John (better known as J) Willgoose Esq, guitarist, electronic instrumentalist and founder member of Public Service Broadcasting chats with Kevin Cooper about living in Berlin, playing The Royal Albert Hall London, their latest album Bright Magic and performing at the 2023 Bearded Theory Festival.

John (better known as J) Willgoose Esq, guitarist and electronic instrumentalist, formed the band Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) in 2009.

Before being joined by drummer and pianist Wrigglesworth in 2010 Willgoose released his first EP, One, in 2009. Also in 2010 they played their first festival and in 2012 they released The War Room, their second EP. The band was joined by bass player JF Abraham in 2016 after he had been a session player with the band.

PSB have released four studio albums, Inform-Educate-Entertain in 2013, The Race For Space in 2015,Every Valley in 2017 and more recently Bright Magic in 2021.

In December 2020 Willgoose released ambient solo EP A Wonderful Hope under the name Late Night Final.

In 2022 PSB played a specially commissioned, album length piece for Prom 58 called New Noise with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at The Royal Albert Hall. It was commissioned to celebrate 100 years of the BBC.

Whilst sorting out his rehearsal studios, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.


Good morning J, how are you?

I’m very well thanks Kevin, how are you?

All is good thank you and before we move on, let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

That’s alright, it’s my pleasure.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

It’s aright if I am totally honest with you. We have had a fairly low key but a bust start to the year. I have just taken on some studios which we are going to be using for our rehearsals and recording base for the future hopefully. So, as you can imagine, I have been getting those all sorted out, doing lots of cabling and very bad DIY (laughter). So, I am working really hard behind the scenes, whilst getting ready for another busy year, hopefully.

Forgive me if you have been asked this many, many times before but before we move on, who came up with the name of the band, Public Service Broadcasting?

(Laughter) that was me. Just me, as at first it was just me in the band; it really was just a solo entity and the first gigs that I played was just me in a pub without any visual accompaniment or anything. It really was a solo, semi-live, semi-electronic performance. The name just seemed to fit what it was that I was doing. The only bad thing about it was that it meant that we would end up with the same initials as the Pet Shop Boys and obviously they got there first and they are a lot better (laughter). At the start I did worry about that a bit, but I was happy to go with it in the end. It was simply too good a fit for what I was trying to do to avoid it really.

How did you manage to keep yourself busy during lockdown?

To be totally honest with you I have to say that it was tricky because at the very start of that year, I had come home with my wife from Germany. We were living in Berlin at that time. We had moved back to the UK because she was expecting our first child. It was our intention to have a few months back home here in the UK and then go back out to Berlin and I was intending to finish the record there. You have to remember that all of our equipment was in Berlin, I was paying for an apartment which we couldn’t get to, I was paying for a studio that we couldn’t get to because we couldn’t get into the country, and to put it bluntly, I didn’t have any equipment at home in the UK.

So, as you can imagine, they really were very stressful times. So, I found myself cobbling together the stuff which I hadn’t taken out there in the first place and making an electronic record instead which found itself under the solo mónica of Late-Night Final. I did that whilst we waited for the coast to clear to enable us to actually get back to Berlin and record the album, which we finally managed to do back in September 2020 to release a year later. It was a bit of a juggling act, very fraught, but we just about navigated it well enough, I think.

Was it always going to be a career in music?

(Hysterical Laughter) God, no. I was doing this just for fun as I had given up on ever having any sort of career in music. I had worked with, what I had thought at the time were promising Indie bands, I had done loads of bits and bobs, but I really had given up because back in 2009 I was twenty-eight years old, and I finally thought to myself, ‘these bands that I have been working with just aren’t going to happen so why don’t I do something that is fun for me, hopefully fun for the few friends who I can cobble together who will hopefully come down to the pub to watch it’ (laughter). I had asked friends to come along to lots of gigs over the years, so I just started mucking around with this for my own amusement really (laughter).

I have to be totally honest with you and say that not once did I ever think that it would become a career. I dreamed of a career in music when I was a lot younger but I didn’t think that it was going to happen. The way that PSB took off really did surprise me but maybe there may be something to be said for that, not trying any more, and simply do something for your own amusement. Maybe that is the most reliable way to find an audience, produce something that is more genuine.

You mentioned that when you first started out you were a solo act, are you now a settled three piece on the musical side and a four piece on the visual side?

