Public Service Broadcasting send out the right signals as they prepare for North East return

Public Service Broadcasting main man J. Willgoose Esq. in action at the Riverside in Newcastle. Pic: Gary Welford.
Public Service Broadcasting main man J. Willgoose Esq. in action at the Riverside in Newcastle. Pic: Gary Welford.
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Public Service Broadcasting aren't your ordinary sort of pop group. In fact, they're far from it.

For a start, they're difficult to pigeonhole. Are they alternative (whatever that means), art-rock, indie-rock, electronica, krautrock, dance-punk - or indeed all (or none) of these things?

J. Willgoose Esq. of Public Service Broadcasting shows off his guitar skills. Pic: Gary Welford.

J. Willgoose Esq. of Public Service Broadcasting shows off his guitar skills. Pic: Gary Welford.

Secondly, they're a band without a singer - at least in the traditional sense - though they play live guitar, bass, drums and keyboards.

But what they most certainly are is a very different band who know their way around a catchy tune, who are building a growing fan base all the time.

Another reason they're quite unlike any other band around at the moment is the way they use samples. So what, you might think, that's been happening for years.

Yes, but not from old public information films, archive footage, and propaganda material from some of the most momentous events of the 20th century.

The mission statement of J. Willgoose Esq (guitar, banjo, sampling and electronic instruments), and Wrigglesworth (drums, piano and more electronic instruments) is "to teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future".

That's a little tongue-in-cheek, of course, but what else do you expect from a band whose public voice is a robotic recording parodying the BBC information films of the 1930s?

That's why, when offered the chance to speak to J. about their latest album and forthcoming North East show, I jumped at the chance. Would he be 'in character', as it were?

Well, no. J. turned out to be a friendly, well-spoken Londoner, who was sitting at home in a thunderstorm, taking a break from writing new material to perform press duties around the June 17 release of The Race For Space/Remixes.

Public Service Broadcasting drummer Wrigglesworth. Pic: Gary Welford.

Public Service Broadcasting drummer Wrigglesworth. Pic: Gary Welford.

As its title suggests, it's new versions of songs from last year's second studio album, which just missed out on a UK Top 10 place, peaking at No 11.

Telling the story of the USA and USSR's battle for supremacy in space, it went on to become one of the outstanding success stories of the independent record industry last year.

It has sold more than 80,000 copies worldwide since its release just over a year ago, and become something of a cult classic.

There are 12 tracks – seven of them brand new – as interpreted by musical contemporaries such as Sunderland's own Field Music, Boxed In, Vessels, Dutch Uncles and Maps.

J. ventures: "Even back when I was still writing this album, I was imagining the kind of remixes we could get and the artists who we'd ask.

"I couldn't be happier with how it's turned out; I think this is a really interesting and fresh reinterpretation of our songs.

"Having your work remixed by others is odd - very exposing. People get to dig around in the depths of your song, and hear how bad your guitar playing is.

"We asked people which track they'd like to pick. We weren't bothered about getting every track remixed, which is why there's two remixes of some songs and none of others.

Brothers David and Peter Brewis, who make up Field Music, provided a remixed version of Korolev - a track not on the original album, but from the B-side of the Sputnik single release.

"You wonder how it's going to come out, but the Field Music track is one of my favourites - it's a bit bonkers, in a good way. They're a fantastic band," says J.

Is there anything missing from the remix album though? "I would have loved a dub reggae version of Gagarin, but for some reason none of the people who I like in that world were interested," he adds.

The upbeat Gagarin, Go! and Sputnik were released as singles from the album, followed by a special Record Store Day release of the album's stunning centrepiece, The Other Side.

"With Go! and Gagarin, we knew we had something good there," says J. "but the song whose reception surprised me most was The Other Side."

It tells the story of Apollo 8, and the tense moments when mission control lost radio contact with the astronauts as it orbited around the dark side of the moon, before re-establishing the link.

"The feeling of euphoria as contact is re-established is one that people really get," adds J. "Maybe they can relate it to events in their own lives - a long, anxious wait for something, which turns out well in the end."

The Race For Space isn't all triumphalism though: one track, Fire In The Cockpit, was inspired by the Apollo 1 launch rehearsal disaster in which three astronauts died.

It strikes something of a sombre note, and it's been said that due to its content matter, PSB will never play it live.

"I don't know where that came from," says J. "No, it's not the sort of song you'd play at a festival - it's not exactly a crowd pleaser - but remembering the sacrifice of the Apollo 1 crew is an important part of the whole space race, and if, a few years down the line, we decide to play the entire album live, we'll work out a way to do it - respectfully, of course."

You might wonder where PSB turn next after tackling such momentous events as man setting foot on the moon, and, on the debut album Inform-Educate-Entertain (a UK No 21 in 2013) the Second World War, the conquering of the world's highest mountain, and the invention of colour television.

J. is giving little away, but looking forward, for now, to a busy summer of shows in Spain, Sweden, Slovakia and Romania, followed by a pair of gigs at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.

After that the band - the core duo augmented by visuals expert Mr. B and bass guitarist and flugelhorn player JF Abraham for live performances - return to the UK for more festival dates.

It includes a big outdoor show with North East favourites Maximo Park in Times Square, Newcastle, on Sunday, July 31 - an engagement J. was surprised but delighted to be offered.

"Yes, it was a bit of a surprise. We didn't know we were on their radar, so it was nice to be asked. We always get a good reception in the North East, and it's an area I love visiting.

"My dad and grandad are from up there, and my Great Uncle George, who's mentioned in the credits of The War Room EP, lived in Fulwell, so I've been going up there since I was a lad.

"We've played in Newcastle several times - our own show at Digital, supporting the Kaiser Chiefs at the Arena, playing in the foyer of The Sage at the 6 Music festival, and then returning for our own gig at the Riverside.

"The Kaiser Chiefs show was odd, because as a support act you're not playing to your own audience, though it went well, and a lot of people discovered us through that tour.

"The 6 Music show was great, but nerve-wracking, as it was the first time we had played Sputnik live, and didn't know what sort of reception it would get. Luckily, they liked it!"

Asked whether the weather is a concern at outdoor shows, given the amount of technical equipment which the Public Service Broadcasting live experience relies on, he chuckles.

"We knew The Race For Space was going to be a very challenging album to play live, because so many different things could go wrong in so many different ways, but we got everything worked out.

"At one gig in 2014 we couldn't finish Everest, due to technical problems, but now we have a failsafe in place, and hopefully it won't be a problem again."

* Tickets for the Times Square show with Maximo Park, which also includes support from 90s indie band Lush, Teleman, Fear Of Men and Warm Digits, are £32.50 plus the usual booking fees from www.seetickets.com