Space racers Public Service Broadcasting are exploring the history of one of Britain’s former coal mining communities on their third album, Every Valley, which is out through Play It Again Sam on July 7.
Songwriter and guitarist J Willgoose, Esq tells Prog, “Having covered so many epic things, like World War II, Everest and The Race For Space, it felt like it was time to focus on something with a bit more of a human element and do something a bit different. It just felt like the right thing to do.”
Willgoose’s research into the world of British coal mining began in 2015, shortly after The Race For Space came out. Although he had no direct ties to the subject matter, he found himself inspired by archive material found at the British Film Institute. Starting with clips from the early 1970s, when Ebbw Vale’s mining industry was at its zenith, PSB’s latest album explores the peaks and troughs of which lead to its eventual decline.
“If you were to say this album was about mining,
I think a lot of people would zoom straight in with the miners’ strike of ’84 and assume we were talking about personality politics with Scargill and Thatcher, but that’s not what it’s about,” says Willgoose. “It certainly touches on that, but it’s got a much broader sweep. It’s not focusing on individual events in the same way as The Race For Space – it’s a more abstract sweep across history, from the happier period, where it was a prosperous, safe and respected job to where it’s a dead industry in the UK. It has a political edge to it but I didn’t want it to be viewed through the prism of politics.”
Musically, the songwriter describes Every Valley as having an “earthy, grounded feel” compared to their previous releases, augmented by the trio choosing to record much of the album live on two-inch tape.
In the studio, Willgoose was joined by drummer Wrigglesworth and JF Abraham on electronics, bass and horns. The group also brought in a local 40-strong male choir, who can be heard throughout the album.
“It was great working with them; they were really accepting and very welcoming,” he says. “I made our own Fairlight of a Welsh choir so their voices are woven in and out of various songs. We did toy with the idea of using a local brass band as well, but in terms of what I ended up writing, it wasn’t really big enough so we ended up using our own brass players. I hope this album is the sound of a band being brave, challenging themselves and trying to do something creatively worthwhile.”
Unlike their previous releases, their latest album was recorded in the unusual setting of Ebbw Vale Institute. The community centre in south Wales is often used for live performances, but it created a few challenges as a pop-up studio.
“Turning it into a recording space for the album was a leap because it wasn’t set up for that so we had to build it up and bring in our own stuff,” Willgoose explains. “Wrigglesworth built his own wooden drum shack so he could isolate the drums and control the sounds. But it felt right [to record the album there] because we had to get our hands a bit dirty rather than do it in the lap of luxury in a residential studio somewhere.”
The trio, along with visual artist Mr B, will be returning to the Institute on June 8 and 9 for two concerts to celebrate Every Valley’s release. Further live dates across the UK will be added later in the year. See www.publicservicebroadcasting.net for more.