That’s right, three piece musically and a four piece visually. Don’t get me wrong, we would always like to add members and expand where we can but it’s not an easy time to be taking on staff shall we say (laughter). So yes, I think that it works well. We can cover a lot of instruments live, we have got a lot of skills between us, so I think that we can put on a gig like we did at The Proms, where we created the visuals, we created the set design, we did the archive research, we did all of the orchestration and the arrangements, and as far as we were concerned that whole show was an in-house production.

Not blowing my own trumpet but I don’t think that there are many bands out there who could do that. We have found this weird little niche where we manage to function quite successfully with what we do which enables us to take on some quite interesting projects whilst functioning as a band, and being able to earn a living off it which is an amazing privilege these days.

For the first three studio albums there was a two-year gap between the three, whereas there was a five-year gap before you released Bright Magic. Was that down to Covid or any other reason?

(Laughter) hang on, you have added an extra year, it wasn’t quite that bad, it was actually four years and not five (laughter). Come on; please don’t make us sound worse than we are. We actually lost nine months due to Covid so it would have still been released in January 2021 or at least that was what we were working towards, but due to Covid everything simply fell apart. What were the reasons, I mean looking back what were the reasons (laughter). We toured a hell of a lot, we played a lot, we did the White Star Liner EP in 2018 which pushed things back.

I was supposed to be working on a soundtrack which actually didn’t happen in 2019, and to be totally honest with you, just moving countries, finding somewhere to live, finding a studio to rent, all of that took a lot of time and resources in terms of getting up and running in Berlin and to be able to research and write the next record so, it took a while, to that I will agree, but it wasn’t due to us sitting at home twiddling our thumbs, honest (laughter).

Are you always working, are you already thinking about the next album?

I am, yes, in between bashing together poorly made acoustic panels and hanging them on the wonk, yes, I am actually thinking a lot about the next record. After The Proms and after Covid, everything was simply dreadful and extremely stressful, and I don’t think that it was a good environment for me to be creative in, because you need to feel more playful than stressed. There is a reason why we call it playing music (laughter). It’s great to have this studio stuff which is something for me to get through, and allow me to get excited about writing once again.

It will also allow me to get excited about researching a new project, and eventually it will enable us to get a new record out there. I think that you just need some time to recharge your batteries sometimes, and for me I think that was true, it was especially needed after the last year. Probably, in a couple of months’ time I will be sitting down working out what exactly it is and what shape it is going to take, and I will take it from there. Hopefully there will be a new album out sometime next year, we hope.

Back in 2015 you were voted Prog Magazines breakthrough band of the year. Despite being rather strange, and some may even say misplaced, just how did that feel?

(Laughter) misplaced indeed (laughter). What can I say, it was nice, but as you say, it really was rather weird (laughter). I just think that it was weird, because I don’t think that we are a Prog Rock band, I don’t listen to Prog Rock, I don’t really much like Prog Rock, and whilst I would never want to cast aspersions on anyone else’s listening habits, awards are a strange thing anyway, but especially when they are from a quarter that you really do not feel that you belong in, and that you don’t really have any knowledge of. It was like us being given a classical music award, it was like, ‘oh okay if you say so, thanks very much, that’s nice’ (laughter). It was really flattering but I just found the whole thing rather weird (laughter). Having said that, the award wasn’t the first thing in our career which we would say is odd.

You are quoted as saying that you always feel uncomfortable whenever you are required to sing. Is that still the situation or are you easing yourself into the position?

I sang one song on our third album Every Valley and I thought, ‘that’s that’ (laughter). That was a particular set of circumstances that allowed that to happen. But no, I certainly don’t enjoy it; I certainly do not enjoy it in front of a crowd. So we defer to the experts who we have been so lucky to work with. We have worked with some amazing singers and artists along the years now and I honestly feel that is the way forward for us now. We will continue to have these collaborations, we will get these different voices and these different creative influences on the records and I feel that it will keep it more interesting and fresher than you hearing me blabbering along (laughter).

You have played The Royal Albert Hall in London on no less than four separate occasions now. Taking you back to the very first time that you stepped out onto the stage, when you thought of all of the greats who had performed there before you; people such as Emeli Sandé, Phil Collins, Mark Knopfler, Sting, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, and Alice Cooper, to name but a few. Were you nervous?

