Public Service Broadcasting appreciate the value of a proper event.
For their BFI archive-sampling debut album Inform-Educate-Entertain they pulled out all the aeronautical stops and hosted three shows at the RAF Museum in Hendon. But if the fans thought that was impressive stuff, tonight we’re going stratospheric as the National Space Centre hosts the launch nights for PSB’s album number two, The Race For Space.
With the ticket price allowing access to the museum, initially there’s 500 wonderstruck fans roaming the levels, beverages in hand, getting dizzy looking up at the Blue Streak missile or pretending to be Dr Dave from 2001: A Space Odyssey in the Columbus module. But then the stage lights power up, the fog machine, side-of-stage TV stacks and back projections chug into life and we all convene as PSB blast off with the digital pulse of Sputnik, complete with a double-sized, flashing-antennae replica of the iconic Russian satellite that shoots up from the stage in a puff of smoke. It’s part Festival Of Britain, part Blue Peter, and amid the four men onstage – PSB chief J Willgoose Jr on keys/programming/guitar/banjo, Wrigglesworth on drums, JF Abraham on bass/trumpet/keys and set designer Mr B on samplers/FX (and the creator of what they lovingly call ‘Sputters’) – it’s a vital part of this band’s eccentric charm.
PSB don’t do banter. Between numbers J hits a pre-programmed key on the laptop that announces something agreeably plummy such as “Thank you to the National Space Centre for having us!” or “Oh dear” when there’s a hiccup, then more specifically “That was a song about ice skating in Holland!” for the single Elfstedentocht Part Two.
If the previous night hit a few bumps, tonight’s 90 minutes are relatively niggle-free, and any snags are managed cheerily by the Harry Palmer-esque J. Sparser, eerier tracks such as London Can Take It and If War Should Come are filled out sonically to match the shiny bounce of latest single Go!, the impact of the accompanying WWII newsreel footage rightly sobering.
“Get your dancing shoes on!” declares the robo-telecaster as a brass section file on and PSB’s tour manager pops up in a space suit, podium dancing to the jazz funk clarion of Gagarin. ‘Sputters’ rises again, beaming out messages from its dot display surface.
Earlier in the day J told us, “We came through playing the old fashioned way, which I find quite satisfying. I think we’re at a level where people can still get that intimate feel with us, but we can also look to doing more bonkers and stupid things.” As Everest’s delicate motorik closes the night, it’s another summit conquered (and a Top 10 album in the bag, as that week’s chart will reveal). Let’s see where they boldly – bonkersly and stupidly – go next.