‘Britons are building, hewing out of their native rock the foundations of the future,’ booms a stentorian voice from a mid-Twentieth-Century broadcast. You know it’s not true when you hear it. The plug was pulled on the Welsh mining industry over thirty years ago; far from nurturing a sturdy future, entire communities were undermined, dignity and identity questioned and life forcibly reshaped. “Every Valley” is a hugely compassionate study and empathic composition, a testimonial to the Welsh collieries and a testament to the human impact of their loss. That the docu-rock duo, Public Service Broadcasting, were only two during the Miners’ Strike makes the attention to detail of this work an even more impressive labour of creative devotion. Yet, as J. Willgoose Esq. rightly avows, the disenfranchisement of the individual and the demise of surrounding towns and villages still resonates strongly today.
The album chronicles heyday, then crisis, followed by forbearance and survival. A concept album perhaps, but never before has a concept felt less abstract and more earthy. Richard Burton remembers, on opening track, “Every Valley”, how miners were once worshipped as ‘The Kings of the underworld’. It sits uncomfortably between eulogy and elegy. His voice evokes rapture but also that ominous tone he possessed when playing O’Brien in “Nineteen-Eighty-Four”. The dystopian disinformation propagated in Orwell’s novel is evoked in “The Pit” and in breezy, chilled-Hacienda-dance “The People Will Always Need Coal. It samples a 1970s recruitment ad, promising ‘money and security’, and sufficient coal for 400 years. Synthesised voices on “Progress” (featuring Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura) repeat, ‘I believe in progress’, hinting at dehumanisation – modernisation and regression in tandem.
“Go To The Road” contrasts a plummy BBC voice announcing pit closures with a South-Walian lamenting being ‘chucked on the scrap heap’. Its agitated, post-punk drums and busy bass prepare us for “All Out” – Willgoose’s ‘push everything into the red’ purge of anger, not just towards the underwhelming world order, but some personal, contemporary demons too. A punky Manics opening gives way to a raw, roaring post-rock ending. James Dean Bradfield makes matters more Manic on “Turn No More”, powerfully reprising poet Idris Davies’ ‘Though blighted be the valleys,/ Where man meets man with pain,/ The things my father cherished/ Stand firm, and shall remain’.
They place women as much at the centre of the story as men. “They Gave Me A Lamp” (featuring Haiku Salut) highlights the empowerment women drew from fighting for their families’ livelihoods. Evoking the spirit of Siân James, as portrayed in the film “Pride”, the idea of enlightenment grows from a lively, twinkling opening through to a glorious brass fanfare and a moving declaration of resilience. “You and Me” debuts Willgoose on vocals with Jen Brown of 9 Bach. The male/female echoing of, ‘I have you and you have me’ over a soothing lounge-jazz beat reminds us of how many strong women nursed their men through. The alluring vulnerability in Willgoose’s vocals suit the track perfectly. Although the title “Mother of the Village” refers to the pit, the removal of that ‘mother’ is an agonising one. This post-rock lament seems a genuine wake, where life is celebrated whilst loss is mourned. The final song, “Take Me Home” deserves no spoilers. If it doesn’t make you cry, just a bit, then you have a heart of coal.
You could write a thesis on “Every Valley”. At the same time, you can just sit back and let the music and words move you. It’s noggin-noddingly catchy, yet bottom-lip-bulgingly poignant. Listen to this PSB LP ASAP.