Public Service Broadcasting – The War Room

This was released in 2012 and, I guess, it would be classed as a mini album, having only 5 tracks and clocking in at only about 18 minutes, maybe it’s just a 12″ single, anyway, I’ve had it a while and I write about it now as I remembered something I had forgotten, which is that I’ve been to the war rooms in London. Having had a little ponder about that I listened to this and now here I am writing about it.

I was there for a seminar or conference, I can’t even remember what it was about now, but we had a tour of the place, some of which you can see in the picture above (which is behind glass, you can’t actually go inside that bit). They are called Churchill War Rooms and are one of the five branches of the Imperial War Museum. Construction of the Cabinet War Rooms, located beneath the Treasury building in the Whitehall area of Westminster, began in 1938. They became fully operational on 27 August 1939, a week before Britain declared war on Germany. The War Rooms remained in operation throughout the Second World War, before being abandoned in August 1945 after the surrender of Japan.

My best guess is that I was there around 18 years ago, it was rather fascinating and it is worth a look around if you are ever in the area. I don’t know if the Public Service Broadcasting album is a direct reference to these rooms, but it probably is as the subject matter is the second world war.

PSB (Not the Pet Shop Boys) have a style that they stick quite rigidly to, namely a sort of post/kraut rock instrumentation overlaid with vocal samples usually taken from original sources. For example, Tracks 1, 2 & 4 contain samples from films of the same name and track 3 contains samples from ‘The First Of The Few’. When these are then combined with archive footage they become more powerful, such as when used as the below:

This happens to be a style that I rather like, although I know there are many that feel it is limiting and, perhaps, more of the same for each release. I came across them via their last full album, Every Valley based around the demise of the Welsh Mining Industry, which was something I had an understanding of and an empathy with. I’ve bought earlier albums as well, and there is a Titanic related release out now, and I still haven’t lost interest, so I’ll probably get a copy. We all like what we like and don’t like what we don’t like, and I like this, History and music combined, it is a potent combination.

I’ve actually read accounts of people leaving PSB gigs in tears, so touched where they by what they’s just witnessed, and I think I understand that. While reading a book gives us information or watching a film draws us in, there is something about music in combination with these that make people feel, actually feel, and it manifests itself in different ways for different people.

Rating: 8.4

Your F***ing Sunny Day (Episode 42)

Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space

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Having bought the latest release, ‘Every Valley’, by PSB I decided to also buy the previous release, ‘The Race For Space’ which, as the title suggests, is about just that. As is their method, it contains many vocal samples to help illustrate the story they are trying to tell and for this particular subject we open with John F Kennedy delivering his ‘We choose to go to the moon’ speech at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas on September 12, 1962. It’s edited, so not the whole thing, but begins with “we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance.

PSB seem to be the Marmite of music, you either loved them or hate them, and so far I have to sit in the camp of the former as it isn’t all about the samples, I like the music itself and the samples are there, for the most part, in place of a vocalist and it works just fine for me as they aren’t random but cleverly placed and they fit the music really expertly.

Track 3, ‘Gagarin’ is made doubly fabulous by the video below, it’s a sort of celebratory song for a man who should be a hero to everyone on the planet. To quote the sample, ‘The whole planet knew him, and loved him‘.

October 4th 1957 marked the start of the space age, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I. The Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory was the largest radio telescope in the world and the only device that could track Sputnik’s carrier rocket. The Lovell Telescope picked up Sputnik on 11 October 1957 – on the anniversary of that date in 2015, Public Service Broadcasting filmed the video for ‘Sputnik’ in front of the iconic structure. The video celebrates the launch of the first satellite into earth orbit and highlight The Lovell Telescope’s role in making space exploration history.

And continuing in celebratory mood we have ‘Go’ which relates to the Apollo 11 mission, the one where, if you are not one of the many conspiracy theorists, man reached the Moon for the first time.

