Portsmouth Sinfonia

Band members                             Related acts

- Jennifer Adams - percussion

- Steve Beresford - trumpet

- Michael Bond - voices

- Gavin Bryars - cello

- Nigel Coombes - violin

- Brian Eno - clarinet

- Clive Langer - flute

- John Mitchell - flute

- Michael Nyman - euphonium

- Richard Strange - violin

- Mark Hughes - violin

- Stephen Luscombe - violin

- Rachel Maloney - violin

- John Ryder - percussion

- Debi Smith - flute

- Kate St. John - oboe

- Michael Steele - violin

- Chris Turner - cornet

- Simon Fisher-Turner - clarinet

- Nigel Watson - viola

- Phil Woods - violin

- Brian Young - double bass

- Jill Adams - violin

- Linda Adams - viola

- Peter Beresford - violin

- Peter Clutterbuck - double bass

- Simon Dale - viola

- John Farley - conductor

- Angus Fraser - double bass

- Maurice Joyce - trombone

- Stefan Klima - violin

- John Lawrence - flute

- Imogen Morley - violin

- Robin Mortimore - violin

- Gary Rickard - cello

- Ann Shrosbree - flute

- Ian Southwood - double bass

- Tony Talbot - clarinet

- Brian Watterson - flute

- Maggie Wooton - percussion

- Suzette Worden - clarinet

- Patrick Allen - flute

- Michael Archer - french horn

- Sally Binding - piano

- Ted Brum - trumpet

- Paul Buckton - violin

- Gary Bunby - violin

- Martin Champman - violin

- Richard Ellin - violin

- Gerry Ellis - cornet

- Susan Featherstone - clarinet

- Michael Flower - clarinet

- James Gregg - oboe

- Denise Hanson - violin

- William Hodgson - clarinet

- Printz Holman - viola

- James Lampard - clarinet

- Dirk Larson - violin

- Beverley Legge - viola

- Janet Lowe - violin

- John McPherson - trumpet

- Nigel Morley - trombone

- Pip Morrison - trombone

- Caroline Osbourne - violin

- Michael Parson- conductor

- Michael Parsons - violin

- Tom Puckey - violin

- Clive Richardson - cello

- Sally Ridgway - violin

- Piers Rowlandson - trombone

- Christiane Sasportas - violin

- Noelle Sasportas - clarinet

- David Sauders - euphonium

- Savva Savva - clarinet

- Stuart Semark - trumpet

- Christine Shrosbree - violin

- Cherill Smith - violin

- Yvonne Spencer - trombone

- Alan Tomlinson - trombone

- Andrew Tomsett - clarinet

- Joyce Trenherz - viola

- Richard Wulliamy - cornet 



- Gavin Bryars (solo efforts)

- Brian Eno (solo efforts)

- Roxy Music (Brian Eno)


Genre: classical/bizarre

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics

Company: Columbia

Catalog: PC-33049

Year: 1974

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 4271

Price: $85.00


Call them daring musical innovators, or a group of musical comedians.  Whatever.  The Portsmouth Sinfonia are likely to bring back wonderful memories for folks who happened to attend college during the mid-70s.  


Most folks mistakenly think Roxy Music keyboardist/composer Brian Eno was the brains behind this outfit.  Wrong.  It was actually composer Gavin Bryars who started the ensemble in 1969 while attending the Portsmouth College of Art (hence the name).  (Eno was a member of the group during the 1970 - 74 period and helped produce the group's first two LPs.)


In creating The Portsmouth Sinfonia Bryars' notion was the ultimate in musical democracy - namely anyone could join the group; no matter what skill level or musical proficiency they might have.  The commitment was that you attended the rehearsals and made an effort to actually learn the material, which was initially limited to the most commonly known parts of well known classical pieces.  By 1973 the group had grown to roughly 80 members, spanning the range from accomplished performers to totally incompetent.


