Friday, 15 February 2019

Bittersweet Sinfonia

Although I seldom post about novelty records there have been one or two notable exceptions over the years. This is one of those records that always makes me laugh, and I think its about time I shared it with you.

The Portsmouth Sinfonia was founded by English composer Gavin Bryars and a group of students at the Portsmouth School of Art in 1970 and was open to anyone that either had no musical training or who chose to play an instrument that they were unfamiliar with. The only rules were that everyone had to come for rehearsals and that people should try their best to get it right, not intentionally play badly. Their first recording¸ a one-sided flexi disc of Rossini's William Tell Overture, was sent out as the invitation for the 1970 degree show. Their debut album, Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics, followed in 1973.

The orchestra remained something of a cult, selling out the occasional live performance but not really attracting anything like a large audience until, in 1979 they issued their third album, 20 Classic Rock Classics, which gained a fair amount of airplay. After that, the orchestra was approached by Island records and, inspired by the “Hooked on Classics” series, in 1981 they released Classical Muddly – which became a top 40 hit in September of that year.

In 2011 the Portsmouth Sinfonia was the subject of a Radio 4 documentary. In that programme Bryars claimed that idea that members were required to be novices at their instruments was a "scurrilous rumour put about by the BBC". As if!
Here’s their 1981 hit single Classical Muddly (originally backed with a liver version of the Hallelujah Chorus, recorded at the Albert Hall) and, from their 1973 Brian Eno-produced album Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics, the ridiculously fun Also Sprach Zarathustra.

Download Muddly HERE

Download Sprach HERE


  1. The owner of a shop I worked for in Dallas imported a number of copies of this in the early 80's and played it regularly in the store. We sold them all!

    1. Was it Bill's Records? I remember traveling all the way from Tyler to see his store in the early '90s :-)

  2. Portsmouth Sinfonia has a following among artists today:

  3. Replies
    1. Hi Stephen. If you try again later today or tomorrow it should be fine I have limited free bandwidth or something like that! If you can't wait contact me via the Facebook page (link above, near the top of the right hand column) or email me and I'll send them to you

  4. This was the very bestest of ALL those clapalong records like Hooked-On-Stars-Of-45-Medley-Party-Mix-Time. When the whole thing just car-crashes and changes clap pattern for the Blue Danube Waltz at the 2.00 mark the listener realises they are listening to something trancendental and very, very fine. I love this record and cherish my PS lps. The conductor even conducts them from behind their backs in this clip of them doing "Apache" in 1980.


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