Born: Exeter, Devon, England
Styles: Adult Alternative Pop/ Rock, Alternative/ Indie Rock, Folk, Alternative Folk
Beth Gibbons, lead singer of the important British alternative band Portishead, is not so much mysterious as intensely private. Born in 1965 into an Exeter farm family, she embraced rural life fully, forgoing college to continue doing farm work and listening to music on a home stereo with her family. As a 22-year-old in the late '80s, however, she took a chance on becoming a singer by moving to the seaside town of Bristol. A smattering of praise and bookings kept her on the local scene, but Gibbons, who is often compared to Edith Piaf, wouldn't start earning enough as an artist to support herself until after an important trip to the unemployment line in 1991. It was while waiting to get on the dole that year that she met her future Portishead partner Geoff Barrow, who was also in a rough financial situation. Prior to their meeting, Barrow was a studio hand at Bristol's Coach House; there he worked with such emerging acts as Primal Scream, Depeche Mode, and Massive Attack, all important influences on Portishead. When Gibbons met Barrow, he was looking to put together a trip-hop outfit of his own and in need of a lyricist and vocalist. With the addition of the local jazz guitarist Adrian Utley, Portishead were born. The band's best-known album, 1994's debut Dummy, went on to win the Mercury Prize for Best British Album in 1995. In addition to three well-received Portishead records, Gibbons released her solo debut, the thoughtful Out of Season, in 2002.
- Tammy La Gorce (All Music Guide)
Seasons come, seasons go, but some things remain the same. The feeling of being out of season and out of step with the times, the surprise of first time experiences. All the things captured on Out Of Season, the album by Beth Gibbons and Paul Webb, aka Rustin' Man.
You'll know Beth from Portishead and Paul from Talk Talk. They've been friends since before Beth joined Portishead when Beth had auditioned for Paul's post-Talk Talk band, O'rang. The pair kept in contact and at the end of the last Portishead tour a break for Beth arose and a conversation sparked the collaboration.
On one level, Out Of Season is all you'd expect an album from the duo's background: exquisitely melodic, haunting, both three-in-the-morning air of calm and nape-hair-raising at the same time. With a spiritual depth, but palpably human emotion. With a definite feeling of sadness, but infused with the joy of nature ("God knows, how I adore life / When the wind turns on the shores lies another day" - 'Mysteries'). But then this is a different record to Portishead or Talk Talk. For one, it's 'beats'-free, and has more of a timeless, feel. Those who love Nick Drake, or Nina Simone, or even Radiohead's 'Exit Music (For a Film)' should unconditionally love Out Of Season.
For Paul, the project meant he could record the album he had always wanted to make "With O'rang we always built tracks around drum improvisations. By the time it came to recording vocals the mood of the tracks was already fixed. With Beth's voice, however, it was possible to build up the atmosphere of the songs around the melody and the chords rather than being dictated to by a rhythm track" whilst for Beth "It was the chance to explore songwriting, to have another challenge. It was almost like a 'first time' vibe."
It was even more 'first time' because they brought very little work with them. There were Beth's chords and melody for 'Mysteries', and Paul's lyric to 'Rustin Man', which subsequently became his alias "'Rustin Man' was one of the first tracks we finished, and it just seemed appropriate. It's that feeling of decay when the values you put on things have no relevance anymore because the world's moved to another place. The basic arrangements of the songs on the album could have been played in the 1940s and sounded pretty much the same. We emphasised this by committing all the music to tape." Paul says.
When they started, the 'tape' concept was about the only ground rule. Beth: "I didn't want to imitate where I'd gone before so we went with what came out. Obviously we can throw stuff out and go with what you think you're after, but the only thing we were after was something relatively honest."
There are guest contributions too, drawn from their immediate band circles: Adrian Utley (guitar, and some co-producing) of Portishead and drummer Clive Deamer and pianist John Baggott from Portishead's live band alongside drummer and percussionist Lee Harris and Simon Edwards from Talk Talk. The album was mixed by Phill Brown, whose CV includes Talk Talk's Spirit Of Eden album alongside Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley.
Much of Out Of Season was written and conceived at their homes in the countryside in Devon and Essex with tracklaying in London studios Westside and Konk. The album's overriding mood is isolation both in time and place. Other references to nature and seasons can be found in 'Funny Time Of Year', 'Resolve') and 'Sand River': "Autumn leaves / beauty's got a hold of me." But that melancholic undertow isn't far away: "Autumn leaves / pretty as can be / everyone can see / everyone except me." "I do like sad songs," Beth says in their defence. "I find it really hard to write a happy song without it sounding somehow melancholic".
The album title was Paul's "but Beth loved it. I think we both react against things around us, the feeling of isolation can be quite comforting"."The title seemed appropriate because Paul and I aren't youngsters, and for all the seasonal references," Beth contends. "The album's certainly not a fashion statement or something contemporary. It just seemed right."
One inspiration for Beth, is that, while seasons stay the same, we nevertheless grow with age. "There's stuff there about getting older. I've only just realised my mortality. When you're younger, inevitably you don't see it as a reality, but it seems to be looming, and that's quite frightening - you realise how much you're going to miss people. 'Resolve' is very much about that."
In case anyone thinks that a Beth/Paul project means that Portishead have split, Beth can confirm that she is currently working on vocals and melodies on tracks that Portishead's Geoff Barrow has recently sent her.
Out Of Season, for now, is a one-off. A magnificent album, out of season perhaps, but totally of its time.