Clem Jackson spoke to Solihull-based purveyors of haunting folk pop PORTLAND
One of the real hits during the after hours programme at Spring Harvest this year was a new band called Portland. Their album 'These Broken Hands' is already available in Britain's Christian bookshops through Authentic Music and the band are getting a big push into the mainstream when, on 24th August, the single "Tonight" will be released followed by the album's release in September. Many Spring Harvesters were hugely impressed with the trio's wistfully haunting folk pop sound.
The album, produced by Dan Wheeler and mixed by Grammy Award winning Kipper, has been described as "one of the most beautiful album releases in the UK in recent years. Stunning harmonies, delicate guitars, piano and strings combine to produce a sound that is emotive, evocative and a perfect backdrop for lyrics that speak of love, life and faith."
Portland comprises husband and wife team Rory (guitar/vocals) and Sarah (vocals) Thompson and Paul 'Meds' Meadow (bass) and hail from Solihull in the West Midlands. Asked about their sound Rory said, "I suppose it is a little bit folky, acoustic, while some of the newer stuff on the latest album is a little bit more rock, up-tempo as well as some indie influence."
Rory and Meds grew up together, living in the same street and although Rory had been in a few bands Meds only picked up a bass guitar about six years ago. Rory continued; "After a couple of years I met Sarah at church - she was singing in the choir with her heavenly voice and good looks - so we thought we'd incorporate her into the band. So that's how we met and got together."
The band were originally called Shoa, a name plucked from the pages of Ezekiel. In 2006 Shoa recorded an independent mini-album, 'Pretend To Be Stronger'. However, the trio were approached after one concert by two girls who asked them whether they were neo-Nazis. It turned out that shoa means holocaust. Clearly another name was required. It was during a visit to a friend's house that the band saw a striking poster credited "Portland Gallery". So the name Portland was chosen.
All 11 tracks on 'These Broken Hands' are original; Rory wrote 10 and the other, "Leviathan", was written by his uncle back in 1971. "He's a bit of a folk singer himself," Rory said. "It's just an amazing track and a bit of a family anthem for us."
The songs are fairly mainstream, as he explained, "Because of the kind of venues we play most of the people who listen to our music are typically non-Christians. What we wanted to do was strike a balance between being about faith and about having a relationship with God in a kind of setting where people who aren't Christians wouldn't feel turned off by the music."
So why have they been so popular at Spring Harvest then? Rory believes that it's because Christians pick up on the lyrics and think "that must be about God" whilst non-Christians may see the same lyric as being in a relationship. "It's double-edged and that's something we really kept in mind when we were writing the lyrics," he said. "I didn't want to be overtly Christian but then at the same time we didn't want to be un-Christian or hide what we believe."
All three members of the band have full time jobs at present but feel that this will have to change soon. "We want to go full time, we think that is where God is leading us," said Sarah. Both Rory and Sarah feel that God has put a marker on 2009 as being a milestone year for them. "We actually thought the album would be out last year and different things people have said over our lives have kind of pointed to this year." And they have already received invitations from Mark Tedder to go out to Colorado, following their appearance at Spring Harvest. "We've had invites to different places in the USA which is all going to take weeks out of our schedule and require us to leave our jobs I guess," said Rory.
The album also features Mark Edwards on keyboards and Rory said that being in the studio with Mark was "something else. We've never heard that degree of brilliance applied to our music because we're all basic musicians but he's a genius." Sarah added, "When I heard Mark play a couple of tracks I was just blown away, I was in tears."
The band have already been played on Radio 2 on the Bob Harris Saturday evening show. Rory explained how that came about. "Andy Dutch from Authentic sent the CD off to a friend of his at Abbey Road and then somehow Giles Martin, son of George Martin (The Beatles) got his hands on the album and listened to it. One day Bob Harris was at Abbey Road and ended up taking the CD back to Radio 2. He liked what he heard and then used it. It was awesome to hear our song on national radio."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.