Public Service Broadcasting

TrackAlbum / EP
The Other SideThe Race For Space
SpitfireInform - Educate - Entertain
EverestInform - Educate - Entertain
Fire In The CockpitThe Race For Space
People Will Always Need CoalEvery Valley
ProgressEvery Valley
They Gave Me A LampEvery Valley
White Star LinerWhite Star Liner EP
KorolevLive At Brixton
Lit UpLive At Brixton

Public Service Broadcasting photo

Public Service Broadcasting is the corduroy-clad brainchild of London-based J. Willgoose, Esq. (centre) who, along with drumming companion Wrigglesworth (left) and multi instrumentalist JF Abraham, is on a quest to inform, educate and entertain audiences around the globe.

 

 

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PSB playlist

 

Contributor: John Hartley

January 2015, a grey Saturday, mild for the time of year with more than a hint of damp in the air, and an anoraked man takes his carrier bag into a cafe at the top end of town. He orders a … he scans the chalked array of variations above the barista’s head … erm, a latte, and sits down at a rickety wooden table, square, just enough room for two people to sit at a push. He is on his own, so it doesn’t matter. In fact, he is the only customer in the café. He gets up again, and adds a slice of carrot cake to his order. On the grey painted table is a small glass jar of lego; other tables are decorated with what must be previous customers’ constructions. The walls are decorated with records, and there are crates of records for sale at the rear end of the café. A record plays as he sips his coffee, self-consciously.

He has never been into the café before, despite recommending it heartily to others. This is a year of doing new things though, he has decided, and it is not long before he does another new thing: he asks the barista what the record is. What he can hear is what seems to be a recording of the moon landings, but layered over music, beats and pulses. It’s not something he has heard before, and it makes a pleasant change to the usual sort of music he hears out and about. What was particularly striking was the silence, the hugely long pause in the middle of the track: that was bold! The barista shows the record sleeve over the counter and says “Public Service Broadcasting. The Race For Space.” A mental note is made, and then filed at the back of the mind.

He later discovers the track he heard to be The Other Side, the awestruck sound of anticipation and celebration as a manned spacecraft circled the moon and re-established contact for the first time, dubbed over instrumentation by Public Service Broadcasting. They’re not the first musicians to explore found sound, and doubtless won’t be the last, but it appears they have done it better than anyone else has so far, sufficient to make a career out of it at least. This much can be deciphered because, six months later as he bides time between sporadic parents evening appointments at the school in which he teaches, he has discovered both The Race For Space and its predecessor Inform – Educate – Entertain and is dabbling, still trying new things.

What strikes immediately is the difference between the two albums: one a themed, focussed narrative on the battle undertaken between the USA and USSR for space supremacy, the other a quite disparate array of subjects – a classic poem put to music, an American driving campaign, an ode to the origins of the band’s name. Nothing joins them together, yet they are completely bound by the same innovative moulding of rhythm, mood, instrumentation and atmosphere.

 

Take Spitfire, for example: how the music matches the menacing swirl and roar of the engines, the excitement and anticipation within the music matching the cut-glass BBC English narrative. Or Everest, whose breathless, climactic crescendos mirror the euphoria of reaching the summit of the world (assumed, of course. I can’t claim to have done it myself. Although I have tried to piece found sound to music, and can assure you it is by no means as easy or effortless as Public Service Broadcasting make it sound). Both of these feature on the 2013 debut album Inform – Educate – Entertain, which is probably the most logical place to start with a band, but things don’t always work out that way.

I returned to The Race For Space, having listened to the multi-themed debut, and found great enjoyment in the sensitive manner in which the subject matter is treated. The macho posturing of the respective world leaders is left where it should be; instead the record focusses on the people whose lives were actually at stake in the quest. Inevitably, Gagarin makes an appearance, arguably the most famous space voyager of all time. So to though does Valentina Tereshkova, the first (and still youngest) woman to have flown in space; her tribute features ethereal, haunting guest vocals from Smoke Fairies. Significantly, the album does not just glorify the events of its subject, and Fire In The Cockpit is an essential but uncomfortable reminder that things did not always go to plan, and that many sacrifices were made along the way.

 

Subsequent releases by Public Service Broadcasting have continued in the vein of The Race For Space in that they take a subject as a theme and build the music around it. For their third album the band relocated to South Wales where they set up a studio in a village hall to record what would become Every Valley. There exist fascinating video clips on YouTube documenting various stages of the making of the album, which focusses on the sudden decline of the coal industry. The 1980s political assault on heavy industry in traditional leftwing heartlands is made all the more stark in the contrast of messages explored in People Will Always Need Coal, Progress and All Out. Three very different tracks – the middle one featuring guest vocals from Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell – capture the apparent absurdity of a progressive industry mining a resource that is viewed as essential, against a backdrop of industrial unrest as people fight for the right to go to work and earn a wage to support their family. They Gave Me A Lamp meanwhile illustrates a further challenge for the male working class culture of the era: not only were mining communities facing a loss of employment opportunities, they also faced increasing and unprecedented competition for any jobs that were available from their wives, sisters and mothers. Again, there is no judgement within this record; it merely documents from source.

It is usually for the album rather than the single that a band is best known, and it is the three studio albums released to date that Public Service Broadcasting are best known. That is not to say, however, that their other material is any less worthy. Remix releases aside, the band’s first offering, the 10″ EP One contributed (in different, sample-approved form) Theme From PSB to the debut album, whilst subsequent EP The War Room offered Spitfire. Elfstedentocht (Parts 1 and 2) offers a German-language take on the band’s inimitable style. However, it is perhaps White Star Liner that provides the most essential listening. Effectively commissioned to write specific music for a live performance on the slipway that launched the Titanic, the band composed what became this four track EP about both the Titanic and her sister ship. The title track is included here, for its celebratory drama that belies the fate ultimately awaiting.

 

Public Service Broadcasting document history. They take old news and make it modern, bringing with it a vitality, vigour and renewed understanding. But what will document them? Well … in a relatively unusual move, they released a live album after only their second studio collection. Consciously self-conscious about the potential pretentiousness of this, they base their claim for innocence on the fact that they merely wanted to record for posterity what they felt would be the summit of their achievements: a gig at Brixton Academy. They were quite right too. What are great, effective songs in the studio take on a whole new lease of life when supported by live brass and strings, multimedia clips and their rickety home-made Sputnick. Korolev, a double A-side, becomes a huge sound of cosmonautical adventure, whilst the live version of Lit Up brings hitherto subtle instrumental and melodic nuances to the front of the stage where they can shimmer and shine like the lights on the flotilla described in the narrative.

Where Public Service Broadcasting go from here remains to be seen. There is a rich history of spoken word for the band to mine. Musically they continue to develop; perhaps the subject matter chosen will be more important than anything. They have the potential to become one of the most essential bands of their time. What is certain is that the chance cup of coffee in the first few days of 2015 turned out to be one of the best I’ve had.

 

PSB Live at Brixton Academy 2016

 

 

PSB Tiny Desk Concert 2014: Signal 30, Spitfire, Everest

 

Public Service Broadcasting official website

PSB YT channel

PSB at Discogs

Public Service Broadcasting biography (AllMusic)

John Hartley has written several posts for the Toppermost site. He is the author of “Capturing The Wry”, a memoir of the early stages in his quest to write the perfect pop song. He tweets as @Johny Nocash and the music he creates can be found at Broken Down Records.

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