Public Service Broadcasting + Story Books at the Library, Institute, Birmingham, UK – 12th November 2013
Tonight’s gig is brought to you by Public Service Broadcasting; a London based duo consisting of J. Willgoose, Esq. on guitar, banjo, other stringed instruments, samplings and electronic instruments; and Wrigglesworth on drums (but also plays piano other instruments), and accompanied on stage by “Mr B.” for the visuals, projections and some ad-hoc live video footage of Willgoose and Wrigglesworth.
PSB’s music is sampled from a wide variety of sources, extracts from Public Information Film reels, Propaganda material, particularly around technology and various archive materials, including the British Film Institute and other which is then sampled and woven around Guitars, Banjo’s, Synths and Drums. If you can recall Thomas Dolby’s “ Windpower” where John Marsh’s clipped BBC RP (Received Pronunciation) voice reads the “Shipping Forecast, this is a good starting point.
But first, the support band. Story Books is a 5 piece indie/alternative band hailing from Sittingbourne in Kent and comprising of Kristofer Harris (vocals / guitar), Robert Wilks (drums), Joseph Whitnell (bass), Andrew Parry (keyboards) and Jack Tarrant (guitar) and formed in 2010, quickly gaining interest from Radio 1, 6 Music and XFM with their second release “Peregrine” (The first being “All Those Arrows”). The band is supporting Public Service Broadcasting for 5 shows on this UK Autumn tour and this is show 4 of 5 and incidentally, their first Birmingham gig.
The band play a short set of melodic, thoughtful songs; the majority from their EP “Too Much a Hunter”, out on Communion Records. Harris’ vocals are similar in tone and delivery to an early Ian McCulloch. The highlights of the set (for me) are “Peregrine” and “All Those Arrows”. Harris’ guitar playing style is somewhat aggressive at times, almost stabbing at the guitar, to the extent that he breaks a string. They are well received by the audience and certainly a band to keep an eye on for the future.
On stage there are two projection screens and a radio mast similar in style to that in Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity”. At each side of the stage at the front there is a stack of old TV’s…the really early bulky Cathode Ray Tube models (if you want to know about Cathode Ray Tubes, go and look it up) which also act as display screens for the show. PSB come on stage at around 9.10, to a full Library, made up of a fairly mature audience (if any had arrived with pipes and slippers, they’d be in the right place). Apart from a brief wave and smile to the audience, none of the band speaks to the audience. All communication is via Willgoose and the press of a pre-programmed button, “Hello”, and “Thank You …Very Much”.
The set opens with “London Can Take It” from their “War Room EP” with World War II projections on the screens. Next, “Theme From Public Service Broadcasting” an up tempo number from their debut album with some very catchy banjo playing and then “Inform – Educate – Entertain” which is an extremely, infectious track, packed with samples of the bright post war optimism “a bright new era dawning” I’d half expected Harold Wilson’s “White Heat of Technology” speech from 1963 to be included in there somewhere. “The Now Generation” follows, a track about retro fashion, all dressed in crimplene and nylon with very “Kraftwerk” style keyboards. Signal 30 an upbeat track dealing with car accidents and road rage, with great crashing guitars coming to an abrupt end with a scream and a car crash.
The electronic voice speaks to the audience “Thank you, it’s great to be here at the library….. shhhh sorry. We always wanted to play at the Library”. Next up is “New Dimensions in Sound”, followed by the machine vox “Thank you we have two new songs to play for you tonight. Ice skating songs in Dutch”. Some wag in the audience calls out for “Nik Kershaw” but the comment is ignored and the band starts up “Elfstedentocht Part 1”. Night Mail is a modern “retro” “Trans Europe Express” and samples the 1936 General Post Office (Now Royal Mail) film “Night Mail” where John Grierson narrates WH Auden’s poem written for the GPO. “Thank you very much. What a lovely crowd you are, Birmingham.”
“Elfstedentocht Part 2” follows, a much slower number than “Part 1” then another track from the “War Room”, “If War Should Come” a slow introduction, building up the bass, finishing with Chamberlain “This country is at war”. “Spitfire” opens with the sound of a plane screaming by and grinding guitars which samples the 1942 war movie “First of the Few” about the development of the Spitfire. During the track Mr. B. feeds live footage of the band onto the projection screens. The track finishes to strobe lighting as the guitars and drums pound to a conclusion. The set is closed by “Lit Up”, a slow, sombre number, with projections of warships at night, concluding with a peal of bells.
For the encore, the band return to the stage, almost knocking over the Radio mast at the back of the small stage on the way in. The machine voice apologises for the mishap “Hello, Sorry” and introduces the band. “On visuals, Mr B., on Drums the one and only Wigglesworth….someone waves at the band, “Give ‘em a wave Wigglesworth. And everything else… me!”
“ROYGBIV” sees the banjo return over samples of colour TV propaganda whilst a rainbow of colours, flowers and the PSB “Inform – Educate-Entertain” logo slowly rotates on screen. The audience gets a “Thank you Birmingham, this is our last song. The final track “Everest” narrates the discovery and ascent of the mountain with guitars and keyboards soundtracking the visuals of the ascent.
With a “Thank you very, very, very…. (And a few more very’s).. much” the band leave the stage to the theme for “Last of the Summer Wine” and cheers and applause from the audience. Even though they do not have the usual discourse with the audience, the synthesised chat is done with great humour and not a “po-face” to be seen. One final message to the audience “We’ve had a wonderful time, goodnight”, and from the crowd’s reaction, so have they.
PSB have taken the use of sampling to its extreme, and eliminated vocals entirely from their performance. There are references to Kraftwerk in there and a few other bands (including a little New Order type guitar on occasion) However the results need to be seen and heard. The album” Inform – Educate – Entertain” is a very clever and enjoyable album, which hooks you in from the first track. I’m keen to see how the follow-up would sound. If they follow the blueprint of the first album, they have a hundred years of archive material to mine to their hearts content.
Setlist – Story Books
- Simple Kids
- Glory and Growth
- All Those Arrows
Setlist – Public Service Broadcasting
- London Can Take It
- Theme From PSB
- The Now Generation
- Signal 30
- New Dimensions in Sound
- Elfstedentocht Part 1
- Night Mail
- Elfstedentocht Part 2
- If War Should Come
- Lit Up
- Inform – Educate – Entertain (2013)