Crossover trio Portico rise from the ashes

Portico. Picture: Phil Sharp

Portico. Picture: Phil Sharp - Credit: Archant

Ahead of their show at Village Underground, Portico’s Duncan Bellamy about how the Mercury Prize-nominated band reinvented themselves after nearly calling it a day.

Much like fellow jazz/electronic crossover stars GoGo Penguin, Portico – or as they were called until two years ago, Portico Quartet – burst onto the scene back in 2007 with their Mercury-nominated debut, Knee-Deep In The North Sea.

After going on to record two more albums, however, the band was on the brink of collapse. The departure of percussionist Nick Mulvey and his successor, Keir Vine, naturally forced the remaining members – Jack Wyllie (saxophone), Duncan Bellamy (drums) and Milo Fitzpatrick (double bass) – to change their approach, but by Bellamy’s own admission, they “couldn’t seem to make anything that was very good” and motivation within the group was sorely lacking.

“It kind of came to the point where the autumn of the year before last, we weren’t sure whether we were going to carry on, whether we were just giving it up or just leaving it there and doing something else.

“We decided that that the way to reinvigorate things was just to start almost from scratch again. I guess that kind of accounts for the really big change – this isn’t meant to be like another Portico Quartet album.”

The new record Bellamy refers to is Living Fields. Due for release next month, the band will be previewing it with a Village Underground show this Wednesday and it is certainly a musical departure from the loose, worldly jazz of the Quartet.

To help find a “spark” to rise from the ashes, Portico enlisted the help of fellow musicians and friends such as Jamie Woon and Alt-J’s Joe Newman, who sings on lead single 101.

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“In that search for people who we could relate to, I think you always end up looking closest to home,” says Bellamy, a Clapton resident. “Joe grew up really close to Jack; I think they were even on the same street.”

With all three members having had personal issues to deal with over the last couple of years though, they were determined that Living Fields wasn’t going to become just a disconnected series of collaborations.

One particularly inspirational reference point proved to be Nostalgia For The Light, an award-winning 2010 Chilean documentary which focuses on the journeys of widows searching for the remnants of relatives executed during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Alongside Portico’s new musical approach, it appears to have helped them find a meaning and purpose in their newfound life as a three piece.

“If you do collaborations you can often end up with meaningless lyrics and things that don’t mean much to you, but we were very keen that this maintained a sense of identity.

“Asides from being an amazing documentary anyway, it also served as a bit of a vehicle because it seemed to sum up a lot of things that had happened in an elliptical way; things that had happened to us personally in the intervening year or two.

“It was kind of weird, but it’s been a nice way to channel a lot of what we’ve been going through, but with a bit more distance.”

Portico play Hackney’s Village Underground on Wednesday. Visit