Every Valley, Public Service Broadcasting’s third album, is a cleverly crafted concept album about the rise and fall of Welsh coal mining. That is going to sound quite niche, but, trust me, Every Valley is worth forty-five minutes of any music-lover’s time. Moreover, not least because like it says on the tin, the band take inspiration for their songs from public service broadcasting, the album is even better when seen performed live. Markontour had this pleasure in Leicester last week and was completely riveted by the combination of film and music. Thus follows a track-by-track guide to Every Valley.
1. Every Valley
The opener takes its name from a 1957 British Coal Board promotional film, leading the listener into the world of coal, positive-face first. “Every little boy’s ambition in my valley was to become a miner”, explains a disembodied Richard Burton-esque voice from the film: “There was the arrogant strut of the lords of the coal face… They were the kings of the underworld.”
2. The Pit
The second track brings a bit more definition to the subject matter and as a mock pit wheel turns on stage, so we learn of “the cage, dropped suddenly into darkness”; tunnels 200 yards long and only 3 feet six inches high; and the bravery of the men sent down below to hew out the black stuff.
3. People Will Always Need Coal
It is impossible to imagine now, when we understand the full existential implications of burning coal, polluting the air we breathe and dangerously altering the delicate balance of our climate, and yet, as this track conveys, the expectation of the last generation was that coal would remain central to Britain’s future, with enough coal in Wales “to last for another 400 years”.
But even in the 1970s the nature of mining was changing, with machines starting to take over from humans. On stage, across six giant screens, the images of driving pistons and monstrous automatons is deliberately sinister, especially when juxtaposed to an angelic voice repeatedly singing “I believe in progress”.
5. Go to the Road
And so we come to the era of coal-mining history at which markontour’s lived experience begins: the start of the pit closures.
6. All Out
Now the album starts to get serious. On stage, band leader, J. Wilgoose Esq., introduces this song with a recommendation to buy one of the ‘Justice for Orgreave’ t-shirts on sale, a reference to one of the worst police assaults during the 1984 miners’ strike. On stage, the footage is of marching pickets and the tempo of Wrigglesworth’s drumming and Wilgoose’s jagged guitar rises to something akin to Rage Against The Machine.
7. Turn no More
Featuring the towering vocals of Manic Street Preachers’ frontman, James Dean Bradfield, the drumming stays in military step and, unusually for PSB, the song features a full, bespoke lyric about “the hills and skies of Wales” and its plunder.
8. They Gave Me A Lamp
Documenting how participating in the 1984 strike empowered women in the valleys, this is a hugely uplifting track, despite the despondent backdrop of pits closed, jobs lost, and villages left desolate. There’s one particularly great interview, where a women with a lovely south Wales accent explains, “A lot of women weren’t as fortunate as me. They weren’t taught how to wire a plug. They were taught how to make a sponge.. I think a lot of women found their feet [in Women Against Pit Closures]”.
9. You and Me
Wilgoose takes to the mike and does a good job in his duet with Lisa Jen Brown. It’s basically a love song, which I think makes two firsts on a PSB album!
10. Mother of the Village
The sombre end. “We knew we’d lost [the strike]” explains one ex-miner, before nevertheless going on to wistfully advise “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”
11. Take Me Home
The only way to end an album about the Valleys is with a Welsh male voice choir and the Beaufort posse do an amazing job with a song of rare beauty. “I remember the face of my father / As we walked back home from the mine / He’d laugh and he’d say / That’s one more day / And it’s good to feel the sun shine / Take me home to my family / Take me home to my friends / Take me home to my family / And let me / Let me / Let me sing again”.
Oh, and the album sleeve is worth the purchase price alone.