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Things I Have Learned

Portishead on Camper Vans: Hitting the road with Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley
Gillian Leschasin , July 14th, 2008 12:49

The Quietus hooked up with Portishead's Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley to talk about record collecting, only to find they'd much rather discuss travelling the highways and biways of the land, snug in a camper van.

Portishead hit the road

You’d assume that the lads in Portishead would share a deep, unrequited, freaky sort of love for record collecting, that their liquorice slick pieces of vinyl would get Portishead producer Geoff Barrow’s and guitarist Adrian Utley’s pulses racing. I mean, this is the band that recorded and pressed the music for their debut CD Dummy on to vinyl first to create a distinct grainy, crackling sound. I walked in to the interview excited to discover what treasures lay buried within their respective stashes (Barrow says he’s got thousands in his), but Geoff and Adrian simply scratched their heads and shrugged their shoulders when I asked.

“We don’t ‘collect’ records,” they both said.

Surprising fact #1: record collecting isn't their thing. Geoff says that records are more of a tool for creating music than a passion.

Surprising fact #2: They’re actually all about the campervans.

It sounds ridiculous but it’s a combination that makes sense. With festival season frenzy peaking right now in the country, the guys were more than eager to share what they’ve learned about campervans, caravan culture and the key to festival campervan success. Adrian’s got a bronze Toyota motor home from Japan. And he fucking LOVES that beast.

“It’s got a cooker and fridge, and a bed and a lift-up roof and a really cool stereo and a DVD [player]. And I’m gonna buy, hopefully over the next period this summer, an old VW camper . . . and do it up how I want to do, just as a little project.”

Geoff doesn’t have one, but he’s come close to hopping on the band, I mean, campervan wagon come festival time.

“I end up with a £50 camping shop tent with no clean underwear, toilet paper or water. I am the opposite of a campervan. I’m disorganized, usually carrying children and full size quilts.” Festival goers take note as two-thirds of Portishead lay down the 10 things they’ve learned about the often overlooked campervan...

Whatever you do, don’t play Portishead's latest album Third in your campervan at a festival:

Geoff: “It’s not enjoyable to have it with a cup of tea at a summer festival. If you were at a conspiracy theorist convention in Oslo, or you’re driving to Vancouver Island and you were going to get off your fucking head on something evil then it might be worth playing it.

“I’ve been told on a couple of occasions that 'Machine Gun' has made children cry. It wasn’t intentional. My kids love it but certain kids have been really upset by it.”

It’s better than a tent:

Adrian: “We’re going to play at Glastonbury this year, not with Portishead but with various different people, and I’m taking my new campervan to the festival, which means we can sleep in a nice environment, hang outside, cook well and have a nice time. It doesn’t matter how bad the rain is or how bad the mud is at Glastonbury festival this year because we’ll be in our camper van.”

They’re fantastic for discovering your own country:

A: “You can have a holiday in your campervan in the beauty of England and Scotland.”
[Geoff laughs.]
A: “Shut up Geoff! You don’t have to fly to another part of the world. I mean you’re using petrol to get around but you’re pretty much having your family holiday and discovering England, or Scotland or wherever you want to go. We’re [Adrian, his girlfriend and daughter] going to Dartmoor and possibly Skye.”

Don’t buy a shitty one:

G: “I know very little about camper vans other than be careful of buying an old VW water cooled camper van because they often break down.”

A: “You don’t want to get something that’s rotten and rusty unless you want to do a lot of work.”

They are creative outlets:

A: You are able to take a standard vehicle and make it into a campervan, paint it how you want, change the wheels or make the glass black if you want to. Really, it’s a further expression of creativity. I’ve seen purely army painted ones with camouflage, and I’ve seen far out psychedelic ones, I’ve seen that shabby chic thing with leather armchairs that are slightly ripped and stuff. I’ve seen VW campers now where the paint is all completely fucked and hanging off it but it’s all polished as well so it’s beautiful kind of old knackered paint work.”

Campervans mean attitude:

G: “[Those with campervans] were always smug at festivals because they were dry.”

Embrace caravan culture:

A: I’ve learned there’s an enormous community among campervans and it’s almost like in the old days of caravanning. My generation thinks caravanning is for old people, but the campervan world is a whole new world. It could be people that go to surfing, and they’ve all got fantastic vans that they’ve really pimped up and they’ve got fantastic stereos so they can have their music really loud. They can get their surfboards on the roof and make up their beds and party like hell in their vans.”

The VW is a cult favourite:

A: “Grant from Massive Attack has a VW campervan. He goes away with his children every year. It’s a whole kind of, generation of people who have VW campervans which is a huge world that you can buy into. There’s a festival in Bristol this weekend of VW campers and vans and stuff. With that comes bands. It’s our generation of caravanning: it’s a festival and people get as fucked up at night as they would if they were going to Glastonbury.”

America is campervan heaven:

A: America is the granddaddy of campervans, so they have beautiful Dodge campers and things that we can’t possibly have because we couldn’t even get down the roads. A lot of the VW campers come from America, that whole thing with the 60s and hippies, they used to have campervans and paint them psychedelic.

And the key... join a hippy band to get prime festival parking:

G: “Join a hippy band and play one of the smaller fields that you can actually park your camper van in. Don’t join a cool band and play a big stage. Play a small one and then you can actually park up behind the stage in your campervan. Adrian goes off and joins hippy bands so he’s able to park his camper van. He’s playing like, three gigs at Glastonbury with hippy bands only so he can park because they have their own hippy fields.”

Portishead are currently taking some time off, but they are going to make another record. Their new single 'The Rip' is out today, Monday July 14th.

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