Review: Public Service Broadcasting, Usher Hall

Dismissed in the early days as an “art-school novelty act”, J. Willgoose Esq’s musical brainchild has grown considerably. Not to gargantuan proportions, yet, but certainly headed in that direction.

Back in 2010, while Public Service Broadcasting was still a solo project, the corduroy-clad multi-instrumentalist was playing to just a handful of punters during the Fringe. “It was tough… a right old slog,” the London-based songwriter told AAA Edinburgh recently. “I think I played to four people one night.”

Fast forward eight years and the numbers have swelled to the point where Public Service Broadcasting can now sell out some of the UK’s biggest and most venerable concert venues, including Edinburgh’s Usher Hall, where they went down an absolute storm on Saturday night.

For the uninitiated, PSB create sample-based music using old public information films, archive footage and propaganda material.

Their 2012 EP, The War Room, featured World War two material, while 2015’s The Race For Space explores the US-Soviet space race. Both releases earned them stacks of acclaim, the latter being an impressive follow up to debut album Inform Educate Entertain, which itself reached a respectable No.21 in the charts.

The band earned even more plaudits with Every Valley, which last year reached number four in the album chart.

With a 17-song set comprised of tracks from their three top-20 albums, PSB held the crowd in the palm of their hands from start to finish.

Having taken to the stage with David Bowie’s Sound and Vision, the usual trio of Willgoose, JF Abraham and Wrigglesworth were joined by a brass section that added even more layers to their already richly-kaleidoscopic feast of sound and vision.

PSB kicked off with three tracks from Every Valley – their concept album about the rise and fall of the coalmining industry in the Welsh valleys – and, as is the norm whenever they play live, behind them were an array of screens projecting archive footage and film clips to tie in with the tunes.

Highlights – and there were many – included the trance-like Night Mail, a track about the overnight postal-delivery system that includes an excerpt from W. H. Auden’s poem of the same name, the bouncy Gagarin from The Race For Space, and the set-closing Everest, which suitably took things to greater heights.

Live favourite Spitfire – PSB’s electro-rock salute to British inventor R J Mitchell, designer of the aircraft credited for helping the Royal Air Force win the Battle of Britain – elicited the biggest cheers of the night. But truth told, there wasn’t a dull moment from start to finish in what was so far the most exhilarating gig of the year in these parts.

As good as PSB were, it would be remiss not to mention Jane Weaver, who warmed up the crowd with tracks from her recently-released Modern Kosmology album.

The Liverpool-born psych-pop singer can be seen in live action again at this summer’s TRNSMT festival, and she’ll no doubt be a headliner in her own right the next time she visits Edinburgh.

Words: Gary Flockhart

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