Portsmouth Sinfonia: Gavin Bryars, Brian Eno, and the “Worst Orchestra in the World”

Written By: 
ISC Team
Tags: 
Share:
  •  

Avant-comedy with Gavin Bryars, Brian Eno, Michael Nyman, and the Portsmouth Sinfonia.

As record collectors, we’re often digging through the bins for the best in music. Who performed the best version of this jazz standard? What’s the best sounding pressing of this album? Rarely do we think about the worst version… In 1970, British avant-garde composer Gavin Bryars formed the self-proclaimed “worst orchestra in the world.” Taking classical music out of the hands of the ‘tuxedo-Nazis’, the group explored how amateurism might produce more interesting results than the conventional and often trite attempts at musical perfection.

Instead of picking the most competent musicians, the Portsmouth Sinfonia encouraged anyone to join, regardless of talent, ability or experience. The only rules were that everyone had to come for rehearsals and that people should try their best to get it right and not intentionally try to play badly. The Sinfonia quickly blossomed into an 82-member band comprised of students at the Portsmouth College of Arts alongside a young Brian Eno on clarinet (an instrument he had never played), composer Michael Nyman, and experimentalist Steve Beresford.

“I just fell in love with them. They had something rare and beautiful. They were uninhibited by the stuffy rules and all the things I hated about classical music.”

Martin Lewis (Transatlantic records)

The Portsmouth Sinfonia would go on to perform at venues ranging from avant-garde music festivals to the Royal Albert Hall. Their debut release Plays The Popular Classics landed in 1973 and included renditions of familiar favorites from The Nutcracker Suite, William Tell Overture, Gustav Holt’s The Planets, and more. Promo copies of the vinyl fetch high prices these days and often include handwritten notes from radio station DJs like “this is the worst music I’ve ever heard.”

Brian Eno: “My own involvement in the Sinfonia is on two levels – I am a non-musician in the sense of never having “studied music”, yet at the same time, I notice that many of the more significant contributions to rock music and, to a lesser extent, avant-garde music have been made by enthusiastic amateurs and dabblers. Their strength is that they are able to approach the task of music-making without previously acquired solutions and without a too firm concept of what is and what is not musically possible. Coupled with this, and consequent to it, is a current fascination with the role of ‘the accident’ in structured activities.”

Listen to the group gloriously butcher Christmas classic “Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy.” Thanks to Brendan from Folk Arts Rare Records for playing this at our Holiday Market the other week in San Diego <3

