During the summer of 2016 AMBY had the pleasure of meeting lead innovator and founding member of Public Service Broadcasting, J Willgoose Esq. Amongst other things we discussed the development and direction of the London band’s new album, which was still almost a year away from release; as a conceptual outfit cards were played close to chests concerning the theme of the record, but there was certainly a tacit suggestion that new material would perhaps be more political, associated with themes much closer to home than the more celestial perspective of previous record Race for Space. This had AMBY guessing for several months but it wasn’t until July, when Every Valley was finally released that we realised our hunch about a Margaret Thatcher connection was not an erroneous one. Growing up in the north of England in the 1984, I still remember the vivid news reports about the year-long miner’s strike, along with more personal experiences witnessing desperate families standing outside supermarkets asking for the support of local townspeople. The industrial dispute ravaged livelihoods and communities and no more keenly was this felt than in the mining communities of South Wales. The choice to explore an industry that has defined a region and a people should not be that much of a surprise; the human element in particular is clearly what interests J Willgoose Esq and his fellow comrades Wrigglesworth and JF Abraham. After boldly and successfully launching the record amidst the album’s Welsh heartland in the summer, and more recently taking the record across the Atlantic, it was now the rest of the country’s turn and AMBY was not going to miss an opportunity to experience the next chapter in one of the most innovative, exciting and compelling British bands of the twenty-first century.
The familiar, bleeping Sputnik of PSB sets of the last few years have now been placed in the band’s metaphorical airlock and in its place are the forbidding metal structures of the colliery’s mine heads. Once an ubiquitous feature of South Wales and many other areas of the United Kingdom, the structures form an oppressive, almost Owellian backdrop, which is enhanced by newspaper headlines and video footage and interviews from the era. When the band emerge into these surroundings, it is dark, with only dim miner’s lanterns hanging above us providing any illumination. Title track Every Valley opens proceedings and provokes a dichotomy of emotions. Musically wistful, the song is complimented by the band’s familiar samples which define the era; this time it’s the dulcet tones of Richard Burton, celebrating the heroic status of the miner in the towns of South Wales. The Pit follows and the more contemplative nature is replaced by more complex saga of achievement and bravery that eschews the political context for a more linear appreciation of events that defined a region. The scale of the soundscapes seem vaster this evening and the energetic clarinet and horn section add a vital layer to the material. Theme From PSB and Koralev remind us that this is not all about the new album, but we keep returning to the most evocative and emotional delights of the new record for the majority of the evening. People Will Always Need Coal is a ratifying celebration of the coal industry, upbeat and exciting and this is complimented by the seemingly virtuous Progress; it is in this song though that the seeds of destruction are sowed for an industry, a region and a way of life and the alluring tones and upbeat percussion prove deceptive.
We’re left on a bit of an Every Valley cliff-hanger as we travel back in time forty years for the next musical detour; it’s also really nice to get the personal touch from the band this time, in the form of J Willgoose Esq’s modest introductions rather than his computer generated ones of the past. London Can Take It and Spitfire are atmospheric, evocative gems and provide a broad historical scope which is just not experienced in a musical context anywhere else. It is a truly thrilling experience made even more satisfying by the band’s subtle sonic additions that re-energise these familiar songs.
When we return to Every Valley we’ve entered another historical timeframe altogether. Dealing with the cataclysmic mine closures and their impact across the mining towns of South Wales, Go to the Road creates a more sombre sonic tone which is surprisingly challenged by the maternal beauty and embrace of They Gave Me a Lamp, which is an unadulterated joy before the shattering All Out demolishes all hope with it’s clattering depiction of the violence and anger synonymous with the strikes and the way these events effected communities, people and lives. This is the last time we visit the new album and it is an emotional farewell to an incredible collection of songs that have the ability to truly allegorize a place and a way of life. There are still many satisfying moments that we are all much more familiar with to come however. The Other Side continues to thrill cinematically and Everest concludes proceedings with a typically epic and emotional elan, but there is no denying that Public Service Broadcasting’s more personal approach on Every Valley has proved to be a rousing success this evening in Norwich.
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto