Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) came onto the unusually high stage at the Islington Assembly Hall, for a Bowel Cancer UK charity gig, after an incongruous opening by comedians, Rob Deering and Ed Byrne. Joined by their stage band, they began with the other-worldly, ‘Sputnik’.
The seven minute electronic soundscape, about the launch of the Russian satellite of the same name, served as a good introduction for the uninitiated. For PSB’s shtick is to put historic voice recordings to music.
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“This is the beginning of a new era for mankind; the era of man’s cosmic existence” – announced a voice-over, as the band folded new instruments into the soundscape; before taking them away, occasionally leaving only the sound of the iconic beeps from the first ever artificial Earth satellite in space.
The tune is from their 2015 release, ‘The Race For Space’, an album dedicated to the spaceflight innovation wars between America and the USSR from the 1950s-70s. When the music faded, the band left only the time-marked phrase – “We have added a new word to our vocabulary – Sputnik,” to hang in the air.
The band like to build up dramatic grooves, through deep synths and soaring guitars, to create a bed for the emotionless dialogue they use. This has the effect of giving the vocal record, of such prominent historical moments, the gravitas it perhaps deserves.
So, there were lyrics but no live singing. And, as if to emphasise the lack of vocals, band leader, J. Willgoose Esq, communicated comically with the crowd through pre-recorded messages stored on his laptop.
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Regardless, with the help of a series of looped black-and-white videos playing behind them, the band lulled the crowd into a happy stupor; with the music allowing them to think romantically about various feats of human achievement.
Willgoose, Esq, ditched the computerised voice to thank the crowd for supporting Bowel Cancer UK and walked off-stage. Only to return, with a three-piece horn section, to play their most bombastic song, ‘Gagarin’.
The closer was “Everest”, from their debut ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’, that features the same George Mallory/JFK quote as the opener from ‘The Space Race’ – “Why must we climb Everest? Because it is there.” Perhaps a fitting sentiment for a charity attempting to find a cure for a deadly disease.