sat 25/05/2019

Public Service Broadcasting, Corn Exchange, Brighton | reviews, news & interviews

Public Service Broadcasting, Corn Exchange, Brighton

Public Service Broadcasting, Corn Exchange, Brighton

Pathé News rock 'n' rave from an eccentric, independent and very English success story

Public Service Broadcasting achieve lift-off

A band are doing well if they have their audience laughing and cheering before they’ve even hit the stage. Such is the case with Public Service Broadcasting who show a creaky public information-style animation, with a distinct 1970s feel, prior to their appearance. In it we’re presented with Calman-esque cartoons Ralph and Geoffrey who each have contrasting approaches to using their mobile phones at concerts. Suffice to say things don’t end well for Geoffrey, who spends the whole concert waving his iPhone about taking dodgy blurred footage and getting in everyone’s way. Regular concert-goers whoop with glee at this extremely funny indictment of brain-dead gig-filming that’s the raison d’etre for huge chunks of most audiences.

This is just an aperitif, though. Public Service Broadcasting springboard from it into a set that gleefully fulfils their remit of combining old Pathé-style news footage with a brew of funk, rock and electronica. At stage left is their leader J Willgoose Esq, a gentlemen in cords, standing in front of a keyboard, often using a guitar or banjo, but only communing with the audience via a clipped, jolly, and very English computer-generated voice. Opposite him, stage right, is his PSB partner Wrigglesworth, and behind stands JF Abraham on “bass, percussion and flugelhorn”, and Mr B, who’s in charge of visuals. All of them wear Harry Palmer-style spectacles. Mr B, like Adrian Wright in the early Human League, is a key part of the PSB stage show – the visuals, along with the vocal samples, act as the frontman. Two large screens show footage throughout the gig, there are stacks of old televisions onstage, and a LED sputnik rises creakily above proceedings at the start of their set.

The sputnik is a reference to their new album, The Race For Space, which they dip into extensively. It’s a concept album about its title subject, a combination of retro-tech fetishism, pure-hearted nostalgia and dancefloor throb that works wonderfully in a live environment, from the Jean-Michel Jarre pulse of “Sputnik” to the brilliantly catchy “Go!” (possibly the only PSB song it’s possible to sing along to). Elsewhere in the set Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies of support band Smoke Fairies appear, clad in Fifties sci-fi B-movie silver mini-dresses, and sing “Valentina", while part of the encore is the rousing funk-fest, “Gagarin”, replete with a horn section.

PSB have grown into a phenomenon – The Race For Space was an unlikely Top 20 hit. They first appeared in 2012 but can now sell out the 1200 capacity Corn Exchange. What’s odd is that while the band are in their 20s, the audience is mostly 35-55. Where are all the young people? PSB’s fogey-ish attention to the past, after all, disguises a band with a broad sonic palette and huge imagination. Their jokey manifesto – to “teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future” – is not far from the truth. Musically they’re a techno age amalgam of Pink Floyd at their fiercest and Kraftwerk, tinted with the jokiness of Mr Scruff or Lemon Jelly, and the Motorik groove of Can. “London Can Take It”, featuring US war correspondent Quentin Reynolds’ coverage of the Blitz, is genuinely moving, “Spitfire” rocks as hard as any indie outfit, and their tribute to W H Auden’s ‘Night Mail’-  and the 1936 GPO film for which it was written - is a thing of techno beauty. They end their encore with “Everest”, an ecstatic piece celebrating Sherpa Tenzing and Sir Edmund Hillary’s famous ascent. It has a euphoria akin to the best early OMD songs, building and building melodically, until it reaches a perfect climax. “Why should a man climb Everest? Because it is there” – and when the sample hits the word “there”, the final riff cuts off abruptly. A dynamic ending to a great concert.

Overleaf: Watch the video for "Everest"


Very good review I thought and could easily have been written about tonight's gig at Southsea from where I have just returned. Pretty much the same set I expect but as far as the audience was concerned it seemed to be a typical Portsmouth crowd - a good representation of all ages from moshing teens to this 55 year old and beyond! All very friendly, good humoured and very much enjoying the show from the Smoke Fairies and PSB. A great evening.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters