Gig Review by Simon Saynor with Photography by Mark Loraine

Public Service Broadcasting arrive in Leeds halfway through the UK leg of the tour promoting their third album, Every Valley. Recorded in Ebbw Vale it’s an album specifically about the South Wales mining industry although it can easily be translated to include not only any UK coal field but any industry in the Western World. It’s a chronological album taking us from when coal was king, through the miners’ strike to pit closures and finally onto how a community copes when its lifeline has been taken away.

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Bowie’s ‘Sound And Vision’ drifts across the packed Leeds Academy before J.Wilgoose Esq. takes his position behind his array of gadgets. It’s a perfect pre gig song. The visuals are as much a part of a PSB gig as the music. We start with a lone guitar and the opening and title track from the new album. The stage is dark save for a cluster of miners lamps lowered from the ceiling. The rest of the band slowly take the stage (now a 7 piece if you include the 3 piece brass section, ‘The Brassy Gents’). They all stand motionless in front of two massive pit top wheels. With the dry ice filtering the eerie orange glow they look for all the world like a male voice choir standing at the pit shaft entrance on a foggy October night. Richard Burton’s voice echoes round the room telling us of ‘the arrogant strut of the lords of the coalface’. It is truly mesmerising. Wrigglesworth’s Tusk-like drumbeat, take us straight into ‘The Pit’, as it does on the album.

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The stacks of TVs have now been replaced with 4 drop down screens at the front of the stage and two massive screens at the back behind JF Abraham (bass, flugle horn, percussion and more) and Mr. B (visual expert and set designer). With the vast amount of images and the haunting drive of ‘The Pit’ it feels for all the world as if we’re in the cage slowly being lowered down to the coalface. It’s an epic, atmospheric opening.

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Previously a computer generated voice has been used to communicate with the crowd. We still get the occasional ‘thank you very much’ but J.Wilgoose Esq. has took to talking to the crowd. “The tour budget has stretched to a microphone”. It’s necessary for some of the dedications and introductions to songs and at first I missed the quirkiness of the computer but it’s given PSB more connection with their crowd. I soon warmed to it.

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‘The Now Generation’ from debut album ‘Inform-Educate-Entertain’ follows, Mr. B filming the band as they play, the images dancing from screen to screen. You never know quite where to look. It’s breath-taking. The amount of work and planning that goes into the PSB live experience is frankly staggering. We get ‘Korolev’ from ‘The Race For Space’ sessions, though not included on the album and back to the early days again with ‘Theme From PSB’ before an old NCB advert from the 70s extols the virtues of a life in the coal industry and the security offered – ‘People Will Always Need Coal’.

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Tonight PSB are not only on fire musically but they’re pulling on the heartstrings too. For someone raised in a mining town this is one of the most powerful and emotional gigs I’ve attended. Lead single from ‘Every Valley’, ‘Progress’ follows. The ‘Every Valley’ songs are received warmly. I would argue that the previous two albums had better songs but ‘Every Valley’ is their best album. That’s not to detract from the songs on the new album. ‘Progress’ in particular is simply gorgeous.

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We go back to pre first album PSB with ‘If War Should Come’ and then probably the loudest cheer of the night as ‘Spitfire’ thunders across the packed O2. I had to step out of the crowd at this point. It was sweltering but as previously mentioned there is so much to see at a PSB gig that you don’t feel you’re missing out at all. In fact the back of the room may well be the best spot to watch the magnificence happening on that stage. ‘They Gave Me A Lamp’ is dedicated to “the ladies of Ebbw Vale Library’ who helped J.Wilgoose find some of the samples so cleverly used throughout the album.

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Before ‘All Out’ J.Wilgoose talks about the relevance of the song not only to the Welsh miners but also the Yorkshire miners and how the police force responsible for Hillsborough were the ones in charge at Orgreave. Justice is coming for the families of the Hillsborough victims, that Orgreave is seemingly being brushed under the carpet is something to get angry about. The thrashing guitar and pounding bass and drums of ‘All Out’ exemplify this anger. I was 3 weeks short of my 16th birthday when the miners’ strike began. Pretty much everyone I knew had links to the mining industry. It was hard not to get wrapped up in what was a hard time for so many people. Seeing the images as ‘All Out’ played brought it all flooding back, memories of not being able to get into school as the police marched down the street, skiving off to stand on the picket lines, and the desperation of so many families and communities. I confess to shedding a tear or two.

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We’re back to ‘The Race For Space’ for ‘The Other Side’ It’s probably my favourite PSB song. The drop in the middle creates genuine tension. It is a work of genius. Fan favourite ‘Go!’ follows with JF Abraham leading the singalong. It is joyous. It’s a gig I just don’t want to end but sadly after ‘Lit Up’ they exit stage left.

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‘Gagarin’ is first up in the encores, a song I really wasn’t sure about when I first heard it. Now with The Brassy Gents throwing some serious shapes stage front and dancing Cosmonauts it is truly a live favourite. Naturally ‘Everest’ closes things out. It’s just a gem of a song. Such a great build up to a climactic crescendo. I have seen Public Service Broadcasting several times now and they always manage to build on what’s come before. Both visually and aurally they are one of the greatest live draws out there. A PSB gig is an event, it’s an experience. Take one in at your earliest convenience.

Set List: Every Valley / The Pit / The Now Generation / Korolev / Theme From PSB / People Will Always Need Coal / Progress / If War Should Come / Spitfire / They Gave Me a Lamp / All Out / The Other Side / Go! / Lit Up

Encore: Gagarin / Everest

One Response to “Public Service Broadcasting at The O2 Academy, Leeds, UK – 19th October 2017”

  1. Ian Melton Says:

    I was there. Great review of a great gig. Thanks.

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