Signed by the small UK folk-oriented Traditional label, the group debuted with 1974's "The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics".  Amazingly this is a great album.  Sure, the thought of folks trying to butcher music may not have much appeal to the rank and file listener, but that's not the case here.  These folks were apparently really trying to make good music.  That's what makes this so much fun.  The clash of will, desire and talent makes for an intriguing blend of blown melodies, happenstance and hysterically funny ineptitude.  Imagine a room full of folks trying to guess where the melody is ... or just imagine attending your child's first school band performance.  Highlights include something resembling "Nutcracker Suite", "William Tell Overture", a root canal-painful "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and drunken stupor stab at "Blue Danube Waltz".  Probably as a result of Eno's participation (he produced the set), Columbia Records picked up American distribution.  Clearly unsure what to do with the group, Columbia tried to market the set as a comedy album ("Indisputably, the worst orchestra in the world.").  Needless to say, their efforts fell on deaf ears ...


Plays the Popular Classics" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) From Peer Gynt Suite No. 1  (Grieg) - 3:23

2.) From The Nutcracker Suite   (Tschikovsky) - 3:00

3.) 5th Sinfony in C Minor, Op. 67   (Beethoven)

4.) William Tell Overture   (Rossini)


(side 2)

1.) Also Sprach Zarathustra Op. 31 (Excerp)  (Richard Strauss)    

2.) Blue Danube Waltz, Op. 314   (Johann Strauss)    

3.) Air from Suite No. 3 in D Minor   (J. S. Bach)

4.) Farandole from L`Arlesienne Suite No. 2   (Bizet)

5.) Jupiter from The Planets, Op. 32 (Excerpt)   (Holst)



Genre: classical/bizarre

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Hallelujah Live At the Royal Albert Hall

Company: Traditional

Catalog: TRA 285

Year: 1976

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: UK pressing; embossed cover; original insert

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 4272

Price: $75.00



It wasn't until our first child started playing in his elementary school orchestra that I came to truly appreciate this LP (let alone school music teachers)!  In fact, anyone who's ever had to endure a school concert will probably find a certain degree of familiarity and comfort in this set.  Produced by Eno, "Hallelujah Live At The Royal Albert Hall" captures this aural train wreck during a May 28th 1974 performance at the Royal Albert Hall (though it wasn't released for a full two years).  Anyone who's heard the debut will be comfortable with this territory. Enthusiastic, if slightly fractured performances of classical faire won't be or everyone (you'll never hear anything like their take on Handel's "Messiah"), but it's occasionally engaging and often quite funny - particularly when the group manages to churn out something close to a recognizable melody.  There are plenty of places where you're left to wonder what they're trying to play (I remember thinking my turntable was having a mechanical meltdown the first time I heard the mid-section of "Overture 1812").  On the other hand, tracks such as "Nutcracker Suite" and "William Tell Overture" are worth hearing for the wild audience applause at completion (it may simply reflect gratitude that the group actually managed to fight their way through the individual selections).  And our kids love this LP ! 


"Hallelujah Live At The Royal Albert Hall" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Mr. Michael Bond`s Address - 1:05

2.) From The Nutcracker Suite Op. 71a - March   (Tchaikowsky) - 1:57       

3.) From The Karelia Suite, Op. 11 - Intermezzo   (Schubert) - 3:54

4.) March Militaire in D Major   (Schubert) - 5:33

5.) Piano Concert No 1 in B Minor, Op. 23   (Tchaikowsky) - 10:38


(side 2)

1.) Overture 1812   (Tchaikowsky) - 10:28

2.) William Tell Overture  (Rossini) - 2:21

3.) From The Messiah (Part 2) - Hallelujah Chorus with the Portsmouth Sinfonia Choir (Handel) - 6:02




Genre: classical/bizarre

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  20 Classic Rock Classics

Company: Philips

Catalog: 9109 231

Year: 1979

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5947

Price: $120.00


For some reason the third Portsmouth Sinfonia release remains unknown to most folks (not that the first two releases were international hits).  You don't even find this one listed on most popular on-line discographies and good luck finding an online review - I've only seen one and it was in Japanese.  Shame since the album is just as entertaining and eccentric as their two prior classically-oriented releases.  


