Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Portsmouth Sinfonia: "Hey, who's out of tune?"

You can thank my mid-seventies obsession with Roxy Music for today's post. If any member of Roxy Music touched it, wrote it, played on it, produced it, or liked it, so did I. (except for Nico's "The End," an album I go back to often, just because I expect it to change and somehow make me feel better about spending my last $4 on it in 1975. Hey Manzanera, I want my $4 back!)

Here's Wikipedia's entry about the Portsmouth Sinfonia:

The Portsmouth Sinfonia was a real orchestra founded by a group of students at Portsmouth School of Art in Portsmouth, England in 1970—however, the Sinfonia had an unusual entrance requirement. Players had to be either non-musicians, or if a musician, play an instrument that was entirely new to them. Among the founding members was one of their teachers, English composer Gavin Bryars. The orchestra started as a one-off, tongue-in-cheek performance art ensemble but became a cultural phenomenon over the following ten years, with concerts, record albums, a film and a hit single. The impact of the Portsmouth Sinfonia was considerable and their name and reputation has endured even though they last performed publicly in 1979.

My introduction to the Portsmouth Sinfonia was thanks to my cousin, who was born and bred on The Beatles and Herman's Hermits, thought James Brown was a hack, teased me until I cried whenever I bought a record on the Pickwick label, (Beach Boys- "Wow! Great Concert," anyone?) and for some reason had no problem digesting Brian Eno's "Here Come The Warm Jets."

My cousin found this Portsmouth Sinfonia record at the greatest record store on the East Coast, Titus Oaks, located on Flatbush Avenue, across the street from Al's Disco Shoes, around the block from the Kenmare Movie Theatre, and just a few doors down from Erasmus High in Brooklyn, where Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand both studied Calculus. What made him stop, as he flipped past countless copies of Head East's "Flat As A Pancake?" He noticed a long-haired Brian Eno, second from the right, second row from the back, holding a clarinet.

AND, Eno produced the record.

Of course, it was the only copy. My cousin was older, there was no discussion. He got the cool, Columbia Records release with a long-haired, Brian Eno playing a clarinet. I bought the debut album by Les Variations. (more teasing)

Here is a ZIP FILE of two of my favorite moments. It's what we initially fought over, but then laughed so hard, we plotzed. Or if you can just listen to one song through the magic of YouTube below.


steve simels said...

I had this LP back in the day and used to make people's jaws drop at dinner parties with it.

Thank you for sharing...

Michael in New York said...

Did they ever rehearse or would that have been cheating?