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The Portsmouth Sinfonia
I just got a CD for my birthday from my parents. The CD is the "Dead
Parrot Society: The Best of British Comedy", and includes a cover of
"Overture / Pinball Wizard" by the Portsmouth Sinfonia. This is
absolutely the WORST rendition of these songs -- and the funniest.
If you like Monty Python, Peter Cook, John Cleese, et al., I suggest
you get this disc to enjoy this marvelous sendup of Tommy!
Here is what the CD liner booklet says about the Portsmouth Sinfonia
and these selections:
``We British have always loved our eccentrics, and they don't
come much more eccentric than a classical orchestra that prides
itself on being the World's Worst!
The Portsmouth Sinfonia sotry could fill a book (and should!)
Here's the condensed version:
In 1970, a group of students at the Portsmouth College of Art
decided that classical music was too intimidating for its own
good. Unless you were of orchestral standard, you couldn't play
in public. Very undemocratic! So, predating the punk ethos by
some six years, they decided to form an orchestra -- irrespective
of their playing abilities.
Not everyone was bad. Some were actually of symphony orchestra
standard. But others didn't know which end of a violin to blow.
The result was hilarious. Not that they intentionally played
badly. That would have been poor taste, resulting in obvious
musical gags of the Victor Borge variety. It was just that by
embracing the entire range of musical competence, 'accidents' were
bound to happen.
By performing popular selections from the classical repertoire,
they upped the ante. We the audience knew what the piece _should_
sound like. The enjoyment came from the clash between the
'standard' version in our head, and the substandard version in our
The Sinfonia became cult stars. They were saluted by the avant
garde and performance art crowd as the newest thing since John
Cage. Rock fans enjoyed the loose, celebratory enthusiasm that
they brought to classical music. A nation in the midst of the
early '70s recessionary gloom howled with laughter.
And the humorless prigs who tried to ruin classical music for you
and me when we were growing up (by making it seem so starchy)
writhed in agony. Great stuff!
[...] Having conquered the classical music world and the Americas
the Sinfonia promptly retired. A new standard had been set for
classical orchestras, what more needed to be done?
And that was it -- until 1979. In the blah world of the late '70s
a series of (presumably) kitsch albums by The London Symphony
Orchestra was released 'celebrating' classic rock. In reality
these were grandiose, bloated quasi-classical arrangements of rock
standards by artists such as The Beatles, The moody Blues, and
Procul Harum (Fittingly, these travesties in taste were concocted
and released by the K-Tel record label).
We in the Sinfonia camp were horrified, and we retaliated with our
own album of classic rock, done in _our_ style. We didn't only do
the obvious Beatles and Stones songs. We also came up with
classical versions of the hidden 'nuggets' of the pop world, such
as "My Boy Lollipop" and "Glad All Over"!
Our album was a big success. We didn't sell any copies, but the
London Symphony Orchestra gave up making their classic rock albums
-- so that was a major victory.
I didn't include a track from that album, because I thought that
even more enjoyable would be a rare recording of the Sinfonia
playing that repertoire _live_! Emulating our Royal Albert Hall
classical concert -- to celebrate our rock album -- we went to the
Albert Hall's pop equivalent, London's famous Rainbow Theatre.
So for the first time anywhere on disc (for some strange reason no
one wanted to release the live album), here is The Portsmouth
Sinfonia performing "Overture" from the Who's _Tommy_, followed by
One of the joys in first listening to the Sinfonia is playing
"Name That Tune". Having worked with them for so many years, I
haven't had that pleasure for quite a while. However, when
researching this album I listened to the unreleased tapes of the
concert and came upon the "Overture". To my horror (and
amusement), I realized that I had _no_ idea what it was for several
moments -- and I had suggested that they perform the piece in the
first place! _And_ had produced the actual concert! Such are the
rich hidden treasures of the Sinfonia."
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