Graham Reid | | 2 min read
It's a peculiar thing which London's Public Service Broadcasting have achieved, they make thrilling and heroic music which is emotionally uplifting, yet they weld that out of references to a past which is so distant to many that it should seem remote and lacking in any contemporary engagement.
Welsh collieries for god's sake?
This in an age where coal is considered Satan's black breath and going down a mine for a living is akin to dying by degrees from black lung and darkness?
But, at a packed Powerstation, through their use of old footage, samples from public service archive films and so on, the all-instrumental PSB fashion something less steeped in nostalgia for a past their audience never knew but into something uplifting.
That is largely because while they might look to the black'n'white past for their audio-visual and thematic reference points, they pick topics where the people of those times, for the most part, looked to the future with optimism: the Futurist thrill and speed of rail, the early days of the space race (USSR 2, USA 0), emerging technology, aircraft like the legendary Spitfire (and by implication the heroic men who created and flew it), exploration which took Hilary and Tensing to the highest peak on the planet . . .
Even the colliery footage and theme has at core something about an industry which provided work and a sense of community for the villages and towns of South Wales and -- much as we might look at young fresh-faced boys being prepared for what might become the subterranean charnel house – the familial bonds and sense of purpose are also there.
However also in period newspaper footage on the screens – sort of the smartly dressed band's whiteboard, if you will – the cost of that life was there: one fleeting headline was of 29 men who died underground, a chilling reminder of Pike River.
And as the images unfolded they were paralleled by the driving music from the trio: huge chords, flat-tack drums of almost military precision and hefty bass all created urgency and excitement.
When the pace dropped – or in the case of when Apollo 8 disappeared behind the moon, there was almost complete silence – it just made the dynamic dimension of PSB even more persuasive.
At times they got such a thrilling repetitive groove going you could imagine this might be what Kraftwerk would sound like if they were 21stcentury, privately educated English boffins with guitars.
Mixing material from across their three studio albums – the first about the possibilities of the future, the second about space exploration, the most recent about collieries – PSB threw hard rock, motorik grooves, banjo, stentorian percussion and uplifting chants (“go . . . go . . . go”) into an exciting package of sound and vision.
And closed with Everest, of course.
The title of their debut album was Inform-Educate-Entertain.
And – as when they played at Womad as a two-piece in 2015 -- they ticked all those boxes, with a thick marker pen in the last one.