HAVE FUN. Those are the words of advice, writ large on a dozen TV screens, as Public Service Broadcasting kick a 75-minute set at a busy HMV Picturehouse.
A word or two, however, on openers The Little Kicks. Not the most obvious of supports for the conceptually electronic PSB, the Aberdeen quartet do however share the will to give and have a good time. Their set of beat-driven danceable tunes goes down well with the fast-assembling crowd, with the motorik beats of their closing numbers setting up the headliners nicely.
The grand command to enjoy ourselves is accompanied by a robotic voice crossed between Speak and Spell and a BBC announcer circa 1930 – the seemingly exaggerated received pronunciation is as English / British as the celluloid reels they use as source material.
Ah yes, the films. For the uninitiated, the band take their name from the monochrome information films common in those stiff upper lip days – the 1940s and just after – whether focusing on the Second World War as in ‘London Is Ready’, or (less frequently) the changing times as in ‘The Now Generation’, they meld good-old-fashioned values with 21st century rhythms.
This juxtaposition even informs the band’s persona – visually, at least. Main broadcaster J. Willgoose Esq. is clad in corduroy and bow tie, looking every inch a young fogey Oxford science professor, but when he swaps banjo for guitar and lets rip on ‘Signal 30’ the mental image is of someone rather more ‘now’. But the geek personal also extends to his cohorts – in smart shirt and tie, Wrigglesworth’s drum patterns channel the barrage of the Blitz, while additional member Mr B seems intent on committing every move his bandmates make to an instant digital archive, projecting the resultant live video onto the twin screens that flank the stage, Well, when they’re not occupied by archive footage, of course – new single ‘Mail Train’ with its railway documentary sees the trio’s take on a steam-powered Kraftwerk, a Trans UK Express for a golden age.
As per their doctrine, the band follow their own advice and have are clearly enjoying themselves – though any banter with the audience is conducted via the medium of their voice synthesiser. “Who saw us at the Voodoo Rooms?” enquires the disembodied MC about a previous show. A smattering of diehard fans cheer. “Who saw us at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010 playing to four people?” Silence. “Part-timers,” fires back the robot, apparently having developed a HAL-style mind of its own.
The question, long-term is where do they go next? The source material available to them is enormous – surely Donald Pleasance’s ‘Spirit of Dark And Lonely Water’ could get the synth-doom treatment? – but a band with one album and a couple of EPs worth of material they do manage to keep things bowling along nicely for the duration of the set with the novelty factor not wearing off quite yet. Musically the band – the duo, I guess – are tip-top, to keep the theme going, and pretty diverse. ‘If War Should Come’ has a touch of funk about it but ‘Spitfire’ is pure rock. There are two new tunes for the old hands present – both in Dutch, we’re informed (“It seemed like the natural way to go” says HAL, apropos of seemingly nothing).
However, for both hard–core and recent converts alike, it’s ‘Everest’ to finish, the film footage for this one a rare delve into a bygone era where the British Empire stood atop the world, but without the drone of sirens and boom of artillery. Whether it could persuade a venue filled with Scottish punters to stand tall and salute the flag is unclear, as the rhythms instead get everyone up and dancing.
The band’s mantra may well be “Teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future”, but who says learning can’t be fun?