Well let me start by saying that the mere fact that we have now played at The Royal Albert Hall four times is ridiculous (laughter). Especially when you consider that three of those occasions were under our own steam. The first time that we performed there it wasn’t our night. It was back in 2019 and we actually came onto the stage at the end of Brian Cox and Robin Ince’s Space Shambles night. We played two songs and half of the crowd left (laughter). That was just like the old days. I’ve been doing that for years, clearing out rooms (laughter). That was a case of, ‘well it really is nice to be in this amazing room’ (laughter). I think that when we played it ourselves in November that same year as part of the Every Valley tour, that really was different.

There are not that many moments in life that make you feel like you are in a film but at the end of that show, I can remember holding up my guitar and saying thanks to the crowd because it is such a wrap-around venue. You say thanks to the crowd and then you start turning, you start turning, you start turning and before you know it you have gone 360 degrees and you are still going. It really is like a weird cinematic moment. That really was pretty special. Then when we did The Proms that really was very stressful and a very hot gig, the first one, and then when we did the second one, I think that I was much more at ease but we were also conscious that it was the only time that music was likely to be performed live on stage so I really didn’t want to muck it up.

I was also trying not to muck up the speech that I had prepared about how the concert was going to end. That was the thing that I was most nervous about, actually speaking to the crowd. Fortunately, everything went off alright. Most of the time I am just hoping that there are no disasters. But, in answer to your question, I try to block out any thoughts of who has played there before us, I just try to put on a good performance for the audience and try not to let anything else get in the way of us doing that, because once you allow those thoughts into your head it really can become extremely daunting.

Taking you back to 2020 and in particular your solo EP A Wonderful Hope, how did it feel releasing that on your own?

I have to be totally honest with you and say that it felt really good. It was nice to get something out there. It really did feel like a record being made in adversity, more importantly it felt like an important record for my sanity, and I took a very different approach to making that record to the approach that I take when writing and recording with PSB. It is more immediate, it is much more direct, I mixed it all live, I took tapes of live performances straight to stereo. I didn’t spend ages fiddling with it unlike PSB. It was a really healthy antidote to the way that I work as part of the band, which is much more fiddly, endlessly so.

It felt good to just make a record and put it out there and at sometime in the future, I really would love to do it again, but probably not for a little while. But it would be great for me to put out another solo project and also play a few live shows if I can. Hopefully, I will find the time to do it.

Since you formed the band, are you currently in a good place, and have you exceeded your expectations?

I personally feel that we exceed all expectations back in 2012 when we started to get played on Radio 6 Music late at night that was far exceeding my expectations. I’m not trying to be faux humble, I mean this genuinely, but everything that has happened since then really has been a bonus. Getting to play the Brixton Academy back in 2015 as a South Londoner, that really is about as good as it gets. For me it really cannot get any better than that. Everything since then is bonus time really, it really is ridiculous. This band probably should never have existed in the first place, and also it should never have found the audience that it has. It should never have had two top five records, that really is ridiculous, that simply doesn’t happen, it’s just nonsense, but it’s a good nonsense.

Who has influenced you along the way?

(Laughter) going back to the very start when I first picked up a guitar it was Oasis, then once you have learnt their songs, which aren’t the hardest in the world, they a good place to start, I moved on to try to play Radiohead, The Stone Roses, Manic Street Preachers, who were all big guitar influences on me. Then it was a lot of electronic music, stuff like DJ Shadow together with all sorts of stuff really. Once the musical gates opened up in my head in the early 2000’s there is nothing that I won’t listen to now; it’s trying to find the stuff that resonates with you really. It’s a hard question to answer that because it feels like everyone really.

Coming right up to date with Bright Magic, were you happy with the reaction that the album received?

Yes, I think so. I don’t remember it being particularly controversial or particularly fraught (laughter). It was nice, it came out and it received some nice reviews. It was broadly well received by the fans, and to have a number two record at any time is ludicrous but, it felt especially so with that one seeing as half of it was an instrumental whilst the other half was in German (laughter). That album was a bit of a leap for us, together with a bit of an ask for our audience. That’s what I wanted to do; I don’t want us to make the same record over and over again.

I don’t want to be cynical about it, but I always want to push the concept of the band as far as it will go, and push my skills as a musician and also as a writer, as far as they will go. I am certainly happy with the way the record turned out. I think that Bright Magic is a bit like Every Valley, that was much more of a fraught release period for lots of reasons, but it feels like after a few years, everything settles down and a few people will find their own way with it and the album starts to make its way into people’s lives, and once that happens, you are away really.

A lot of the fans were saying that they thought that it was your best work to date. Would you agree with that?

