Album Review: Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley (Play It Again Sam)

Soundtrack to a disappearing world

Public Service Broadcasting describe themselves as “the corduroy-clad brainchild of London-based J. Willgoose, Esq. who, along with drumming companion Wrigglesworth and multi-instrumentalist JF Abraham, [who are] on a quest to inform, educate and entertain audiences around the globe.” They had a fair degree of success with this venture when they released The Race Into Space two years ago, that combines voice clips taken from TV and film in the Apollo era with a soundtrack of their own making. It earned PBS a no.11 spot in the UK album charts but gave no clue as to this their next venture.

J Willgoose, Esq. is not Welsh nor does he have any links to south Wales but he was inspired by the very British story of the rise and fall of the mining industry in that part of the world. The title Every Valley was taken from a 1950s transport film but it evokes the time when there was a pit in nearly every valley in the mountains of south Wales. It collects voice recordings from the British Film Institute archives and combines them with music that reflects the stories being told.

By recording Every Valley in the lecture hall of a former worker’s institute in Ebbw Vale, PBS have done their utmost to immerse themselves in the world that they are seeking to describe. However the album starts with the title track that encapsulates the life as it was when the miners felt like “kings of the underworld” to a gradually building soundtrack of strings, guitars, brass section and pounding drums with plenty of power and drama. It’s one of the strongest on the album from a musical perspective. The Pit keeps the drums up in the mix behind descriptions of “how for the last quarter of a century your coal was won”, it doesn’t sound like an appealing job but it gave the people the sort of pride that only hard toil can earn. As with most of the album the sound is clearly compressed, but there are moments of respite such as the beautiful You+Me where Lisa Jên Brown sings in Welsh with counterpoint from Mr Willgoose.

The most dramatic material is saved for the period when the mine closures started and the miners went on strike, All Out combines aggressive guitar and drums over the melee of an angry mob. This verges on heavy metal but the mood is brought down to earth when a former miner says “We didn’t strike for money, we went on strike for a job”. It’s pretty powerful material and the voice clips give it a substance that is rare in mainstream music. James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers provides Turn No More, his own reflection of the life that he knows better than most in his shoes. More positive is the Haiku Salut backed They Gave Me A Lamp, where Welsh women talk of their emancipation in the post mining era, reminding that life goes on in the valleys as in other post industrial landscapes.

PBS remind us of the price that local communities pay when large scale industries decline, they use Welsh mining as an example but this is not exclusive to that area, you can see it all over the western world. It makes you realise that the price of unemployment and social decline is ultimately far higher than the cost of running an industry regardless of its economic efficiency. But this is not a rant, it’s a musical documentary that will move you.

-Jason Kennedy

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