Album cover artwork for PortisheadIn Album Tales, Bryget Chrisfield hits you with some juicy nuggets of wisdom surrounding classic records. This month it’s the utterly miserable charm of Portishead’s debut album Dummy.

Portishead’s multi-Platinum-selling, Mercury Prize-winning debut album Dummy – which is widely credited for popularising trip hop (even though the term was first coined in relation to DJ Shadow) – came out the same year as Blur’s Parklife and Oasis’s Definitely Maybe. Dark, strange and often deliberately harmonically discordant, Portishead’s sonic landscape could not have ventured further afield from Britpop’s typically sheeny guitar-pop, with Beth Gibbons’ delightfully desolate vocals plunging listeners into unfathomable emotional depths.“‘Cause nobody loves meeeeeee, it’s true/ Not like you do,” Gibbons laments during Dummy’s striking, somnambulant second single Sour Times. Still the perfect ‘Teary Tuesday’ soundtrack almost 30 years later, no vinyl collection is complete without Dummy.

Cooking up tunes in Neneh Cherry’s kitchen

While working as a trainee tape operator on Massive Attack’s ground-breaking Blue Lines record (1991), Portishead’s Geoff Barrow met Neneh Cherry’s hubby/manager Cameron McVey (musical alias: Booga Bear) – the record’s executive producer. McVey then hired Barrow to work on Cherry’s second album, 1992’s Homebrew (for which Barrow co-wrote and co-produced the track Somedays), which is how Barrow and Gibbons came to record their early song ideas in Cherry’s London kitchen.

The dole brought Portishead together

In 1990, Barrow and Gibbons – aged 19 and 26 respectively – met during an Enterprise Allowance training day at the dole office. Shortly afterwards, the pair recorded Dummy album track It Could Be Sweet, about which the jazz guitarist/future- Portishead member Adrian Utley – then aged 34 – recalled during an interview: “I remember somebody opening the door upstairs and me hearing It Could Be Sweet. I was all, ‘F-ck me, what is that?’ Just hearing the sub-bass and Beth’s voice – it was unbelievable; like a whole new world that was really exciting and vital.” Even though Utley co-produced Dummy, played on nine of the tracks and co-wrote eight songs, he didn’t become an official Portishead member until shortly after this trailblazing LP’s release.

That time the fire brigade was called to Portishead’s studio

The low-budget Bristol studio Portishead typically used was given a tongue- in-cheek name: State of the Art (since it contained a lot of vintage gear). Barrow and Utley were heavy smokers in the early days – reportedly punching at least a coupla packs of darts per day! – with Barrow hilariously recounting, during an interview, that time when the firies showed up: “We actually opened the door because there was no fresh air and no window. So, we opened the side door one day, and it looked like it was on fire. The fire brigade came!”

Portishead initially released a short film

Portishead’s debut release was actually a short film titled To Kill a Dead Man (1994). As well as composing its original score, all three Portishead members also starred in this black-and-white spy noir. Clips from To Kill a Dead Man feature in the Sour Times music video and Dummy’s cover art is actually a still of Gibbons, taken from this short. Utley’s spy-film fascination undoubtedly bled into Portishead’s music over the years, with samples on Sour Times credited to Argentine composer and creator of the Mission Impossible theme Lalo Schifrin (from 1967’s More: Mission Impossible) amongst others.

Dummy was inspired by a movie of the same name

A 1977 TV movie also called Dummy – about a young deaf mute girl whose life descends into prostitution on the streets of Yorkshire – inspired Portishead during the creation of their dark masterpiece of the same name.

Sampling crackling vinyl sounds

In addition to sourcing samples by other artists, Portishead would also press original music to vinyl to essentially sample from. They were also known to deliberately wear vinyl out, to make it sound like an authentic record from the ’60s or ’70s, and even went so far as to sample the sound of crackling vinyl to add to Portishead tracks.

Portishead covered ABBA

In 2016, Portishead recorded a (trademark-bleak-AF) cover of ABBA’s SOS for the film High-Rise, later releasing their version exclusively through SoundCloud.

More Bristol-baked trip hop

Tricky, Massive Attack, Alpha, Ilya.

Where are they now?

Beth Gibbons: The Out Of Season album, by Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man (her musical project with former Talk Talk bassist Paul Webb), was released in 2002.

Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3 (Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs), performed by Beth Gibbons and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, was released in 2019.

Geoff Barrow: Was music supervisor for Exit Through The Gift Shop (Bansky’s 2010 exhibition), is in a Krautrock-influenced band called Beak, and creates film scores with composer Ben Salisbury.

Adrian Utley: Has recorded with artists as diverse as Marianne Faithfull, Jeff Beck, Perfume Genius and Anna Calvi, and also composes film scores.