(Laughter) I really don’t know, what I will say is that I think that I am the least well-placed person to answer that question (laughter). What I will say is that, in my opinion, it sounds the best. It really is the best sounding record that we have made, so on a technical level I can agree with that. However, on a song writing level, I don’t really know. Having said that, I think that there is a maturity to the record, and a complexity that some of the earlier records lack but maybe the record lost some of its joie de vivre that some of the earlier records had. It is always a case of swings and roundabouts, which is also down to getting older as well. I’m happy with it, it was a very difficult record for us to make, and I am so proud at just how it turned out, definitely.

I have to say that I have been playing the album for a few months now and I absolute love it, I think that it is a great piece of work.

Thank you, it’s always nice to hear that someone has liked what it is that you are trying to do so thanks for that.

Please don’t take this as anything other than a compliment when I say that it is David Bowie meets Kraftwerk.

Yes, that’s right; they are both most definitely in there (laughter).

You know better than I do that these things change like the wind but at the moment I have got three go to tracks which are Rhythm Of The Machines, In The Light and People Let’s Dance. I feel that those three tracks all have legs, and they stand up on their own.

Thank you. There are a lot of things on that record that I really like but I have to tell you that I haven’t listened to it very often. Having said that I was listening to the second half when I was on the tube the other day and I have to say that I really enjoyed it, but I also thought, ‘isn’t it ridiculous that this record got to number two in the charts; that really is so stupid. Just how did that happen’ (laughter). I feel that it is something to be proud of that you have managed to infiltrate the main stream with what is on many levels not a main stream record. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t take credit for that, the credit is with the UK listening public and with the UK Independent scene and just how open minded it is, and just how supportive they are of bands like us. I think that we are really lucky to have that in this country because it doesn’t exist in a lot of others certainly.

I’m an old vinyl collector at heart so it was great to see that you have released the album on vinyl. Did you have any problems getting it pressed?

Only with the lead times, especially during Covid. I think that the lead times actually got to about nine months. It is really frustrating when you have worked on an album for that long; it’s finished, and then you have to wait that long for it to be pressed. Vinyl is a big part of selling records these days, and I know that is stating the bleeding obvious (laughter). If you are going to buy a physical album, I think that a lot of people want it to be vinyl. They can appreciate the artwork on a large scale, they can appreciate the sound on a large scale, and get a very different experience to they do when listening digitally and vinyl most definitely gives you that. So, we will try to continue doing that wherever we can.

Were you never tempted to release the album on cassette?

(Laughter) no, that really is a step too far for me.

I was recently speaking to Jim Kerr (Simple Minds) who told me that they had to release their latest album on cassette due to the demand from their fans, so I asked him if it came with a pencil (laughter).

Yes, they will never know, or maybe they will now (laughter).

You have mentioned Berlin and the fact that living in Berlin suited you. What was it that first attracted you to the city?

That’s a good question and I have to say that the simple answer would have to be that it was purely down to the music. It was U2 and their album Achtung Baby. I was very young when that record came out, I was about nine I think, and it was like, ‘wow what is this place’ and ‘why does Bono look so cool?’ Everything about the place was screaming out cool to me. However, when you dig into it a little further you realise that they made that album almost entirely in Dublin (laughter). That is very true to form for Berlin in general actually that (laughter).

U2 were creating a myth around themselves and obviously (David) Bowie did that to an amazing extent so I think that it was the music together with the culture that drew me to the city. Hansa played a very big part in that with Bowie, Depeche Mode, U2, together with all of the other acts who came out there. I have tried to reflect on some of the questions and that is what the new album is trying to answer, questions like ‘why does this place draw people in?’ and ‘what is so special about Berlin?’ The record is supposed to be an answer to that of sorts.

On the 28th May you will be performing at the Bearded Theory Festival in Derbyshire. Are you looking forward to that?

Yes, I am, I really am looking forward to actually being back out on the road and performing live once again. I have missed that so very much over the past couple of years. We haven’t played the Bearded Theory before, so we are all really looking forward to the day. I personally can’t wait to get out there. It will be great to be a part of something big. I can’t wait to take in the atmosphere and perhaps take in a band or two on the day. I’m like a kid at Christmas whenever we play a festival; I get so excited (laughter).

Which festival(s) do you most enjoy attending as a punter?

