When Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin successfully orbited the earth on 12 April 1961, little did he know the impact that that first successful lap of our planet would have.
He almost certainly never anticipated that five-and-half-decades on, his name would be immortalised in song as a dancing astronaut jived next to a trio of brass players under Europe’s biggest disco ball.
Such is the loveable madness of Public Service Broadcasting, whose potentially kitsch musical adventures – samples of news bulletins and public information films, reels of stock footage and sleek space(ship)-rock – have become a remarkable musical phenomenon.
Selling out the sizeable O2 ABC, the suitably pseudonymous J. Willgoose, Esq. (guitar, banjo, samplings) and Wrigglesworth (drums and percussion) are joined by a live bassist, a “video manipulator” and, at times, the afore-mentioned brass trio.
The premise of the night is simple: track introductions and thanks are provided by suitably plummy sampled vocals, black and white footage flickers over the two large screens placed centre stage, the band plug into tight (and at times surprisingly funky) electro-rock grooves and the sampled dialogue lends each track its theme; tying the drama of the past to the music of the future.
Over two albums and two EPs, Public Service Broadcasting have tackled everything from road safety adverts to the ascent of Everest but their latest record sees them tackle the Race for Space on a suite of songs that bring a new sense of stark drama to the band.
Live, ‘The Other Side’, in particular packs genuine emotion into the tale of Apollo 8 and its journey across the dark side of the moon.
There is a palpable tension as the music fades into silence as the spaceship passes out of radio contact, leaving only the whispers of the flight co-ordinator back on Earth, only for the band to leap back into action as the ship emerges from the darkness and contact is restored.
With their tweed jackets and stacks of old school televisions, the group have obviously done their best to make PSB the most immersive experience it can be and there is a winning sense of humour to their cheerily daft stage announcements – “Here’s one you were looking forward to. It’s a song about ice skating in Dutch”.
Best of all though is still the track, which for many people represented their introduction to Public Service Broadcasting: ‘Spitfire’.
As RJ Mitchell’s flying machine takes to the sky, Willgoose rockets through a looping guitar figure over a metronomic dance-punk beat and the crowd bob enthusiastically along.
Offering a singular musical experience that successfully transcends their potentially kitsch aesthetic, Public Service Broadcasting are a unique live act and one that deserve to be seen in their element.
Words: Max Sefton
Photos: Stewart Fullerton