A1 The Race for Space
A2 Sputnik
A3 Gagarin
A4 Fire In The Cockpit
A5 E.V.A
B1 The Other Side
B2 Valentina
B3 Go!
B4 Tomorrow

It really is a joyous album and there’s lots of info included in the accompanying booklet, tucked in to the half of the gatefold sleeve that doesn’t house the record. There are serious moment of course, not least on track 4, ‘Fire in the Cockpit’, relating to an incident at Cape Kennedy:

Astronauts Virgil I. Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were killed tonight in a flash fire during tests of the Apollo Saturn 204 vehicle at Cape Kennedy. The fire occurred while the astronauts were in the spacecraft during the countdown of a simulated flight test.

I shall probably go back again, to the release before this one. I like these guys.

Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley

My word, I’ve read some scathing reviews of ‘Every Valley’, the new release from Public Service Broadcasting, and they are all entitled to their opinion, even if their opinion is crap. In fairness, I’ve read some good ones as well. I heard the track ‘They gave me a lamp’ on BBC Radio 6 several times over the last few weeks and really liked it, so much so I played it on the radio show, so it was inevitable that I would eventually buy a copy of the album.

The album chronicles the rise and demise of the Welsh coal mining industry in South Wales, which is where I’m from, and where my Grandfather worked in a mine and lost his leg when the mine shaft collapsed.

The album has historical narratives, from Richard Burton as an example who describes “the arrogant strut of the lords of the coalface” and an advert for coal mining Fromm the 1970’s where  prospective employees are encouraged to apply with the words “Come on, be a miner! There’s money and security”, if only they knew.

They Gave Me A Lamp

I would say that listening to this album has given me a greater understanding of exactly what my Grandfather and others from his generation went through and listening to it was at times quite an emotional experience.

The Beaufort male choir add their v voices to the track ” Take Me Home” and James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers and Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell add vocals elsewhere, so it’s not entirely samples of over music which adds some light and shade to the album as a whole. One of the criticisms I read was that the album doesn’t warrant listening to more than once because vocal samples aren’t as interesting as sung lyrics, which just isn’t true, take Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’, it was a huge success (and also included Richard Burton).

Progress

I really loved this album, and I have the 180g clear vinyl version, which is a nice thing. It’s been played at least 10 times since I got it so, in my house at least, it is well worth repeated listenings.

Tracklist 

1. EVERY VALLEY

Contains samples from: Every Valley, licensed by the BFI, all rights reserved; and the Dick Cavett Show, courtesy of Daphne Productions

2. THE PIT

Contains samples from Plan For Coal, New Power In Their Hands, Modern Wales & Every Valley, all licensed by the BFI, all rights reserved

3. PEOPLE WILL ALWAYS NEED COAL

Contains samples from A Job In Coal, People Will Always Need Coal, Mining Review 3rd Year No. 7, Modern Wales and Big Job, all licensed by the BFI, all rights reserved

4. PROGRESS

Contains samples from Modern Wales, Plan For Coal and New Power In Their Hands, all licensed by the BFI, all rights reserved

5. GO TO THE ROAD

Contains samples from Above Us The Earth, licensed by the BFI, all rights reserved; and The Welsh Miner, Artsmagic Ltd and used with kind permission

6. ALL OUT

Contains samples of: All Out, University of Bristol and used with kind permission; Smiling And Splendid Women, used by kind permission of The South Wales Miners’ Library, Swansea University; Swansea Women’s Group / Jazz Heritage Wales; and The Welsh Miner, Artsmagic Ltd and used with kind permission

7. TURN NO MORE

Words by Idris Davies, adapted from the poem Gwalia Deserta, used with kind permission of Gomer Press

8. THEY GAVE ME A LAMP

Contains samples from: interviews with Margaret Donovan and Christine Powell, used by kind permission of the South Wales Miners’ Library, Swansea University; Margaret Donovan; Christine Powell; and All Out, University of Bristol and used with kind permission

Title taken from Phyllis Jones’ They Gave Me a Lamp: Reminiscences of a Colliery Nursing Officer, used by the kind permission of Patricia Mee

9. YOU + ME

10. MOTHER OF THE VILLAGE

Contains samples from: The Welsh Miner, Artsmagic Ltd and used with kind permission; interview with Ron Stoate, recorded by J. Willgoose, Esq. and used with kind permission; and samples from recorded interview with Christine Powell, used by kind permission of The South Wales Miners’ Library, Swansea University; Christine Powell

11. TAKE ME HOME

Performed by the Beaufort Male Choir

Contains a sample from Every Valley, licensed by the BFI, all rights reserved.

Mercury Music Prize – Comment

 

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alt-j – ‘Relaxer’ – Maybe
I quite liked this and it probably deserves a place on this shortlist, however, points off for including a version of ‘House of the rising son’. Why? Filler.

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Blossoms – ‘Blossoms’
This is bollocks.

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Dinosaur – ‘Together, As One’
This is great and a real find as I’d never heard of it. Jazz with some electronic flourishes, nice arrangements, not too much dissonance. I might buy this one.

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Ed Sheeran – ‘÷’
I have no idea what this is doing here, it’s just Ed Sheeran being Ed Sheeran isn’t it? Yes, it sold bucket loads, but according to the prize itself: The main objectives of the Prize are to recognise and celebrate artistic achievement, provide a snapshot of the year in music and to help introduce new albums from a range of music genres to a wider audience. Now it does fall into the first two of those categories but not the last, and to be honest, I listened to it and I will be quite happy to live the rest of my life and never hear it again.

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Glass Animals – ‘How to Be a Human Being’
This is OK, quite pleasant I suppose, not particularly ground breaking but it’s quite listenable.

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J Hus – ‘Common Sense’
This is really very good, I like it. There’s autotune and then there’s creative autotune and where it’s used here it’s the latter, which I can live with. There’s some really good backing tracks and some good angry bits as well as plenty of melody. Yup, it’s good.

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Kate Tempest – ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’
Nope nope nope. I saw her Glastonbury set and didn’t like it. This is poetry put to music and it hardly ever really works, certainly doesn’t here. Best of luck to her but it’s of not for me.

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Loyle Carner – ‘Yesterday’s Gone’
This is very good, and there is an argument that can be made that this is also poetry over music in places as well, except that is a crap argument as this is an MC not a poet. I’d definitely recommend giving this a listen.

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Sampha – ‘Process’
I heard some of this album on a car journey at the weekend and it wasn’t what I was expecting at all, I’d assumed it was Hip Hop, my bad, it’s not that at all. Sampha has a really interesting voice and I guess if you had to file in a genre you could easily go for Electronic.

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Stormzy – ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’
So this is Grime, or that’s what I read. It’s actually pretty good, a bit angry in places but that’s ok. ‘Blinded by your grace’ is a beautiful thing and ‘Big For Your Boots’ is good.

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The Big Moon – ‘Love in the 4th Dimension’
Pretty good. I don’t particularly feel there’s anything here that I haven’t heard before, but if you like indie pop, then you’ll find this to be a very good addition to your listening.

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The xx – ‘I See You’
I’ve been unsure about The XX for a while, I sort of don’t know what they are, but listening to this album makes it clearer for me.  I can now be sure that it is not something I am a big fan of, but I can see the appeal.

If it were me then I would drop 6 of these at least, so for completeness I have to replace them. So this would be my list:
alt-j – ‘Relaxer’ – Maybe
Dinosaur – ‘Together, As One’
J Hus – ‘Common Sense’
Loyle Carner – ‘Yesterday’s Gone’
Sampha – ‘Process’
Stormzy – ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’
Kelly Lee Owens ‎– Kelly Lee Owens
Forest Swords ‎– Compassion
Slowdive – Slowdive
Roger Goula ‎– Overview Effect
Max Richter – Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works
Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley

I’ll be playing a track from each of these on the radio show 5 when I get around to recording it.