Beth Gibbons, lead singer of the important British alternative band Portishead, is not so much mysterious as intensely private. Born in 1965 into an Exeter farm family, she embraced rural life fully, forgoing college to continue doing farm work and listening to music on a home stereo with her family. As a 22-year-old in the late '80s, however, she took a chance on becoming a singer by moving to the seaside town of Bristol. A smattering of praise and bookings kept her on the local scene, but Gibbons, who is often compared to Edith Piaf, wouldn't start earning enough as an artist to support herself until after an important trip to the unemployment line in 1991. It was while waiting to get on the dole that year that she met her future Portishead partner Geoff Barrow, who was also in a rough financial situation. Prior to their meeting, Barrow was a studio hand at Bristol's Coach House; there he worked with such emerging acts as Primal Scream, Depeche Mode, and Massive Attack, all important influences on Portishead. When Gibbons met Barrow, he was looking to put together a trip-hop outfit of his own and in need of a lyricist and vocalist. With the addition of the local jazz guitarist Adrian Utley, Portishead were born. The band's best-known album, 1994's debut Dummy, went on to win the Mercury Prize for Best British Album in 1995. In addition to three well-received Portishead records, Gibbons released her solo debut, the thoughtful Out of Season, in 2002.
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