Wow, why not put me on the spot (laughter). As a paying punter I loved being at the Green Man festival, there really was a great atmosphere. Being totally honest with you, I have never been to the Bearded Theory festival at all, so I am really looking forward to trying to experience some of that. I used to really enjoy going to the End Of The Road but I haven’t been there now for a few years. When I was younger, back in the days when I didn’t feel old, I always had a great time at Bestival on the Isle of Wight Festival. Having said that, I think that it has gone now, I think that Prince managed to bankrupt that with his untimely demise. Those are my highlights really, but I think of the modern festivals the only one that I have really spent time at, as a punter, is Green Man. I just love the whole thing.

As a performer do you have a favourite festival to play at?

(Laughter) I think that it would be rather unfair for me to say (laughter). I don’t think that it would be right and proper for me to promote one single festival, do you (laughter). To be honest, the festivals themselves, when you get an offer through, when you are looking at what you are going to be doing that summer, some of them may look more exciting than others on paper but it is all about the crowd. It is all about who is there in the crowd that day, what the mood is like, you could play the same festival three nights in a row and it would be totally different. The crowd might feel different; it really is such a weird thing, experiencing just what makes a crowd behave in certain ways.

So, it really does depend upon the people really, as much as where you are. Obviously the place has a big impact on that, but as I have said earlier we just love playing. I’m not just saying that in an attempt to give you a politician’s answer, we really do just love playing.

Which do you prefer playing, the larger outdoor gigs or the indoor intimate venues?

I love them all (laughter). We just absolutely love playing gigs. Some bands don’t seem to, they prefer to be in the studio, they prefer to be writing but the whole reason why I do all of this is so that we can get on a stage, any stage, and play our music to an appreciative and attentive audience. So, whether that is in a two hundred capacity venue or whether it’s that massive stage at Green Man last year; it really is all incredible. The scale with some of the big ones, the scale of the response, and the scale of the movement of the audience when you look out and you see them reacting to what it is that you are doing, obviously that is a special experience but on the other hand you lose some of the intimacy that you get when you play the smaller venues. There are always ups and downs with everything but we just love playing.

How difficult is it for you to put together a set list?

(Laughter) well I am a bit of a dictator so it’s not really an issue (laughter).

Do you already have an idea as to which tracks from the new album will make it onto the set list?

Yes, I think so. You need to be aware that you are playing at a festival, so a lot of the people there will not have previously heard you. Plus, the people are there to have a good time. They are not there to listen to your interpretation of an impressionist twentieth century films (laughter). You need to do the job which you have been hired to do, that is to entertain the audience and to get them in a good mood, and to make sure that they are enjoying the atmosphere. So, the ones that lend themselves best from the latest album include the three which you have previously mentioned. They will most definitely be in the mix, so I must say that you have a good ear for these things (laughter). Some of the slower and more complicated stuff you leave that for the indoor shows where you have got a different kind of audience.

I feel that for the outdoor gigs you are almost forced into playing what can only be described as a mini greatest hits set. Would you agree?

I would say so, yes. I think that anything else is running the risk of being very self-indulgent.

What was the first record that you bought?

Oh God (laughter). The first thing that I can remember buying physically with my own money was a Nik Kershaw album on cassette, called The Works.

Who did you first see performing live?

That was Oasis at Earls Court here in London back in 1995.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

I got into a lot of classical music last year. I have always been into it but especially so with The Proms and everything around that, and I found myself listening to Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and the fourth movement definitely gets me going.

What is currently on J’s rider?

That is a subject of great discussion. I think that the big change in the last couple of years has been the phasing out of Whisky and the introduction of Tequila. That has been very political on all sides so I am blaming Wrigglesworth for that (laughter). It has to be a nice Tequila, not rubbish. So, that and the odd beer together with the odd bottle of wine could be on the rider. The big one at the moment is coconut water. Whenever you come off stage all sweaty, you have to try to drink something that is vaguely healthy but it’s not a healthy mix at all by any stretch of the imagination (laughter).

What was the rational behind the stage names?

I have made my own bed and I now have to lie in it forever. I felt that my own name really didn’t fit very well with what it was that we were trying to do so I started using the surname of my great uncle, which set the whole process of writing The War Room off. I think that it was our way of trying to undercut any pretension. Or to put it bluntly, I’m an idiot (laughter).

On that note J let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. You take care and I look forward to seeing you at The Bearded Theory Festival in May.

Thanks very much Kevin, bye for now. Make sure that you come and say hi when we get to Derbyshire.