The Muni, Pontypridd, Mon 29 Oct
Public Service Broadcasting’s current album, Every Valley, is the story of the coalmining industry in south Wales. As a sort of thank you for helping them make the album, PSB have played gigs in some of the Valleys of the album’s title: Pontardawe, Blackwood, Newport and Pontypridd’s Muni, the last of those Welsh dates.
The crowd is a mixture of young hipsters, middle-aged hippies and regular couples. The small hall is already half-full by the time the support, Aberdare’s Head Noise, come on; they fit well, with their offbeat electropop/art-punk. Head Noise were as funny as they are musically entertaining – a mid-song fight with someone dressed as a Ninja Turtle and a puppet, the songs good enough to back up the onstage antics.
If Public Service Broadcasting have, surely, drawn stereotypical librarian or geography teacher comparisons, well, geek culture has been popular for a while now – and this kind of geek chic music, built around sound samples and video clips, hides a multi-instrumentally-accomplished main three-piece. J. Willgoose Esq is on guitar, keyboard and electronics; Wrigglesworth provides the night’s pounding rhythm on drums and JF Abraham handles most other instruments, as well as the task of getting the crowd going. Occasionally the fellas are joined by an impressive horn trio to give the crowd that extra oomph.
The fact that we’re listening to songs that are strongly connected to the area is not lost on the audience. It’s safe to assume Pontypridd Municipal Building – now the Muni – was used to hold meetings during the striking 80s. This adds another dimension to the show: good portions of the crowd were definitely there in the turbulent 1980s. The emotional resonance of Every Valley is apparent during many of the album’s tracks. The poignant They Gave Me A Lamp features samples of women talking about the role of women’s support groups during the strike, and is dedicated to the South Wales Miners’ Library, used to research the song; while All Out, Mother Of The Village and Go To The Road all deal with the decline of the mines.
As well as Every Valley the gig features older tracks from PSB’s previous albums about the space race and Mount Everest, plus a song from their new EP about the Titanic. From the underground to the ocean, Earth’s highest peak and beyond… While this could all sound a bit dry and serious, it’s definitely not. At times thought-provoking, informative and sentimental, a Public Service Broadcasting live gig maintains its sense of fun – take the hugely popular electronic/dance-funk of the ode to Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, featuring a pair of dancing astronauts.
As someone too young to know about the miners’ strikes and closures as they were happening – even if I remember the requisite school trip to Big Pit – I thank PSB for making this album. And thank you for an epic, five-star live music experience.
words and photos CHRIS WILLIAMS