Related Articles

Sort By
12th Isle
2 Tone
2020
2022
2023
33rpm
45rpm
4AD
5 Selects
7"
99 Records
A&M
Abbey Lincoln
Aboriginal
Abstract
Ace Tone
Acid
Acid Archives
Acid Folk
Acid House
Acid Punk
Acid rock
Acoustic
Adrian Sherwood
Africa
African
Afro
Afro-Cuban
Afrobeat
Alan Ginsberg
Alan Greenberg
Alan Thicke
Albert Ayler
Album Cover
Alex Patterson
Alice Coltrane
All Genre
Altec
Amazon Music
Ambient
Ambient Jazz
ambient techno
American Primitive
Amoeba Music
Amplifier
Analog
Anatolian Rock
Andrew Weatherall
Andy Warhol
Anenon
Animal
Animation
Anna Butterss
AOR
Aphex Twin
Aquarium Drunkard
Archie Shepp
Archival
Armenia
Art
Art & Design
Art Dudley
Art Film
Art Pop
Art Rock
Artform Radio
Arthur Russell
Article
Arvo Part
Ash Ra Temple
Asian Underground
Audiogon
Audiophile
Audiovisual
Australia
Autechre
avant
Avant-Garde
Avant-pop
Avant-Rock
Avent-Garde
Balearic
Bali
Ballad
Bargain Bin
Baroque
Baroque Pop
Basquiat
Bass
Bauhaus
Bayou Funk
BBC
BBC Radiophonic
Beats
Beats in Space
Bebop
Belgium
Bennie Maupin
Berlin-school
Best of 2020
Beverly Glenn​-​Copeland
Bhutan Stamps
Big Band
Bill Laswell
Black Ark Studios
Black Jazz
Blaxsploitation
Blue Note
Blues
Blues Rock
Bob Marley
Bola Sete
Bollywood
Boogie
Book
books
Boredoms
Bossa
Bossa Nova
Brazil
Brazilian Folk
Breakbeat
Breezy
Brian Eno
Bruce Weber
Bruton Music
Buddhism
Budget Audiophiler
Cabaret
Calypso
Cambridge Audio
CAN
Candombe
Canterbury
Cape Jazz
Cape Verde
Caribbean
Carla Bley
Cartridges
Casio
Cassette
Cats
CD
Celluloid
Chamber Jazz
Chamber Music
Chan Marshall
Channel One Studios
Chanson
Charles Lloyd
Charles Mingus
Chee Shimizu
Chet Baker
Chicago
Chillout
Choral
Christmas
City Pop
Classic Album Sundays
Classical
Classics
Clothing
Club
Cocteau Twins
Coctueau Twins
Coffee
Coldwave
Colorfield
Comedy
Commercial
Community
Compass
Compass Point
Compilation
Concept Album
Condesa Electronics
Conlon Nancarrow
Conny Plank
Contemporary Jazz
Cool Jazz
Cornelius
Cosmic
Cosmic Disco
Cosmic Folk
cosmic jazz
Country
Country Pop
Country-Rock
Covers
Cult Classic
Cumbia
DAC
Dacne
Daft Punk
Dance
Dance Music
Dancehall
Dark
Dark Entries
David Behrman
David Bowie
David Byrne
Davida
Dedicated listening session
Deep Dive
Deep House
Deep Listen
Deep Listening
Delia Derbyshire
Demo
Dennis Bovell
Denon
Detroit
Devotional
Diasporic Disco
Dick Verdult
Diggin in the Mags
Disco
Discogs
DIY
DIY / Amateur
DJ
DJ Shadow
Documentary
Dogs
Don Buchla
Don Cherry
Donald Byrd
Doom Metal
Downtempo
Dowtempo
Dr. John
Dream House
Dream Pop
Dreamy
Drone
Drum Break
Drum Machine
Drum n Bass
Drums
Dual
Dub
Dub Poetry
Dub Techno
dublab
Dubwise
Durutti Column
Düsseldorf School
Eames
Earl King
Early Electronic
East African
Easy Listening
EBM
ECM
ecoustic
ecoustics
Electric Lady
Electro
Electronic
Electronic Jazz
Electronica
Elegant Pop
Elvin Jones
Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam
Enossified
Environmental Music
EOY
Eric Dolphy
ESG
Esoteric
ESP Institute
Essential Listen
Essential Listening
Essential Listenning
Ethereal
Ethiopian Jazz
Ethnic
Event
