Dummy by Portishead

This week we look at a band that combined hip-hop, jazz, and devastating torch songs to stunning effect to create one of the most original albums of the 90’s and one that defined the Bristol trip-hop scene.

Like any serious music lover I have a list of favourite albums too long to compile, and too ever-changing to put in to any kind of order. Throughout the course of my life so many brilliant albums have come and gone that simply remembering them all is an impossible task. However, ask me which albums have had the greatest impact on me and I could make you a list fairly quickly and one of the first to make the list would be ‘Dummy’.

I can clearly remember first hearing Portishead on the BBC TV show Later… with Jools Holland, their television debut. They performed the songs ‘Glory Box’ and ‘Wandering Star’ and left me a little dumbfounded. Even then, at the age of 22, I was pretty well-versed in a broad range of music from heavy rock to hip-hop, indie to house music. However, this was coming at my world from a whole different angle. I recognised some of the elements, sure, not least Geoff Barrow’s turntable work and Adrian Utley’s jazzy guitar stylings but in all honesty I’d never heard a singer quite like Beth Gibbons, whose tortured and intense vocals gave the band something utterly unique.

This was November 1994, and by Christmas that year I had furnished myself with a cassette copy of the album. On Christmas evening that year I remember sitting in a flat with my brother and some friends, all of whom were big music fans, and listening in gobsmacked awe to the lp’s ten tracks over and over. At one point we took it off and put on something else only for us to put it back on ten minutes later when we realised that the other music kind of sounded a bit stale in comparison. We’d never heard anything like this before. I’m not sure I’ve heard too much like it since.

Some 21 years later ‘Dummy’ stand out as one of the defining records of the mid-90’s and probably one of the greatest record by a British group of the last few decades. The band themselves would release their second eponymous album in 1997 before taking an 11-year hiatus releasing the album Third in 2008 and whilst both of those subsequent albums are full of high points ‘Dummy’ is still the most perfectly formed realisation of their sound. Dark, brooding, intense, and full of blue, soulful emotion this is an album that is both of it’s time and utterly timeless, a landmark record in the history of British music.

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