Written on 27/05/2013 by Stephen Birch • No Comments

Public Service Broadcasting: Live Review

Sound Control, Tuesday 14th May 2013
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It’s been 12 months of hard work for the members of Public Service Broadcasting since the release of their widely touted ‘The War Room’ E,P in 2012.  The current touring schedule brings them to their biggest Manchester date yet, at Sound Control. The gig is a sold out affair, based mainly on the critical acclaim the debut album ‘Inform-Educate-Entertain’ has received since its release at the beginning of May. The single ‘Signal 30’ made the 6 Music playlist and the secret is well and truly out in the open. There seems a sense amongst the crowd this evening that they are seeing a band about to play much bigger venues than the one they currently occupy.

But before all that, support act Golden Fable sheepishly enter the stage late due to some technical issues with a computer, which they apologise profusely for. Hailing from North Wales, a place very close to my heart, they were conceived from Tim and Sam’s Tim and the Sam Band with Tim and Sam, a tongue twister if ever there was one. After a shaky start, the band get into their stride in a half full Sound Control, mainly due to the extraordinary angelic vocals of singer Rebecca Palin. Playing songs mainly from debut album ‘Star Map’, they are tight and melodic enough to render the watching audience eerily quiet on occasions, which is certainly no mean feat. The stand out track is former single ‘Always Golden’, which sways like an intimate summer breeze and with a glitchy electronic backing. Palin’s vocals are simply stunning and it’s a moment that they don’t really surpass. It’s a shame that the room wasn’t full to see them, because they never really won over the crowd in the way that their endeavours deserved.

Entering the stage to minimal fanfare,  J.Willgoose Esq and his musical sidekick Wrigglesworth appear to be living the real life version of Nicholas Lyndhurst’s time travelling sitcom from the 90’s ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’, where the protagonist wondered into the past by accident and proceeded to live a double life and by doing so, managed to rewrite history. Willgoose dressed in sharp 1950’s Professor of Economics at Oxford attire, is particularly fitting for the role. Perhaps this is how the idea behind Public Service Broadcasting emerged.

A large screen dominates the backdrop, as PSB play album title track ‘Inform-Educate-Entertain’, launching the mission statement of the band perfectly.  Old fashioned black and white TVs of varying size align either side of the stage showing the same footage and it’s difficult not to get lost in what you’re seeing and hearing in front of you. Air raid sirens herald the arrival of ‘London can Take It’, from ‘The War Room’ E,p, an engaging take on those who fought to preserve the streets of London from the Blitz. Willgoose shows his versatility by producing a number of instruments, including a banjo, which he plucks effortlessly along to a pre-programmed beat not out of place on a Pitbull track.  Somehow it works superbly. You didn’t read that wrong.

Single ‘Signal 30’ is probably the most well received track amongst the Sound Control crowd. A rasping rocker,  it features samples from a public information film of the same name about the dangers of hazardous driving. The juxtaposition between the melodrama of the samples and the immediate, almost dangerous sounding intent of the guitar and drums, is thrilling to watch. It’s as if a crash is waiting to happen at any moment and so when this works live as it does, it’s time to hold on for dear life.

The highlight of the set though is the sublime ‘Night Mail’. Starting off  like the intro to Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’, it quickly mutates into Neu like Krautrock, with hints of Kraftwerk’s synth before spiralling majestically into the best track that Mogwai never wrote. The samples are from a film about the postal service trains of days gone by and the Royal Mail’s ambitious attempts to deliver 500 million letters a year by rail. It doesn’t sound like the most fascinating of choices, but the entrancing nature of the soundtrack really makes it come alive. The song is pierced by the almost bewitching use of the poem ‘This is the Night Mail’ by WH Auden, which culminates in a stunning repeated crescendo.

It’s perhaps surprising then that between the songs of such a serious band, Willgoose adds an element of humour to the night’s events. He doesn’t talk between songs, but instead talks through the aid of a computer voice, with the received pronunciation of an early BBC news reader. This is built up with plenty of “Thank you…Manchester”. We are also treated to a full introduction of the band and its projectionist, which is met with appreciative laughter from the packed crowd at Sound Control. This is welcome light relief, because by this point it is pretty clear that this gig could have been in a much bigger venue and certainly some of the audience are feeling the heat of being squeezed in too tightly. Thankfully, it is not a feeling that matters anymore by the time we get to the closer ‘Everest’. The soaring heights of this track fill the room more than any large group of people could, perhaps fitting for a song named after the tallest mountain in the world and the quest to climb it.

With that the show ends and the gig goers of Manchester rush away into the night to reflect on what they have seen.  To truly comprehend the mission statement of Public Service Broadcasting, is to see it performed live. The claim to “Teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future”, could be seen as pretentious in the wrong hands. Yet, seeing it in the flesh makes perfect undeniable sense. The musical template, at least as an idea on paper, is a simple one. Creating soundtracks for a variety of historical public information films, archive footage and propaganda reels. Aspiring to inspire through the imagery and music. Informing-educating-entertaining.


Show promoted by Hey! Manchester

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