"...Using narrative largely hewn from historical newsreel footage, guest vocalists are also drafted in for the first time. Opening with the title track, we hear the dulcet baritone of Richard Burton, himself from a mining family, reprising his War of The Worlds narrative style in a musical setting informing the listener the reason every boy growing up in his valley wanted to be a miner..."
They say what goes up must come down, so it’s fitting the subject matter for Public Service Broadcasting’s third foray into their idiosyncratic world of musical education focuses not skywards like their sophomore release ‘The Race for Space’, but instead brings us right back to earth with a bump. Third long player ‘Every Valley’ released on 7 July and recorded for the PIAS label in a former workers’ institute in Ebbw Vale, takes the listener on a dark and brooding journey into the undulating landscape of South Wales, creating a poignant ode to a key part of the nation’s industrial past. Unlike its predecessor, dealing largely on specific events and personalities involved in the space race, the narrative on 'Every Valley' is a more general take on the coal industry, perhaps also linking to the wider disenfranchisement of working class industrial communities both at home and abroad instead. What is clear is that on ‘Every Valley’ you really get a feel for how the coal industry became the centre of the universe for the entire region.
Using narrative largely hewn from historical newsreel footage, guest vocalists are also drafted in for the first time. Opening with the title track, we hear the dulcet baritone of Richard Burton, himself from a mining family, reprising his War of The Worlds narrative style in a musical setting informing the listener the reason every boy growing up in his valley wanted to be a miner. Little wonder the status of the miner’s job then, as ‘The Pit’ really conveys both the national importance of coal whilst giving a sense of the miners’ daily struggle for survival in the hot airless darkness, hundreds, sometimes thousands of feet below, the driving percussion symbolising the noise of the machinery used to transport the men in and take the coal out.
Naturally one can’t make an album about coal mining without discussing industrial disputes. The loud quiet of ‘All Out’, together with the dreamier ‘They Gave Me a Lamp’ touch on both the hardship faced during the ’84 strikes, and the emergence of women-led support groups in its aftermath. Penultimate track ‘The Mother of the Village’ and ‘Turn No More’ featuring Gwent raised James Dean Bradfield on vocals, lament the post-industrial decline, irrevocably changing every community as the pits closed one by one, each headstock wheel becoming forever still; a sadly ironic contrast to earlier track ‘People Will Always Need Coal’.
Other guests include Caledonian chanteuse Tracyanne Campbell on the technocratic ‘Progress’, post-rock trio Haiku Salut on ‘They Gave Me A Lamp’, and Lisa Jen Brown from 9Bach, singing in her native Welsh on the exquisitely fragile ballad ‘You and Me’, an elegiac yet hopeful tribute to togetherness in adversity. Finally the Beaufort Male Choir lend their services, bringing proceedings to a stirring climax with their take on traditional miner’s song ‘Take Me Home’ leaving not a dry eye in the house.
In the technologically saturated era we now live in, the nation’s coal industry is fast becoming a fading memory. ‘Every Valley’ serves as a fitting snapshot of the skill and graft from those working in an industry employing over a million people nationwide at its peak, not forgetting the many thousands conscripted during WW2 or killed in mining accidents over the years, all deserving to be remembered.
Words - Mike Price
'Every Valley' is released on July 7th 2017 on Play It Again Sam