Public Service Broadcasting – New Theatre, Oxford

Thursday 5th April, 2018

I missed PSB when they played Bristol towards the end of last year and regretted it so when Tom offered to get us tickets to this tour I was very pleased. Oxford is usually very easy to get to by train from Bristol, with the last train back leaving after midnight. For some reason this wasn’t to be the case this week so a day off and a hotel had to be arranged on top. At one point I even suggested that we didn’t go. I’m very glad that Tom is even more stubborn than me and insisted we did!

The New Theatre Oxford isn’t usually a place I’d go to for a gig. They are owned by the same group as the Bristol Hippodrome, where I take my son for Panto and the occasional musical, so I wasn’t sure what it would be like as a gig venue. We had seats towards the back of the stalls and had a pretty decent view to be fair. Steeped and staggered seating meant I could take in most of the stage. Huge bonus. It was a very mixed age crowd, older folk you wouldn’t usually see at a gig, families with pre-teen kids, everyone. When music touches generations like that, you know its good. My son is a PSB fan, Go! is his favourite song. He is very jealous I went last night.

Jane Weaver was an inspired choice of support. The tone was set and her music was the perfect complement to PSB’s. The Architect was one of the stand out tracks, and not just because it was the one I knew best, having heard it played on BBC6 Music a fair bit. Backed by a drummer, guitarist and keys, she was able to display her brilliant voice and dramatic presentation to full effect. By the end of her set I found myself feeling quite spacey, in a state a deep relaxation and slightly like I was in another world. On that basis I would really like to see Jane Weaver headline a small show somewhere.

In the interval we met up with one of Tom’s twitter friends, Happy Cakes, who had rather splendidly baked us some cupcakes. A special set of gluten free red velvet one for me, and a mix of red velvet and chocolate for Tom. With sugar paper images of his face on! It was suitably eccentric for this gig 🙂 They were delicious, so if you live in Oxford area and need some cakes look her up.

Public Service Broadcasting were a perfect fit for a theatre, I needn’t have worried at all. Their light and sound show work in total harmony with the music to produce an all senses experience. The opening section, with lamps descending as if we were entering the mine, the pit wheels behind the band, and the intercut archive films coming together with the driving music to paint sonic pictures was so clever. PSB are art rock, prog rock, heavy pop, social historians, filmmakers and lots of other things. They play multiple instruments each in an almost bewildering display of talent. They may look like geography teachers (or nice boys as my Mum would have said) but they are passionate musicians and documenters of history. There is some kind of alchemy at work, clearly, because almost anyone else making music about Spitfires, the space race, Welsh coal mines, Everest and the like, would be utter nonsense. Yet, when PSB put it all together it is heartfelt, beautiful, joy bringing and enraging in equal measure. They somehow manage to be romantic about the past without wallowing in nostalgia. There is deep respect for the people whose stories they are telling. And they don’t forget the importance of the role of women, they tell the stories of the Miner’s wives as well as Valentina Tereshkova.

The encore was a mixture of that rage, a song dedicated to Orgreave (one of the T shirts on their merch stall was raising money for the families in their ongoing quest for justice) and joy with Gargarin, which is so groovy it was a shame we weren’t able to dance. A brilliant brass section and some dancing cosmonauts joined them on stage for that. It was so uplifting and smile inducing. PSB make music that documents the best of us, whilst never shying away from the darker moments of humanity. All while making us dance and smile. They are rapidly becoming part of the legacy they celebrate, music as an art form informs, educates and entertains.

Public Service Broadcasting were simply superb. I am very glad I got to see them live, and I hope I get to do so again one day, with my son.