Space Travel on a Ukrainian Stone-Carrier: Public Service Broadcasting @ A38


Public Service Broadcasting beeped onto my radar (had to use this expression right here, as it’s so befitting them) when they opened for the Editors in the eclectic arrangement of Barba Negra. Thus it took me by total surprise that they do actually speak- their support slot had only been punctuated by machine greetings, of which there were some this time around as well, but not exclusively. Perhaps they were overly delighted to be very geographically grounded by now, perhaps they considered that having a band formed of three blokes going by the monikers of J. Willgoose Esq (on often guitar), Wrigglesworth (on mostly drums) and JF Abraham (on sometimes flugelhorn) is abstract enough.

Whatever the reasons, J. Willgoose Esq addressed a few kind words to the public (this is such a very English English sentence I almost shed a tear over it), among them an occasionally almost correct köszönöm, though that might have been lost on a big chunk of the public in the front section, as they were Russian. I occasionally wonder about random fandoms, but can never figure out how they happen, maybe in this instance it’s a case of strange attraction caused by the band’s concept album (well, they kind of only do concept albums, actually) The Race for Space, which features an equal number of tracks dedicated to the US and Soviet space efforts, eliciting among others a raucous chorus of Gagarins! Coming towards the end of the set, this bit naturally went particularly well with the already somewhat inebriated Russian crowd.

The Gagarins, similarly to most of the band’s ‘lyrics’, were coming from pre-recorded material, as J. Willgoose Esq is apparently unhappy with his singing voice, or at least its interaction with their music. Though it’s probably fanciful, I still like to imagine them during their first rehearsals cajoling each other into singing, then realizing this just won’t work for the dear life of it, and subsequently having an Eureka moment, let’s just play samples from public information films over our stuff, see how that works- it worked wonders actually.

And if their related claim of attempting to‘teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future’ might sound a bit too art school student trying to change the world with a Casio, it is also oddly fitting: while with many acts you just mindlessly jump around in front of the stage (not that there’s anything wrong with that), with Public Service Broadcasting you occasionally ask Big Questions, and might even, every now and then, catch a glimpse of Big Answers- as I very nicely put it in the previous review, as sometimes, just like Jeremy Clarkson, I stagger myself with the might of my own genius: this here is music to think to.

Since space is evidently not the final frontier for Public Service Broadcasting, their latest (you guessed right, concept) album Every Valley, freshly released this year, dwells on somewhat more down to Earth matters, namely, logically, naturally, the rise and fall of Welsh mining industry. The album was fittingly recorded on site in the former steelworks of Ebbw Vale (it strikes me now that the Kelenföld power plant, the decline of which we chronicled just recently, could very well become, at least partially, a recording studio as well), and features lots of additional Welshness, such as guest vocals by James Dean Bradfield on Turn No More.

I also found it intriguing (all that thinking the band elicits, see) that both Public Service Broadcasting and ALT-J would find Welsh valleys tantalizingly interesting in the very same year. The direction they’re taking the sound, though, is not quite the same: while ALT-J indulge in some nigh-Victorian chanting, Public Service Broadcasting have concluded that Welsh valleys are best illustrated with some krautrock vibes, in the good tradition of Kraftwerk, though of course the industrial element might be exactly the link one needs. All in all, an intriguing evolution combined with a consistency in quirk which make the band one of the most exciting ones to catch on the club circuit. Also, despite all those deep thought processes, somewhere around Go! you sort of realized it’s also time to dance a little. I was about to go into a diatribe about how the band are worth a w(r)iggle, but I think it’s time to stop!

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