Public Service Broadcasting are a tricky band to get hold of.
Constantly touring, and constantly without phone signal, it would seem. A quick look at their press shots later and it’s tempting to ask the band whether it’s because they’re refusing to join the 21st Century – perhaps still using old dial telephones, or passing messages back and forth to PR by racing pigeon.
You see, however much people will argue between themselves about ‘vintage’ sounds, or stylistic resurgences, London’s Public Service Broadcasting seem to be the real deal. Samples of old public service films and Radio 4 archive clips pulse through their songs and they’re head-to-toe in musty corduroy. They’re more history teacher than scene revival.
But this is what makes the project of guitarist J. Willgoose, Esq and drummer Wrigglesworth all the more entertaining and original. Their mantra is to maintain an air of mystery around the band. The music – a brooding mash-up of sporadic post-punk guitar often high-tempo synths and tight off-kilter drumming – is an interesting proposition on its own.
Their recently-released debut album Inform – Educate – Entertain masterfully brings all they’ve been working on and tirelessly promoting for the last few years together and is best listened to in its entirety. After all, it is described as a ‘concept album’.
Using often grainy archive audio leaves you straining to hear every word, which is actually good thing. The music becomes more of a soundtrack, a film score to which the audio acts as a script and your imagination is allowed to paint pictures.
When I eventually get through to J, he is parked up in a van in Edinburgh preparing for the evening’s show.
“We’ve got a visuals guy coming up from London and our own soundman coming up which means we can use the same one every night now,” he enthusiastically tells me.
That’s the thing with Public Service Broadcasting. While I foolishly imagined I would be put through to a man perched on a tall leather armchair, puffing a pipe with a copy of Bach in one hand and Faithless in the other, I’m really talking to a humble, friendly bloke preparing for a gig. I even suspect he wears jeans and T-shirt by day, changing into corduroy by night. A sort of studious Superman.
It’s all a meticulous and methodical act, and one which is paying off. Despite masquerading as country gents, they’re the collateral damage of one man’s love of history and nostalgia, as well as modern music and recording techniques.
Not only is the music supremely cutting edge, but the band’s live performance seems to require a whole crew on top of the two performers.
“We did six shows last week, 20 in March and we’re half-way through a 46-date tour. Apart from us being extremely technology reliant, it’s all going very well,” J says.
“We have another chap just doing visuals on an 8ft wide TV which definitely helps. The visuals become the frontman and it’s more like Wrigglesworth and I play alongside.”
J says the idea behind the band’s work came about through listening to old Radio 4 archive material and deciding it would be interesting to make music around it.
He adds: “I just thought, ‘wouldn’t it be good to do a concept album around this stuff?’ Then I realised it was one of the most pretentious ideas ever for an album… but it’s all good.”
PSB are as much about their stage presence and aura as the music. I ask J about other bands he was in before this incarnation, and he’s reluctant to divulge any names for reasons of ‘embarrassment.’
But the 31-year-old always gives the impression that this is finally the music he’s wanted to make.
“I knocked around in a few bands and when they broke up I began recording on my own, then decided to do it all on my own, before recruiting our drummer,” he says.
“I want to keep a sense of slight mystery around it all now, though.”
However, J is very humble when acknowledging just how successful PSB have become recently, especially now that Inform – Educate – Entertain has hit the shelves and is doing the national radio rounds.
“I try not to read press stuff, but people seem to be enjoying the album via Twitter and things,” he says.
“We had a lovely message from a guy who gave us our first ever gig and he said there were loads of people in the pub sat listening to our record.
“I guess it shows how far we’ve come in four years, so that was pretty nice.
“Things do pick up. We’ve sold out five or six shows and that’s when you start getting excited. If we can sell out double figures then that will be a real achievement.”
Ahead of their Manchester show at Sound Control tomorrow evening, the band seem genuinely excited, with J sounding chirpier than ever.
“The Manchester show is one I’ve had my eye on for some time,” he says. “It’s a big venue, especially seeing as though we’ve only played the city once and that was at the Soup Kitchen, which is a bit smaller.
“It went down well, so we’re just hoping for more of the same.”
Public Service Broadcasting play Sound Control, 1 New Wakefield Street, Manchester on Tuesday May 14. Tickets can still be purchased here.