Interview with Portishead’s Guitarist Adrian Utley

“I’ve always been a huge fan of vintage amps,” Adrian explains, “but I haven’t been so happy with an amp as I have with my AD30 which I’ve used for everything ever since I first got it about four years ago. There’s something about that amp… I can mess with it and really change the sound and the gain structure of it – but I can do so really simply.”

Adrian Utley (right) and his Portishead band mates

[originally from the official Orange website]

“In my extensive collection of about fifteen amps I’ve got a 1950s and a 1960s Fender Twin; an Ampeg Reverb; a 1950s Fender Tweed and some old AC30s. But the AD30 can produce all of those vintage sounds partly because I can drive it without going incredibly loud.”

Portishead have recently released their first album for ten years – Third – and are now promoting it having recently played concerts in America (the Coachella festival in Indio, California) Berlin, Barcelona and on British national radio and television.

One track from Third – ‘The Rip’ – neatly illustrates Adrian’s open-minded approach and attitude to recording the guitar: “I have lots of acoustics and electrics. One of my main stage electrics is a 1964 Fender Jazzmaster and for acoustic I use a Brook homemade guitar [see photo left] by a company from Dartmoor.

But when we recorded The Rip I used a beautiful little kid’s guitar that I bought in a junk shop for four quid. It had just the kind of different tone I’d been after for a quite a while. It cost another thirty pounds to have the frets sorted out and then I used it in the studio…recorded with a three-and-a-half grand mic ! [laughs] My first perception of acoustic guitars was from records – and on records they never sound like they do when you’re in the room… they sound more spacious and have much more frequency.

So for me to play a kid’s guitar means it’s got limited frequency range already when recording; so it gives space for loads of other stuff.”

Citing Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page as key influences, Adrian is very much into experimenting with sound: “I studied jazz for more than ten years but I’ve always been interested in further sounds you can get from guitars either by using pedals or by alternative ways of playing. For instance, playing rhythms behind the bridge with a paint brush and using effects on that sound. Or bowing the strings with a pair of long-nose pliers. In these kinds of ways you can make the guitar go into other worlds which wouldn’t happen playing in the conventional way.

And my pedals are pretty extreme: I have an American Real McCoy wah pedal – I used to use a Cry Baby. With the RMC I can get pure wah sound – which I love – or extreme filter sweeping and volume change. I’ve got fuzz boxes that were custom-made for me that give out a really extreme germanium kind of fuzz. And I’ve got a Hot Cake distortion pedal from New Zealand. I’ve got a lot of different echo pedals set up on my board including a Line 6, an old Boss analogue and newish Boss digital echo. And a tremolo that can go from extreme to really subtle. The thing with all of this is that I’m looking for texture or extremity.”

Another thing that’s quite extreme and unmissable about Portishead’s backline is Adrian’s customised Orange 2×12” cab: “I wanted to have a loud speaker cab – that’s two separate words [laughs] – and so I asked Jim Barr who plays bass with us, to spray-paint a design on the speaker grille. I really like what he came up with and in a weird kind of way it fits in with the pictures you get on old Orange amps – the mountains for the echo and stuff.”

Jim Barr explains more about his artwork: “I did it with masking tape and a can of spray paint and I used my imagination a little bit and wanted something to look like a picture of loudness. I could waffle on about all kinds of arty stuff like German expressionism – bit I won’t [laughs] ! We sprayed the whole grille black, then put on the masking tape and sprayed over with matt white car primer. It took about twenty minutes all in all.”
At the Coachella festival – held in April in California – Adrian hired an Orange rig and for the first time ever used a 4×12 speaker cab: ”I’ve never used a 4×12 before in my life and what I found was that I could make it feed back in a more controlled way which was really good.”

Lastly, how did Adrian first hear about Orange?: “I remember Orange from the 1970s when I was beginning – quite a few friends had them. But those old 120-watt ones were way too loud for me. Then a few years ago I was doing a session for Marianne Faithfull which Polly Harvey was producing and she had an AD30 with a 2×12 cab and I used hers in the studio. It was so totally brilliant – and not just for guitar… we played bass through it for certain things and that also sounded great.”

Utleys Orange Heads & Customized Cab

Utley's Orange Heads & Customized Cab

Orange AD30/AD30TC and customised 2×12 cab onstage in Barcelona 29.5.08


Watch: a Portishead classic, “Sour Times” (Live):

To hear tracks from the Third album visit 


~ by dolphinblog on August 19, 2008.

One Response to “Interview with Portishead’s Guitarist Adrian Utley”

  1. Hi,
    It’s a very nice blog U’ve made here: thank you very much to share all these tips about Utley’s gear !
    I was watching again and again the “Live at Roseland” in order to see the gear on stage to reproduce his sound on my Line6 X3 pedalboard…
    I’m still wondering wich of the two cited wahwah he’s using on this show but i’ll find it out trying the emulations!
    THANX AGAIN, I’ll put a booklet on your page
    C U

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