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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!

						-- Rich

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
    "Pinball Wizard".

    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."

    Martin Lewis
    Los Angeles
    January 1993
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