Symphony In C Minor, Op. 67 6:18
6.William Tell Overture 2:00
7."Also Sprach Zarathustra" Op. 31 (Excerpt) 2:06
8.Blue Danube Waltz Op. 314 4:36
9."Air" From Suite No. 3 In D Major 4:37
10."Farandole" From L'Arlesienne Suite No. 2 4:05
11."Jupiter" From The Planets, Op. 32 (Excerpt) 4:28
Bonus Track:
12. "Classical Muddley" 3:19


rev.b said...

Inspirational, ain't it?!?

kevinesse said...

great thanks!!! ameridca had pdq bach which sometimes worked, sometimes less so

Philip Sanderson said...

Great stuff in small doses - it provided a perfect video soundtrack

Des Cargar said...

That's them "backing" Eno on Put A Straw Under Baby off Tiger Mountain.

Nice blog

Winkies Fan

Jonny Zchivago said...

Thank you.
Indeed they do appear on Tiger Mountain,correct-a-mundo as the fonz would say.
Did i post the Winkies Peel session?

Anonymous said...

Great Stuff,
for me In The Hall Of The Mountain King and Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy are really great.

But I miss track 7, the hit of the record.