Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) are in danger of becoming ‘National Treasures’ with their penchant for musically documenting stories from history that resonate with people, whether they are about war time, the Space Race or industrial history. Shortly before their prestigious gig at The Royal Albert Hall in London PSB released their latest EP, White Star Liner, about the ill-fated RMS Titanic, continuing in their well proven historical vein. PSB wrote these pieces for the BBC live music event ‘The Biggest Weekend’ earlier this year in Belfast, where the Titanic was built, and it is in their multi-media live shows that PSB fully reveal the skills in their approach.
Carrying on with the same approach so skilfully and sensitively utilised for The Race for Space and Every Valley, PSB address this story with an interesting range of perspectives on the Titanic story.
The tremulous sound of horns introduces The Unsinkable Ship over which we hear a Belfast man speaking of his Grandfather’s pride in showing him the enormous feat of engineering built by the Belfast shipbuilders. “It was a huge piece of steel. It seemed to reach the sky it was so high” are words accompanied with a suitably metallic fanfare with Wrigglesworth’s pounding drums, and accompanying horns. The city of Belfast was very proud (and still is in some ways to this day) of the achievement of their workers in building such a prestigious ship which literally towered over the city, and this song somehow conveys its scale and majesty. It was indeed an incredible creation, signifying British industrial and imperial might at the time, hence the enormous shock at its loss.
Title track White Star Liner tells the story of the launch of this Leviathan of a ship: “Then she set off for the open sea and New York… and as she sailed away her builders had no doubt this was the start of a great career…”
The music sails along in a celebratory fashion with jangling, chiming guitars and Vocoder effects, reflecting the sense of pre-war optimism and pride that characterised the feelings about this ship’s maiden voyage across the Atlantic. The story and music takes a very different and much darker turn as C.Q.D. floats menacingly along initially before powerfully becoming more turbulent, with Wrigglesworth’s insistent drums accompanying j.Willgoose’s synth sweeps and effects. ‘C.Q.D.’ means ‘All Stations: Distress’ and was used by White Star ships as a Morse code alternative distress signal to ‘S.O.S’ (which later became the standard signal). There is very little speech on this piece as Public Service Broadcasting show they can use music virtually alone to convey the tragic story of the ship’s sinking, and concludes with a trumpet mournfully intoning over a bleak wind swept backdrop.
This short but resonant release concludes with the suitably reflective and eerie piece, The Deep, signifying the discovery of the wreck at the bottom of the ocean in 1985. Apparently this is based on Archibald Joyce’s Songe d’Automne, which Titanic historian Walter Lord has identified as probably the final song played by the Titanic’s band before the ship sank beneath the waves. Survivor Eva Hart passionately speaks of the loss of 1,513 victims who “died unnecessarily” and quotes Dr. Ballard, the discoverer of the wreck, with his reflection on the quiet and peaceful place at the bottom of the ocean as a fitting place for these souls to rest.
This is only a short release by Public Service Broadcasting but yet again they have respectfully and sensitively conveyed a story of great resonance… what will they do next?
01. The Unsinkable Ship (3:18)
02. White Star Liner (4:15)
03. C.Q.D. (3:44)
04. The Deep (2:23)
Total Time – 13:40
j.Willgoose Esq. – Guitars, Synths, Bass, Banjo, Percussion & Sampling
Wrigglesworth – Drums
JF Abraham – Trumpet & Brass arranging (track 3)
Record Label: Test Card Recordings
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 26th October 2018
– The War Room (EP) (2012)
– Inform, Educate, Entertain (2013)
– The Race for Space (2015)
– PSB Live at Brixton (2016)
– The Race for Space Remixes (2016)
– Every Valley (2017)
– White Star Liner (EP) (2018)