Having merged classic wartime clips with innovative electro-rock to winning effect in 2013, Public Service Broadcasting are at the RAF Museum for three exclusive Museums at Night gigs
Public Service Broadcasting's three-night stint at the Royal Air Force Museum is the latest stop on a schedule which has included a first major American tour, culminating in five shows at the record executive’s paradise that is Texas’s South by Southwest festival.
Their first album, last May’s Inform – Educate – Entertain, was a fixture on critics’ end-of-year lists, with near-sell out crowds turning up and tuning in to the tweed-friendly pair’s cinematic rock shows, interspersed with samples from wartime and black-and-white era public information films flickering on lines of screens assembled on stage.
For Museums at Night, they will be informing an entirely new kind of audience during three shows in the 300-capacity room beyond the RAF museum's mighty halls of historic warplanes.
“We should arrive by helicopter,” suggests drummer Wrigglesworth. “Maybe that’s why they were asking us how we’re going to get here?"
“Maybe they were just waiting for us to say, ‘do you have a helicopter?’,” reasons the man known as J Willgoose Esq, warming to the idea. But if the band who played to 2,000 fans at Glastonbury might have cause for triumphalism, they aren’t really showing it.
“We’re quite tongue-in-cheek about performing and educating,” says Willgoose. “Entertainment is definitely the name of the game.”
“I think it’s going to be quite a lighthearted night, isn’t it?” expects his bandmate. “It’s nice to play three nights, we can leave all our gear here.”
“We’re getting old and lazy,” explains Willgoose. “I don’t think I’ll get my missus to all three of ‘em, but she might be persuaded to one."
Even for a duo whose songs include a paean to the Supermarine Spitfire, playing in the shadows of the world's finest collections of war planes, including a Spitfire that saw action in the Battle of Britain, requires careful planning.
“We’ve always sought to be quite respectful and sympathetic towards the wartime stuff," says Willgoose.
"It’s a difficult line to tread, because you don’t want people to think that you’re taking the mickey out of things that you shouldn’t be taking the mickey out of.
"There are obviously darker and heavier moments within the set, but I don’t think playing within this kind of setting means we can’t do the lighter stuff.
“You’ve just got to pitch it correctly. It’s great to play shows like this and to hopefully think that people are interested in coming to see you and will get excited about it and make an event out of it – that’s immensely flattering.”
They name a weirdest gig as one in an American bowling alley where their visuals flashed up above the lanes (“I wonder if that annoyed the bowlers?”, ponders Wrigglesworth), but found a less clattering backdrop when they played at the British Library.
“The main thing was how much fun that was,” reflects Willgoose. “It was a really, really fun show. And people seemed to have a really good night.
“A few people who wouldn’t normally come were there. I think it definitely broadens the appeal and hopefully there are fans of the museum who might just be interested because it’s happening here.
“We’ll tailor things so it’s not just us turning up and doing a bog standard show, but hopefully doing some things to make it stand apart from the rest of them.
“We’re hoping to be able to get the whole production squeezed on the stage here. The room looks big enough so we should have the full shebang.”
How would they describe their sound to the uninitiated? “Amateur?” asks Wrigglesworth, cheerily.
“I normally say something like shoddy, slapdash, cobbled together,” Willgoose dryly elaborates, adding novelty, bubblegum and disposable as adjectives occasionally used by listeners unable to get past the war references.
“It’s electronic music really, but with lots of live instruments. People hear the Krautrock beat and that’s an easy handle. But I think on the album there are only two or three songs that could legitimately be described as that.
“There’s a lot of stuff on there. It’s supposed to be quite fun, entertaining stuff with a more serious and historical edge if you’re interested in that, but certainly not being rammed down people’s throats. In terms of the music it’s just quite sort of lively and melodic, that’s the idea.”
As a kid, Willgoose used to visit RAF Duxford with his dad. “He used to take us to Heathrow and stand on top of the car park and watch the planes go in and out. Anything that was cheap, basically.
“I don’t think you can do that now, I think they’d stop you – if you stood on the car park roof looking at planes they’d come over and have a word, you’d get bundled into the back of a van.
“Me and my brother were two typical little boys who were obsessed by machines and anything that was big and loud.”
Casual psychoanalysis might suggest that influence led all the way to the 6 Music favourite Spitfire.
“It’s weird because you never think of these things as influencing you but then you start tracing things back.
“I remember being obsessed by Big Ben when I was little – it was like my favourite building in the world and I used to insist that if we were driving through town or whatever we had to go past Big Ben. And then we end up doing a song – London can Take It – that’s got Big Ben’s chimes at the start of it.
“Even for the single artwork, which is Big Ben with a satellite on it, you think, ‘hang on – I don’t know how much of this is to do with some murky childhood obsession.’”
Their Museums at Night residency will come six months after a show at London’s Forum that was so huge it felt surreal. “How did you think we felt when we walked out at the Forum, like, ‘what the hell are you lot doing here?’ That was weird,” says Willgoose.
“That was good,” corrects Wrigglesworth. “That was great,” replies Willgoose.
“It’s only when you’re stood there and you hear them cheer when you’re about to come on that you think, ‘Jesus, that sounds like a lot of people’.
“It’s exciting, you just want to get out there and play – that’s what it’s all about.”
Their self-deprecation is innate. “We got to a stage on the last tour where actually it was quite nice playing those places. We got treated pretty well wherever we went, and you reached a level where touring was quite a pleasant experience,” laughs Willgoose.
“We’d never get to a stage where we’d start demanding the world, or white dressing rooms, or do a Kanye and start demanding a carpet.”
“Our natural mode is the Gallagher swagger anyway,” says Willgoose, feigning delusions of grandeur. Like a Spitfire over the night sky, their soaring live show should be a thunderous spectacle.
- Public Service Broadcasting play the RAF Museum, London every night for Museums at Night, May 15-17 2014.
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