From the summit of the world to the ominous realities of the war room, through the vastness of space and into the mining shafts of Wales, Public Service Broadcasting have strived to inform, educate and entertain. Tonight they came to the seaside town of Margate, to the Hall By The Sea, to Dreamland Amusement Park, to a town and a venue steeped in the history of its past pulling itself ever nearer to creating a rejuvenated and refreshed legacy.
The smartly dressed chaps from London didn't arrive by the mail train but they did come with a couple of apologies. The first was to acknowledge that, remarkably, given their touring schedule, this was the band's first headline gig in Kent. PSB may have regretted that they'd left it so long as they put on a great show in front of a very appreciative and engaged crowd. They rocked up with way more technology than would have been required for the first launch into orbit, two sets of drums, keyboards, a brass section and enough guitars to start a small shop!
Prior to PSB came Jane Weaver. It was Jane's second visit to the county in the last six months, having played just down the road at the Ramsgate Music Hall towards the end of last year. Tonight's crowd was substantially larger and it was clear that many of them had come to see Weaver and her band. Buoyed by the success of last year's excellent album, 'Modern Kosmology', and on the back of her latest single release, Jane and her two accomplices delivered a superior support set. The blend of subtle electro included a stellar take on 'The Architect', the laid back lizard lounge cool of her newest track 'Lightening Back', 'Slow Motion' and an epic highlight in the form of 'Don't Take My Soul'.
'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'.
Continue reading: Public Service Broadcasting - Every Valley Album Review
Normally the words "Concept Album" are enough to make everyone at Contact Towers' blood run cold - we're thinking full on Jeff Wayne, chances of anything coming from Mars here - but for Public Service Broadcasting, it seems the most accurate term to apply to both their slightly awkward premise and, equally, the music which it spawns.
PSB are as a result something of an acquired taste; one person's University Challenge whilst being another's Top of The Pops. The duo (J. Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth - yes, we know) emerged in 2013 with their début album 'Inform-Educate-Entertain', a title which doubled up as their mission statement, one that in these less than cerebral times for music was at least an ambitious rallying call.
Its successor, 'The Race For Space', you will be unsurprised to know is made up of a series of their retro-sample heavy instrumentals, focussed around the pivotal 20th century milestones in man's attempts to escape the Earth's benign hug. Given that it's a contest of which we already know the results, this is a much braver choice than it looks; as a species, our fascination with space appears to have waned in the last 50 years, our pre-occupations since in line with more parochial concerns such as blowing each other up.
Continue reading: Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space Album Review
In my younger and more vulnerable years a hippie gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
"Whenever you feel you need the toilet at a festival," he told me, "just remember that the ones inside the arena get cleaned right after 11:30 so try your best to bake it until then."
And thus begins my memory of festivals: endless fields strewn with discarded baggies and cardboard cups. Herds of pink-coiffed punks and dreadlocked crusties impaled with a thousand miniature stainless steel objects, all bogling together outside a legal highs tent shaking in the wind. My own innumerable psychological breakdowns inside hot portaloos of a harrowing state, the image of which has been indelibly tattooed onto my consciousness. All this to the backdrop of countless bands whom I have varied recollection of actually seeing. In this way, just as remembrance and the fiction consumed amalgamates into one shapeless blob, so do the festivals of my youth all fuse into one long, undying gestalt festival in my mind.
Continue reading: Visions Festival 2013 Review