When Public Service Broadcasting released third album Every Valley, a bittersweet story about the twilight years of the Welsh mining industry, they were concerned their motives would be misinterpreted. They needn’t have worried, however – for the most part, the songs were taken in the spirit in which they were intended.
There’s something very innocent, very pure at the heart of the motivation of PSB, and that has allowed them to write songs about everything from the Spitfire to the departure of Apollo 17 from the moon, all within the same framework of celebrating human ingenuity in the pursuit of innovation and progress.
As the song Spitfire, which comes just after the halfway point of the set, darkly alludes, there’s often another side to the coin of creativity. Whereas the Spitfire is rightly celebrated for its role in defeating Nazism – a topic that has inexplicably become relevant again in 2017 – most technological breakthroughs have unintended or negative effects somewhere along the way, be it environmentally or socially.
This essentially was the theme of Every Valley, and while the band reaffirm their faith in humanity tonight on the track Progress – again, in almost childishly sweet terms – the mood of the songs from the new album is much less triumphant. The band understand this, and the set is heavy on more upbeat tracks from their debut Inform, Educate, Entertain, as well as those from 2015’s follow-up The Race For Space.
The set begins with new songs Every Valley and The Pit, followed by five back-catalogue tracks before People Will Always Need Coal. Out of the new album’s songs, the most dramatic and affecting tracks are They Gave Me A Lamp and All Out, which show two perspectives on the most fraught period of mine closures, and the archive footage played behind the band is stunning.
Naturally, older tracks like Night Mail, E.V.A. and Signal 30 go down well, but bizarrely, it’s The Other Side that connects with the most power in this cavernous venue. Somehow all of the lights going out to symbolise Apollo 8’s transit of the dark side of the moon is a lot more dramatic in the larger space, and there’s a sustained cheer when the piece swells back up to its climax.
Closing the main set with Go! brings the mood back up, and returning to encore with the funk party of Gagarin before the gauzy Everest is a master stroke to cap off this unexpected roller coaster of moods and emotions.