New Internationalist

A word with musical archivists Public Service Broadcasting

June 2013

Using archive footage, propaganda material and public information films to accompany their music, J Willgoose and Wrigglesworth weave together past, present and future. Jo Lateu asks J Willgoose what it’s all about.

Your stated aim is to ‘teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future’. Is music a good medium through which to educate?

I have to confess to a fairly strong element of tongue-in-cheek in that statement – it’s something I wrote a few years ago because I thought it was funny, rather than that it was something I genuinely believed. Having said that, though, we have had quite a few people coming up to us after shows telling us that they’ve used our videos in primary schools. I think the way we edit the videos (ie slightly more in keeping with today’s attention spans) and the fact that there’s ‘interesting’ music alongside them might mean kids in particular are more engaged than they might otherwise be.

Were you model students at school?

Wrigglesworth wasn’t – he was very much a degenerate and a layabout. I made up for that by being one of the geekiest kids around. Together our powers combine (or cancel each other out) and make us into the considerable musical force that we clearly are. No, seriously, I really was quite a geek at school, but for good reasons – I used to do all my homework at lunchtime to get it out of the way and keep the evenings free for music and computer nonsense. It made me the man I am today.

What are you politically passionate about?

I’d describe myself very much as left of centre, or at the very least liberal. Either way, I seem to disagree with almost everything the [British Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition] government is doing. The fact that they seem determined to undermine public-service broadcasting as an institution in this country, despite the fall-out from the despicable way News International has been run, certainly doesn’t bring them up in my estimation. And at a more basic level, they just don’t seem particularly competent or good at their jobs. I don’t believe the Prime Minister is a particularly capable individual – or that he has any real experience of the way most people in this country live. Worse, he has no desire to understand the way they live.

What is the most important lesson you’d like to teach your audience?

I was really pleased recently by a live review which picked up on the underlying positivity in our music and our songs. I like to think that even our songs about the Second World War, for example, celebrate resilience and hardiness in the face of extraordinary pressure – certainly that, rather than glorifying war or nationalism in any way. So I suppose I’d just like to try and spread some warmth and positivity – belief in the ultimate dignity of the human race, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary sometimes.

What is your biggest fear?

I can’t stand flying. I’m absolutely terrified by it. Or heights, generally. So it’s fairly ironic that our two best-known songs are about Spitfires and Everest. Oh well. Write about what you know (or fear), I suppose!

Who or what inspires you?

If you’re attempting to write good music that speaks to people, you need to take inspiration from all over the shop. Books, films, music, people, travel – all of it, really. I realize that might seem like a cop-out, but if I were to list all of the people in each of those categories I’d be here all year. All right, here are a few: Johnny Cash, Stanley Kubrick, George Orwell, Humphrey Jennings. That’s barely the start of it, though.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 463 This column was published in the June 2013 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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