J. Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth are not exactly names one would associate with modern popstars, which is fitting really as, in their collective guise of Public Service Broadcasting, the pair delve into the world of yesteryear to meet their aim of “Teaching the lessons of the past through the music of the future”.
This blend of history and the modern day is captivating audiences and music lovers the length and breadth of the country and beyond. Their second EP, The War Room, has maintained its place as our favourite EP of 2012 since its release in May and just this week they became four-time winners of Steve Lamacq’s Rebel Playlist competition on BBC6Music. Live shows, or Transmissions as the band call them, are selling out with increased regularity and they are quickly establishing themselves as a must see band. It’s been quite a year and quite a rise for a band that was already building a steady fanbase after the release of their imaginatively titled debut, EP One in 2010 and the charming “ROYGBIV”.
Unquestionably, The War Room has raised their profile immensely and understandably so. It is an incredible piece of work that whirls the listener around on a tempest of emotion, taking in stoicism, optimism, euphoria, heartbreak and horror. In just five songs the band captures the essence of war, and you can dance to it as well.
Warm, modest and softly-spoken, the esteemed J. Willgoose, Esq. sat down with us backstage in the hours before their recent, and triumphant, Transmission as part of Norwich Sound & Vision and we were keen to know more about the back story of The War Room. It has been well documented that the EP is dedicated to J’s Great-Uncle, George Willgoose who died at the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940 aged 26, but that was not the original intention. Inspiration instead came on the streets of Edinburgh where J. had been performing at the festival. As he handed out flyers for his show he considered what he could do next, should he return the following year, he didn’t return but an idea was germinating.
”I remember having the idea of a war themed EP”, he explained, ”because there’d be lots of film material on it and it would also be quite a hefty subject to tackle and you can make some really interesting music around it hopefully”.
The film material was provided by the British Film Institute who, after some initial scepticism – “it wasn’t their normal kind of enquiry”, have been supportive of the whole project offering the rights at a cost that wasn’t prohibitive. Not all rights owners have been as flexible or even available as the BFI though. We won’t embarrass anyone but it is fair to say that one British Based Corporation hasn’t been very helpful so far, ”I’ve left a few messages, sent a few emails and nothing”.
It was only once the process began that J. realised that he should dedicate the EP to his Great-Uncle and perhaps even write him a song. That song, the haunting and harrowing “Waltz For George” highlights the realities of warfare and the price that must be paid even in victory. It counter-balances the relatively light-hearted and jovial “Spitfire” and ensures the band would avoid any accusations of glamorising conflict.
It also followed the emotional flow that J. had envisaged when he set about crafting the EP. Starting off slowly and downbeat with war declared and London taking a pounding, building to hope and belief again before ending on a grave, sober note rather than the euphoria of victory. As well as acting as a beautifully understated honouring of George, the devastating effects of war is not forgotten. J. agrees, ”I think it’s right to end on a downbeat more sombre note. It’s a bit more respectful”
Throughout the interview, laughter comes easily and humour is present in the PSB live show as well. It is no surprise then that the band should choose something more upbeat and cheery as their next subject and so they set-up base camp and headed off to “Everest”. To the 1953 film The Conquest of Everest to be precise.
”I definitely wanted to move to something a bit more light-hearted and a bit more triumphant and soon as I saw the film for that, it was like, we need to sort this out.
Again the BFI were supportive, setting them up with a contact at Studio Canal Plus who ”really liked what we were doing, who wanted to help us out”, and the result is another wonderful blend of storytelling through music. The swell of brass as the track reaches its denouement brings the feeling of achievement and success to life and instils a sense of warmth and euphoria in the listener.
After such a dizzying year of achievement upon achievement, anticipation is growing for a first full-length release from the duo. It’s coming J. explains and there will be a balance between the more serious side and the lighter, more frivolous sides of their nature, it will have quite a broad range he promises. As with all great musicians, there is no desire to stand still or just repeat what has gone before. People have expressed concern that there is only so far this kind of music can be taken but it is not something J. is worrying about.
“There’s so much material and there’s so many different ways you can take it I think it would be a bit of a failure of imagination if we just repeat doing the same things and you know, since we started this it’s been adding to it, it’s started out just me on my own on a stage and there was no visual element, there was nothing like that and then gradually drums got added and then the visuals came alongside that and now there’s projection. [We] keep adding to it keep making it different, and not staying in one place cause if you start doing that people are going to get bored. I’m going to get bored more to the point!”
Right now it’s hard to imagine that ever happening.
In Review: Public Service Broadcasting – The War Room EP
Listen: Public Service Broadcasting – “Everest”