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RETURN TO GLORY; the BIG razz interview Exclusive 'We all agreed there was no point releasing a record unless we had something to say-and we didn't until not long ago' Portishead fight their way back after 11 years in the wilderness.

Byline: By John Dingwall

IT was the Britpop era but, to many, Portishead stood head and shoulders above the hype and posturing of mid-Nineties guitar bands such as Blur and Oasis.

The Bristol trio's 1994 debut album Dummy was hailed as a masterpiece and beat Oasis classic Definitely Maybe to Album Of The Year at the Mercury Music Awards.

But after the eponymous 1997 follow up demanded an 18-month set of tour dates, it all became to much for reclusive founding member Geoff Barrow, 36.

He fled Britain for Australia, having become demoralised and fed up with having to take to the stage night after night to go through the motions.

His first marriage broke up - which he blames on Portishead's success - and he couldn't even listen to his own tunes without having a massive anxiety attack.

Now back with their third studio album, appropriately called Third, after an 11-year recording hiatus, he recalled his problems: "There were a lot of reasons. We finished touring in 1998.

We'd promoted Dummy, gone on tour and come back.

"It was really hard work and then we were on tour for a year and a half with the next album.

"We were a studio band and weren't used to touring. When we came back I got divorced because of music and lots of other stuff. I'm a difficult person to be with sometimes and I was miserable.

"It was a long-term childhood relationship that went from the start of my music to the end.

"Adrian got divorced too. It so happened it all ended at the same time.

"I disappeared. I went to Australia and went driving around. I hadn't lived because I was a teenager when we started making music and just needed to get away.

"We didn't split up as a band though.

We just decided we would get back together when the time was right."

However, for a long time, Geoff couldn't even stand to listen to his own band's classic albums.

He said: "I couldn't make any music because I fell out of love with music.

"I couldn't deal with it. I didn't like what we had become as a band and I didn't like the music we were making.

"I stopped being a music fan. I didn't like the music I had made. I associated it with a lot of not very good memories.

"It was a lot of stress and eventually the breakdown of my marriage and touring and playing live, which I'm not particularly keen on.

"Even though we were making money, I wasn't having a good time.

"I am a bit of a control freak as well, so as soon as something went wrong it felt like the end of the world.

"We all agreed there was no point releasing a record unless we had something to say - and we didn't feel we had anything to say as a group until not long ago."

GEOFF and vocalist Beth Gibbons met through a Job Centre scheme before teaming up with Adrian Utley to make short film To Kill A Dead Man and its soundtrack.

Soon after, they signed to the Go! Discs label and released Dummy, through which they almost single-handedly popularised the atmospheric "trip-hop" trend through songs such as Numb and Glory Box.

Geoff said: "As people we all got on all right but I felt we were on autopilot and weren't bringing anything new to the pot.

"Beth did her own tour and Adrian did a couple of soundtracks then, in 2003, I wrote one of the tracks that's on the album and, slowly but surely, it started picking up speed until, last year, we decided to go for it to the point now where we are releasing the record."

Geoff denies Portishead were being lazy with the title for the album.

He claims he had considered other names - including the not dissimilar Three - before making the choice.

He explained: "We're not being lazy.

We just really liked it. It is because we are not into the fame game and celebrity.

"So much of what we talk about is music based. There is a visual aspect but we don't have many ideas when it comes to that kind of stuff."

And he joked: "I could have called it The Travels Of The Headless Caterpillars of Mars. I don't know, that might be better. Is it too late?

"I'm really pleased with Third and, now, I'm proud of the other albums Dummy and Portishead."

To keep things interesting, on April 14 Portishead are to release Machine Gun on 12-inch vinyl as the first single.

A digital version from the band's website will be available from 8pm on April 10.

A USB stick edition of Third, is out on April 28 which will feature a host of extras, including the following four films: Ade's House - Machine Gun, The

Rip Live @ Mr Wolfe's, We Carry On and The Truly Spectacular Universal Conference Film.

The band have also announced they will issue a limited edition box set of Third, as well as the traditional CD.

Meanwhile, Scots fans can catch Portishead when they play Edinburgh Corn Exchange on April 12.

And the upcoming tour dates have been more than earned by loyal fans.

THEY became so excited by news of the work in progress that 1.5 million people downloaded simplistic noodles that had been posted by Geoff onto the band's MySpace site.

Amazed by the interest, he said: "Those things are just repeated noise. We put them up initially when we set up a MySpace and didn't take them down.

"We thought we'd leave them up there until we had a released proper song."

Others have clamoured to hear the album after it was leaked in its entirety onto the internet.

But, shrugging it off, Geoff said: "Some people talk about piracy but we can all remember recording John Peel and the charts from the radio on to a cassette.

"It's easy to take the whole record now because with cassettes you knew you wouldn't get the perfect sound."

Now a much happier man, Geoff is remarried to music industry public relations executive Emma Ramsay, with whom he has two kids - three-year-old Rodney, and Leah, who is 18 months.

He said: "In theory my bad time was a good thing because it made me look at myself.

"I was so super involved in music that I thought, 'There must be more to life'.

"I've got my own little record label in Bristol. I like the idea of getting music to people and if people buy it that gives me hope - even though the industry has changed.

"It's all about demographics now and if you're on the radio.

"There is the cult of celebrity and people being called 'geniuses' when they obviously aren't - along with the blatant use of hype to sell records.

"But we're now doing what we like doing again. You just get older and you get a life."


No.1: Portishead, above, trumped Britpop icons Oasis and Blur in the 90s
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 4, 2008
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