Events
Exotica
Experimental
Factory Records
Faye Wong
Fela Kuti
Festival
Field recording
Films
Fingertracks
Fingetracks
Fishing with John
Fleetwood Sound Company
Floating
Floating Points
Folk
Folk Funk
Folk-Rock
Fonts
Footwork
Fourth World
France
Free Improvisation
Free Jazz
Friends of ISC
Frippertronics
Fundraiser
Funk
Fusion
G-Funk
G.S. Schray
Gal Costa
Gamelan
Garage Rock
Garrard
Gems from the Dollar Bin
George Martin
George Oban
German techno
Gifts
Gilberto Gil
Glam Rock
Glitch
Gogo
Gospel
Grado
Graphic Novel
Grateful Dead
Group Sounds
Guide
Guitar
Gwo Ka
Gypsy
Habitat Ensemble
halloween
Hard Bop
Hard Rock
Harold Budd
Harp
Harry Nilsson
Haruomi Hosono
headphones
Heavy Metal
Henry Lewy
Herbie Hancock
hi-fi
hi-NRG
Hidden Gem
Highlife
Hip Hop
Hip-Hop
Hiroshi Yoshimura
history
Holger Czukay
Holiday
Hollywood
Holy Grail
Home Listening
House
Hypnotic
Iasos
Ibiza
IDM
Illbient
Illustration
Improvisation
Impulse!
In Conversation
In Stock
India
Indian
Indian Classical
Indie
Indie Rock
Industrial
Ingmar Bergman
Installation
Instrumental
International
Interview
ISC Classic
ISC Collection
isc guide
ISC NYC
ISC Record Store
ISC Selects
Island Records
Isolation
Italo Disco
Italo House
Italy
Jackie McLean
Jah Shaka
Jamaica
James Baldwin
Japan
Japananese
Japanese
Jazz
jazz funk
jazz kissa
Jazz-funk
Jazz-rock
JBL
John Coltrane
John Fahey
John Martyn
Jon Hassell
Joni Mitchell
Judee Sill
Jungle
K-pop
K. Leimer
Kankyo Ongaku
Keiji Haino
Keith Haring
Keith Jarrett
Kid-Friendly
Kitty Records
Klaus Schulze
Klipsch
Kompakt
Kosmiche
Kosmische
KPM
Kraftwerk
Kranky
Krautrock
Kruatrock
kwaito
L.Shankar
La Monte Young
Labels We Love
Lafawndah
Lagniappe Sessions
Laraaji
Larry Levan
Last Resort
Laswell
Latin
Latin Jazz
Laurel Canyon
Laurie Spiegel
Leaving Records
Lebanese
Lee Scratch Perry
Left-field
Leftfield
Lena Horne
Les Baxter
Lester Bowie
Library
Library Music
Liquid Liquid
Listening
Listening bar
Listening Party
Listening Session
Live Performance
Live Recording
Loose Ends
Loren Mazzacane Connors
Los Angeles
Lost & Sound
lost and sound
Louisiana Blues
Lounge
Lounge Lizards
Love Songs
Lovefingers
Lovely Music Ltd.
Lovers Rock
Luaka Bop
Mad Professor
Magazine
Mandopop
Marantz
Marcel Duchamp
Marcella Cytrynowicz
Marcos Valle
Mark E. Smith
mbaqanga
McCoy Tyner
McIntosh
Meditation
Meditative
Melancholic
Mellow
Melody As Truth
Meredith Monk
Metal
Mexico
Miami
Michael Franks
Microhouse
Mid-Century
Miles Davis
Milford Graves
Mills College
Minako Yoshida
Minimal
Minimal Techno
Minimal Wave
Minneapolis Sound
Mixes
Mixtape
Mizell Brothers
mo wax
Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs
Modal
Modern Classical
Modern Soul
Modular Synthesis
Moki Cherry
Mono
Mort Garson
Motown
MPB
MTV
Munich
Music Blog
Music from Memory
Music Interior
Music Therapy
Music Video
Musique Concrète
Mwandishi
Narrative
Neneh Cherry
Neo Soul
Neptunes
New Age
New Jack Swing
New Music
New Orleans
New Wave
New York
News
Nico
Nightmares on Wax
Nina Simone
No Wave
Noise
Non-Profit
Northern Soul
Now Sound
NTS
Nubian Pop
Nubian Soul
Numero Group
NYC
OBI
Obscure
Obscure Sound
Occult
On Screen
On-U Sound
online radio
Opera
Organ
Organic
Organic Music
Ornette Coleman
Ortofon
Oswalds Mill Audio
Outsider Pop
Overtone Singing
Painting
Painting with John
Pandit Pran Nath
Paradise Garage
Pastoral
Patrick Cowley
Paul Horn
Paul McCartney
Pauline Oliveros
PBS
Penguin Cafe Orchestra
Pensive
Percussion
Pharoah Sanders
Phillip Glass
Philly Soul
Piano
Pioneer
Plantasia
Plants
Player Piano
playlist
Playlists
Plinth
Podcast
Poetry
Political
Polygonia
Pop
Pop Art
Pop not Slop
Pop Rock
Popp
Popul Vuh
Post Bop
Post Rock
Post-Punk
Post-Rock
Power Pop
Premiere
Prince
Private Press
Producer
Productions
Professor Longhair
Prog Rock
Progressive
Progressive Rock
Prophet-5
Proto-techno
Psych-folk
Psychedelic
Psychedelic Rock
Psychic Hotline
Psyhedelic
Punk
Qobuz
Quadraphonic
QUARK
Quiet Storm
R&B
Radio
Raga
Rare Groove
rca victor
Receivers
Record Fair
Record Label
Record Store
Record Stores
Record Stories
Reggae
Reggaeton
Reissue
Reissues
Releases
Religious
Remix
Retrospective
Rock
Rocksteady
Roland
Roland Kirk
Roller Skate
Room Recordings
Room Treatment
Roots Reggae
Rotary Mixers
Rough Trade
Rudy Van Gelder
Russia
Ryuichi Sakamoto
Ryuichi Sakmoto
Sacred
Sade
Sam Gendel
Samba
Sample
Samples
San Francisco
Saxophone
Sci-fi
Séance Centre
Seefeel
Sensual
Shamisen
share
Shibuya-kei
Shoegaze
Singer-Songwriter
Sisters with Transistors
Ska
Sly & Robbie
Smooth Jazz
Soft Rock
Solid State
Songwriting
Sonia Pottinger
Sonny Sharrock
Soul
Soul-jazz
Sound Art
Sound Collage
Sound Installation
Soundsystems
Soundtrack
South Africa
South African
South America
Southern Soul
Space Rock
Spain
Speaker
speakers
Spiritual
Spiritual Jazz
Spoken Word
Squama Records
Staff Picks
Steely Dan
Stereolab
Stereophile
Steven Halpern
Stevie Wonder
Stoner Rock
stores we love
Stories
Streaming
Street Soul
Studio One
Substack
Sun Ra
Sunn O)))
Supergroup
Surround Sound
Susumu Yokota
Suzanne Cianni
Suzanne Kraft
Suzanne Langille
Swamp Rock
SYNG
Synth
Synth Pop
Synth-pop
Synthesizer
Synthwave
Taarab
Tadanori Yokoo
Takoma Records
Tangerine Dream
Tape
Tapes
TD-160
Technics
Techno
Techno Pop
Tel Aviv
Television
Terry Callier
Terry Riley
The Beatles
The Broad
The Fall
The Loft
The Meters
The Mizell Brothers
The Music Center
The Orb
The World Stage
Theater
Thelonious Monk
Third Side Music
Third Stream
This Mortal Coil
Thomas Fehlman
Thorens
Tim Sweeney
Too Pure Records
Total Luxury Spa
Traditional
Tribal
Trip-hop
Tropical
Tropicalia
Tuareg
Tube
Turntable
Turntable Lab
TV
UK
UK Jazz
Ultramarine
Underrated
Val Wilmer
Vandersteen
Vanity Fair
Velvet Underground
Vice
Video
Video Art
Vince Guaraldi
Vintage
Vintage Audio
Vintage Gear
vinyl
Virginia Astley
Visible Cloaks
Visual Art
Vocal
Vocal Jazz
Vocoder
Wackies
Wah Wah Watson
Walearic
Wally Badarou
Warp
Water
Website
Werner Herzog
West Africa
West African
Windham Hill
wiring
World
Wrecking Crew
Yacht Rock
Yamaha
Yann Tomita
Yasuaki Shimizu
Yellow Magic Orchestra
Yma Sumac
YouTube
Yukihiro Takahashi
Zamrock
Zither