The World’s “Worst” Orchestra

Monday January 08, 2018 Written by gen


Step aside, Nickelback – we’ve just uncovered the real Worst Band in History. OK, so the Portsmouth Sinfonia (pictured above) wasn’t so much a band as an orchestra, but as far as music-makers go, they were definitely the shittest group to butcher a ditty. And by ‘ditty’ we mean some of the world’s greatest pieces of classical music, including this, their phenomenally terrible rendition of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. (Listen with headphones to enjoy the true awfulness of the experience.)

The troupe was born in 1970 when British uni lecturer and composer Gavin Bryers held a tongue-in-cheek talent quest and threw together a last-minute entry of his own: 13 "musicians" who were only required to have a passing interest in an instrument, without needing to be able to play the thing. (Oh, and you also couldn’t feign being worse at playing than you actually were – it was a legit shit-musicians-only affair.)

For all its tooting, squeaking and contest-losing, the Portsmouth Sinfonia was so enthusiastically received by the audience at the talent quest that it went on to perform at the Royal Albert Hall and they even recorded a studio album – produced by no less than Brian Eno, who was also the group’s budding clarinettist. To top off the astonishing, the Sinfonia stayed together (albeit in different incarnations) for another ten years. For all its irony and humour, they seemed to connect with an audience keen for their classical music to be served with a generous dollop of playfulness and irreverence. 

So maybe we should change the Portsmouth Sinfonia's title from 'The Worst Band in History' to 'The Deliberately Worst Band in History'. That way we can reinstate Chad and his Nickely gang back to their rightful place. 

Image: Keystone Pictures USA/ZUMAPRESS via Alamy