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March 2020

Public Service Broadcasting: "It was a supportive atmosphere everywhere I went"

J. Willgoose Esq and co's latest effort looks back at the South Wales mining strike in the 80s.
Published: 9:51 am, July 04, 2017
Public Service Broadcasting: "It was a supportive atmosphere everywhere I went"
"I think it's a fascinating and very human story and, like all good stories, that's what drew me in," explains Public Service Broadcasting ringleader J. Willgoose Esq from Italy where they are currently previewing new album ‘Every Valley'. Previous album ‘The Race For Space' saw the band explore the story of the Space Race whereas ‘Every Valley' sees the band return much closer to home exploring the story of the South Wales mining industry.

Recorded in the former mining town of Ebbw Vale, Willgoose explained "It was very important to me to find somewhere in the valleys to record. It didn't feel right to write this album in isolation and record it away from the areas and events it addressed." Did the surroundings inform and influence the sound at all? "In all sorts of intangible ways, probably. I knew I wanted the album as a whole to have a richer, more organic feel than our previous efforts, and to have a more earthy sound. Recording to tape was a big part of that, as well as learning to embrace some of the imperfections of the recording process rather than trying to iron out every little kink. We recorded in January, and I walked my dog over the hill from Sirhowy to Ebbw Vale every day, and it's those times I'll remember most, I think."

Indeed the story of the mining industry in South Wales is the typical rise, fall, and ruin and to help prepare, Willgoose visited "most of the big mining museums including up in Wakefield and the smaller one in, I think, the Afan Valley," which is where he found artist Hannah Benkwitz whose work ended up on the album cover. "Everyone at all of those museums was really incredibly helpful and accommodating, and we owe them all a great deal of thanks." As well as this, Willgoose interviewed ex-miners and their families, "It was a really important part of the album - meeting the people involved, listening to their stories and not coming to it with any preconceived notions of what it was like or the issues they'd dealt with."

The subject of the fall of the mining industry and the Miners' Strike remains a contentious subject even today in the Valleys with a generation having grown up in the shadow of what's left, should they take anything in particular away from ‘Every Valley'? "That's really not for me to say. It's not my place in any case for any album, but especially so here. The art, music, books, films I love the most are the ones that leave you to find your own way through it rather than being beaten over the head with a big Meaning stick. It's the difference between a grown up film like All Is Lost and the cartoony stuff like The Martian. They are worlds (no pun intended) apart." As always there are two sides to every story and Willgoose did not go to the effort to tell the other side explaining "the album is about a particular community - an uncommonly close-knit and solid one - going through an existential crisis, rather than about the politics."

‘Every Valley' has a number of collaborators coming in with ‘Turn No More' seeing the Manics' James Dean Bradfield popping up "I asked him at the Swansea gig we did with the Manics - I was very nervous as they're such a massive band for me and so many others. He said yes, and although I thought he was just being polite at first, he kept on answering the phone! It's an immense privilege and honour to have someone with his talent and pedigree - and attachment to the area - on this album. I still can't quite believe it, to be honest." But with all these collaborations, will there ever be a time where Willgoose himself steps up to the mic and sings on a PSB track? "This will never, ever, ever, ever, ever happen," stresses the frontman.

While touring previous album ‘The Race For Space', the band played a sold-out gig at Brixton Academy, and will be touring ‘Every Valley' in October. Willgoose feels that "Barrowland is a pretty special one to be 'knocking off'." PSB play there 18th October. "I think it'd be great to get the chance to do this album in full at a prestigious South Wales venue one day, as we did with The Race For Space at Albert Hall, Manchester and Usher Hall, Edinburgh."

Single ‘Progress' has the refrain "I believe in progress" but does Willgoose feel like PSB have progressed since the release of ‘The Race For Space'? "It feels like it's grown a lot, and grown up a lot. Perhaps all this stems from a misguided desire to be taken seriously as an artist. Who knows?"

"I was worried about it a lot beforehand," explains Willgoose on going into the tightknit community of Ebbw Vale. "I was pleasantly surprised not to find any hostility. In fact, it was a really supportive atmosphere everywhere I went, and with all the people I spoke to. Whether that's down to the people there, their general attitude or just good luck I don't know, but I'm very grateful for the support and encouragement." Indeed, the band returned to the town to preview the album in two special shows in June, speaking before the show Willgoose thought it'd feel "quite emotional probably, and I don't often let myself feel that way. It already feels like a special and unique time, and already feels a long time ago. I'm not sure we'll ever get to make another album that way."

Taken from the July issue of Dork, out now. Public Service Broadcasting's album 'Every Valley' is out 7th July.

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