FROM the moment corduroy-clad eccentric J Willgoose Esq. and his drumming companion Wrigglesworth entered stage-right upstairs at 53 Degrees, a clearly appreciative Preston audience was feeling the love for this inventive duo.
For those not yet in the know, how best to explain Public Service Broadcasting? Well, in a way they do what they say on the tin – inform, educate and entertain, via a wondrous soundscape to a backdrop of truly evocative public information film clips from yesteryear.
Their mission, if you should choose to join them any time, is to ‘teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future’. But that’s only really part of the story for this celebrated London two-piece.
Think of the power of WH Auden’s poetry to Benjamin Britten’s score on cult short Night Mail, then swap orchestral strings for the guitar, banjo and heart varieties, the floor-filling grooves of the James Taylor Quartet, indie assault of The Blue Aeroplanes and The Wedding Present and inspirational dance cacophony of The Go! Team, then you’re at least part-way there.
With the first film reel projected behind our dynamic duo as they let loose on Introduction (Let Yourself Go), we were away for an hour of sometimes nostalgic, occasionally art-house, and gloriously exquisite images, beautifully complemented by hypnotic beats, gorgeous guitar and heart-tugging banjo.
Next up was London Can Take It from the superb War Room EP, the cover of the vinyl version proudly displayed as I walked in, and the sound of the air raid warning soon heralding the song itself, an American war correspondent walking us through the blitzed capital as its under-siege residents got ready for another night of carnage from the air.
It’s not all about those dark old days of the early 1940s, and New Dimensions In Sound took us on something of a stereophonic voyage of discovery in words, pictures and lush yet driven sound, its added rock riff ensuring electronica met rock head on.
Talking of ‘head on’, leather-seat gripping new single Signal 30 was next, a thrilling backdrop of past-day US car chase sequences a fast and furious setting for Willgoose’s guitar blast, with elements of That Petrol Emotion’s head-spinning live surge.
If there’s any link with a certain two-piece electronic outfit band with the same initials, it arrived when the alternative Tennant and Lowe invited us to a vintage fashion show on The Now Generation, adding a sumptuous synth mix to their already-over-spilling creative inventory.
Like the afore-mentioned Chris Lowe, Public Service Broadcasting don’t do traditional chat between songs, but Willgoose’s computer-geek wizardry ensured techno-dialogue between sequencers and audience throughout. “We always wanted to play … (pause while he fiddled with his machine) Preston,” came the announcement, up went the cheers.
We were soon back on the WWII theme with the inspirationally-rousing and beautifully-choreographed Dig for Victory, a work of art for its images alone, and then came signature tune Theme from PSB, before another foray back into times of austerity with the more pensive yet similarly emotionally-powerful If War Should Come.
As Neville Chamberlain’s announcement informed ‘what happened next’, 1939-style, the band launched into the stunning Spitfire, their cinematically-gripping tribute to the power of the man-made ‘bird’ that proved to be this nation’s salvation.
That aerial theme led to a maritime one with the slow-to-build but similarly-strong Lit Up, the screen images again transporting us back to an integral part of our modern history while the band’s added soundtrack brought a lump to the throat.
Then we’re back into an exciting post-war world of technicolour triumph on understated dance show-stopper ROYGBIV, Willgooses’s banjo picking adding to that sense of victory over the forces of evil – towards a brighter day.
They came back once more, Willgoose and Wrigglesworth – via the medium of sound frequencies – telling us “Preston, you look … good, and sound … fine”. That summed them up to a tee, for while the music suggests hyperbole, the pair themselves remain quintessentially British, taking the audience’s adulation with a sense of embarrassment, happy to hide behind their instruments.
There was one more treat to come, reaching their peak on Everest, iconic images of Hillary, Tenzing and co. taking us to a new height, feeling a sense of that spirit of achievement and exhilaration those intrepid mountaineers discovered 60 years before.
And then, just in case we were getting a little too carried away with such a mammoth spectacle, our low-key heroes bid their fond farewells above the strains of the Last of the Summer Wine theme tune. Glorious.
For more about Public Service Broadcasting, their upcoming gigs and to pre-order their debut LP, head here
I concur. A great review, thanks.
Thanks Craig … a top night for sure.
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