Released after a five year recording hiatus, the Martin Lewis produced  "20 Classic Rock Classics" (the title always gives me a Spinal Tap flashback) didn't stray far from the original concept ...  Apparently inspired by the London Symphony Orchestra's success riding rock classics like "Classic Rock" and "Classic Rock II" on the sales charts, the group reunited for a one-shot September 1979 concert at London's Rainbow club.  My initial fear was that the players were going to be more familiar with these popular numbers (as opposed to their earlier classical material), and it might have an impact on their patented sound.  While virtually all twenty performances were 'good' enough for you to recognize the original melodies, to the group's credit their musical skills remained limited.  Yes, some songs came off more successful than others (I'm using that term broadly), but luckily none of these were going to make you forget the originals.  Among the highlights (again I'm using th term broadly), were their stab at 'Pinball Wizard', the vocal arrangement on 'Leader of the Pack'  and the sheer courage to take on The Beatles' 'A Day In the Life'.


-  I'm not sure I believe it, but Pete Townshend supposedly told the group that after The Who original, their cover was his favorite version of the song.  Could well be since they attacked the song with more enthusiasm than skill.  Once you got past the guitar introduction and the tubas and horns kicked in the melody became semi-recognizable.  Now seeing The Portsmouth Sinfonia tackle this one would have made for a truly memorable Super Bowl halftime performance.   rating: **** stars

- The squeaking clarinets and squawking strings provided 'Apache' with an interesting edge.  At least the drum beat was consistent.   rating: *** stars   

- With their cover of  'Leader of the Pack' the group introduced their first vocal performance.  With the vocals credited to The Sinfonettes, the end results were suitably ragged with the anonymous singers adding an interesting wrinkle to the song with their clipped English delivery.  Hopefully the singers kept their day jobs.   Interestingly, the vocals served to distract your attention from the instrumentation.   rating: *** stars

- One of my favorite performances, you could envision the group giving their all on this cover of Procol Harum's 'A Whiter Shade of Pale'.  About half of the orchestra actually came within earshot of the tune,  Pity the horn players on this one ...   Would have been fun to feature Gary Brooker handling the lead vocals.    rating: **** stars

- When I was in college the school pep band use to play The Kinks' 'You Really Got Me'.  It actually sounded quite a bit like this version.   For better or worse this was one of their more accomplished covers.    rating: ** stars

- It's doubtful many Americans have heard Althea and Donna's ' Uptown Top Ranking'.  In contrast the reggae tune was a big hit in the UK.  Maybe due in part to the fact the song structure wasn't too complicated, they did a nice job on it.  Actually quite listenable.  Not that anyone bought a Portsmouth Sinfonia album for that reason.   rating: ** stars

- I never liked The Dave Clark Five's 'Glad All Over' so this version didn't do anything for me.  Completely forgettable.   rating: ** stars

- There are simply so many covers of 'Heartbreak Hotel' that there's no way this one could make any difference.  It doesn't.   rating: ** stars

- I've always been a bug Joe Meek fan, but have to admit that the cheesy sound effects, mass clarinets, and group humming pushed this version of 'Telstar' to a new level of enjoyment.   rating: ** stars  

- I have to admit being dumbfounded the first time I heard their version of 'Bridge Over Troubled Waters'.  The anonymous keyboard player actually managed to play the opening section close to perfect.  Luckily a drunken gaggle of clarinets kicked in and things went downhill rapidly.  This was another one where the tune was surprisingly recognizable which may, or may not be a good thing (always loved the tubas and the unexpected cymbal crashes).   rating: **** stars

- Hats off to anyone doing a Kim Fowley cover.  Showcasing some jittery horns and cellos (shades of ELO), their version of 'Nut Rocker' was about as good as anyone else's.   rating: *** stars  

- Technically I'm not sure anyone would categorize this as a rock classical,  but the group's cover of ' Don't Cry for Me Argentina' started out on a surprisingly sensitive note.  Mind you, it took a minute or so for the song to uncover its  recognizable melody before briefly vanishing into a weird oboe solo.   rating: *** stars   

- Shame their Dramamine-soaked version of '(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock' was so short.  The band literally sounded like they were zonked out on some time of sleeping pill for this one ...  one of the funniest performances on the album.   rating: *** stars  

