Highlands & Islands

Public Service Broadcasting unearth rare space recordings

PSB Image copyright PSB

The new album from Public Service Broadcasting recalls the triumphs and tragedies of early space exploration through samples from films and recordings of Nasa and USSR rocket launches, many previously unavailable to the public.

Luck was shining on Public Service Broadcasting when they came to writing the follow up to their 2013 debut album Inform-Educate-Entertain.

The band had previously worked with the British Film Institute in sourcing archive recordings to sample, and they turned to BFI again in their hunt for material from the Cold War space race.

"At the time I called them up to ask them if they had any space footage they'd only just inherited it from another collection," said J Willgoose.

"One of my biggest concerns about writing this album was about finding the material for the Soviet missions.

Image copyright PSB
Image caption Public Service Broadcasting's Wrigglesworth, left, and J Willgoose

"It was an incredible stroke of luck that the BFI happened to come across these films just as I started asking after them."

'Mission logs'

A fan of space exploration, Willgoose was familiar with the battles between the USA and USSR to beat one another to historic firsts.

The Soviets got the first satellite into space in the 1950s and the first man in the 1960s, while the Nasa's Apollo missions put the first men on the Moon.

But Willgoose was still surprised by what was in the BFI's newly-acquired collection.

He said: "Most of the Soviet stuff was new to me - even now it's hard to find a great deal of good quality literature or footage of their missions because their space programme was shrouded in such secrecy.

Image copyright AP

"A good deal of the material from the Apollo missions I hadn't heard before - I really went very deep into the mission logs and dug out stuff that I hadn't heard of before.

"The public relations feed for the Apollo 8 lunar orbit was one of my favourite pieces of audio for the whole album."

'Cop show soundtrack'

One of the tracks on the new album - The Race for Space - is dedicated to cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. However, in a strange twist the music ended up evoking an American theme.

Willgoose said: "I'd had this guitar riff lying around for a couple of years as I'd tried to use it on another song and it hadn't worked, and it was always at the back of my mind because I really liked it.

"Then when it came to matching up musical ideas that I'd had with likely topics for the album, and having watched the footage of Gagarin's reception on returning to Earth, it seemed to make sense to me in quite an attractively odd and incongruous way.

"It seemed like a strange song to write about him, and a very non-literal one, which appealed to me.

"We treat the source material in different ways on different songs across the album but I loved the idea of making him a pseudo-70s cop show soundtrack and trying to capture some of the exuberance and euphoria I saw on film.

"The original riff ended up being almost totally re-written in the process, and then the brass came on board, so it moved on quite a lot from the original germ of an idea."

Image copyright PSB
Image caption PSB sampled old propaganda films in their EP The War Room

PSB first worked with BFI on 2012's five-track EP The War Room. The record was based on a series of old propaganda films and archive material.

The EP was dedicated to a great uncle of Willgoose who died at Dunkirk in May 1940. The musician still plays the 26 year old World War Two soldier's banjolele.

Willgoose does not rule out working BFI again.

He said: "We've had such a great experience working with them, and they've been so accommodating and supportive, that I'd like to say yes - but it kind of depends on them.

"I think they're happy with what we've done with their material so I hope we can work on the next release together."

'Beautiful places'

PSB had hoped to work on their new album in a space of the terrestrial wide open variety.

Following gigs on Mull, Skye, Lewis and Ullapool's Loopallu festival, Willgoose had an idea to "escape into the wilds".

"I've been to Loopallu festival a couple of times now," he said.

"I think Ullapool is one of the most beautiful places I know, let alone in the UK. It feels like such an escape from London.

"I'd love to spend more time up there and actually try and let the landscape get into the music a bit more.

"I had loads of grand plans for going off into the wilds to write the second album, but we were under such time pressure in and amongst our international touring that I ended up doing it from a south-east London garage instead.

"Maybe next time," he added.

Related Topics

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites