Public Service Broadcasting revisit The War Room for Museums at Night at RAF Museum

By Ben Miller | 16 May 2014

Public Service Broadcasting and DJ Yoda kicked off Museums at Night in style with the first of three nights for the band at the RAF Museum in London

Even for a display as immediately impressive as the one boasted by the RAF Museum's Bomber Hall, the crowd Public Service Broadcasting's visit attracts is noteworthy.

There are boys in suits and girls in headscarves and high trousers, but also men in old football shirts and knackered band t-shirts, and women sipping ale (Spitfire, naturally) or trying the fruit punch specialty doled out from buckets behind the bar.

Those who aren't transfixed by the planes are locked on to DJ Yoda's cheerful mix of 40s records (at least one incarnation of Bei Mir Bist Du Shein is played without outstaying its welcome, not to mention Vera Lynn numbers rehoused within a barrage of heavy beats) beneath the Lancaster. There's not a record under 60 years old in sight, yet Yoda's ear for rhythm makes it feel like a warm-up for a Bestival crowd.

To the left wing of an aircraft which once carried bombs weighing more than the entire audience, coquettish crooners sing next to knitters in armchairs, while behind them a Silent Disco makes people look willfully foolish, stomping about in front of a series of flashing lights to the sound of headsets playing only to them.

The crowd follow the bar into a room at the end of the hall to see the headliners. Public Service Broadcasting’s star has been in the ascendancy ever since the release of their debut album, Inform – Educate – Entertain, a year ago, but tonight they’re looking another year back to the release of the EP which began it all, The War Room.

That record was based on a series of propaganda films and archive material from the BFI, and those gentle old discourses about sandbags and hospitals are used to captivatingly eerie effect on giant screens before the pair come on stage.

There is a distinct lyrical quality to these stately-paced broadcasts, full of unnerving-yet-soothing advice about enemy sightings, keeping fit to pass the time – a group of horizontal nurses are seen waggling their legs in the air – rising strings and occasional foreboding chimes.

The band keep the atmosphere simmering: a communications tower intersects drummer Wrigglesworth, a shrewd judge of dramatic timing on drums, and J Willgoose Esq, whose moody strings are enhanced by the cinematography going on behind him.

There are inspired moments of humour. "We are pleased to be at..." comes an automated announcement from the stage, pausing before adding "the RAF Museum" at a different octave, mimicking a tannoy inserting the destination of a late train.

Willgoose and Wrigglesworth seem like the types who believe cheap talk costs comedic value, preferring to express their asides - "corduroy is sweaty", "this is a slow one" - through voices cut from the clips which course through their set.

It’s witty, but also poignant: “no-one in this country of ours wants war”, echoes the solemn announcement over the rising psychedelics of If War Should Come, warning the ancestors of the listeners to ignore rumours about a war which was inevitable.

One of them was George, the Great Uncle of Willgoose, who died 74 years ago, a 26-year-old fatality at Dunkirk, leaving behind a banjolele the songwriter still plays. It’s a fitting tribute: the musician’s clever riffs on history have an unusual but deeply resonant temporary home at the museum this weekend.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Hundreds of events take place for Museums at Night until May 17 2014. Visit and follow the festival on Twitter@MuseumsAtNight.

More pictures:

PSB onstage in front of screens
The War Room EP opened the Public Service Broadcasting set at the RAF Museum© Richard Moss
A photo of people dancing
The Silent Disco© Richard Moss
A man with glasses on stage
J Willgoose Esq gets into the groove.© Richard Moss
a photo of the front nose cone of a flying fortress with mannequin inside
The bomb aimer and front gunner of a Flying Fortress looks down on proceedings© Richard Moss
a photo of a man dj-ing beneath a Lancaster Bomber
DJ Yoda puts in a surprise set of forties classics overlaid with heavy beats beneath the bomb bay of a Lancaster Bomber© Richard Moss
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