- The first time I played the album I did so without looking at the liner notes.  I basically wanted to see if I could recognize the songs.  This was one that puzzled me for a moment.  Luckily the horns marshaled their collective energy in time to hit the chorus.  Love the way they handled the little flourishes.   rating: **** stars  

- Their cover of Conway Twitty's ' It's Only Make Believe' actually sounded like something you might hear in a grocery store as background music.  Okay, I guess the fractured humming might be a little odd.   rating: *** stars  

- Ah, The Moodies 'Nights In White Satin' ... This was the tune that threw me for a loop when I first listened to the album.  I simply couldn't recognize the song until they hit the refrain and even then I wasn't entirely sure.   rating: *** stars  

- Personally I wouldn't consider 'My Boy Lollipop' to be a rock classic which might explain why I didn't think much of this one.   rating: ** stars  

- I guess it was a reflection of how great the original song was, but Brian Wilson's 'God Only Knows' actually survived the Portsmouth attack with most of its dignity intact.  The strings deserved considerable credit for trying so hard on this one.   rating: **** stars  

- Technically their cover of The Stones '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' wasn't an instrumental since the Sinfonettes screeched the title chorus a couple of times throughout the song.  To be honest, the strings actually did a pretty good job on the song, but the standout performance came from the percussion section.  Whoever was handling the tambourine deserved special credit for having absolutely no sense of rhythm.  Very nice.  Jagger and Richards would have been proud.   rating: *** stars

- I'll admit I wasn't sure what to expect when they took on an elaborate composition like 'A Day In the Life'.  The first segment wasn't half bad, leading up to the famous string crescendo.  That left the horns and vocals under considerable pressure with respect to the mid-section.  They pulled it off.  Even better was the famous closing, extended piano chord.   They nailed it.   rating: **** stars  


Given my affection for their first two albums, I've always had mixed emotions with respect to this one.  Still, worth checking out ...   



For hardcore fans, the German release featured different artwork Philips catalog number 6308 315


"20 Classic Rock Classics" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Pinball Wizard   (Pete Townshend) - 

2.) Apache   (Jerry Lordan)

3.) Leader of the Pack   (George Morton - Jeff Barry - Ellie Greenwich) -

4.) A Whiter Shade of Pale   (Keith Reid - Gary Brooker) - 

5.) You Really Got Me   (Ray Davies) - 

6.) Uptown Top Ranking   (Errol Thompson - Joe Gibbs - Donna Reid - Althea Forrest) - 

7.) Glad All Over   (Dave Clark - Mike Smith) - 

8.) Heartbreak Hotel    (Mac Buren Axton -Tommy Durden - Elvis Presley)

9.) Telstar   (Joe Meek) - 

10.) Bridge Over Trouble Water   (Paul Simon) 


(side 2)

1.) Nut Rocker   (Kim Fowley) - 

2.) Don't Cry for Me Argentina   (Andrew Lloyd Weber - Tim Rice) - 

3.) (We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock   (Max C. Freedman - Jimmy De Knight)

4.) You Should Be Dancing   (Barry Gibb - Maurice Gibb - Robin Gibb) - 

5.) It's Only Make Believe   (Conway Twitty - Jack Nance) - 

6.) Nights In White Stain   (Justin Haywood) - 

7.) My Boy Lollipop   (Johnny Roberts - R. Spencer)

8.) God Only knows   (Brian Wilson - Tony Asher) - 

9.) (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction   (Mick Jagger - Keith Richards) - 

10.) A Day In the Life   (John Lennon - Paul McCartney) - 




Seen as a response to the London Symphony Orchestra enjoying a hit with their 'Hooked on Classics' medley, the following year the group enjoyed their own fluke top-40 UK hit with the single 'Classical Muddly' b/w 'Hallelujah Chorus' (Springtime catalog number WIP 6736).  Curiously the single ran into legal problems when the owners of the copyright to Richard Strauss's 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' objected to their use of the piece.  Changes were made and a settlement was ultimately reached.  


And that was it for their recording career.  There have been rumors of reunions, but nothing to date.


There's an official Portsmouth Sinfonia website, but it doesn't provide a great deal of information on the group: