This sweetly soothing instrumental builds to a euphoric climax on the back of rousing brass and angelic backing vocals but the emotional weight is carried not by the growing grandeur of the arrangement but by the words of two working class women from the valleys of South Wales recalling their own humble contribution to an historic struggle for workers' rights. It's a piece of music that gloriously celebrates the women's support groups of the mining towns who worked tirelessly to raise money to sustain their families through a gruelling year-long strike.
Public Service Broadcasting is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist J Willgoose Esq, who takes archive audio recordings sets them to music. From the WWII propaganda films immortalised on The War Room EP in 2012 to a celebration of a thrilling Dutch cross-country ice skating competition on Elfstedentocht to the marvellous evocation of the Moon landing on The Race For Space album, PSB's music wanders seamlessly from visceral riffs to ethereal strings and back, mostly accompanied by carefully-selected snippets of the spoken word, often heavy with meaning.
2017's album Every Valley was something of a departure for Public Service Broadcasting - not only does it include several tracks more obviously identifiable as "songs" - featuring guest vocalists and without archive recordings - but its theme eschews grand epics of PSB past like conquering Everest and instead explores the romantic landscape of Wales and delves into the complexities of its social history.
The 1984 miners' strike was the longest industrial dispute in British history and ended in defeat for the miners. The closure of the pits had a catastrophic impact on the towns that had depended on them for their livelihood. The government, backed by the influential right-wing press, branded the strikers and their supporters as "the enemy within". Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher saw to it that thousands of strikers were taken to court and yet the police were allowed to conduct their manoeuvres with brutal violence, like the appalling "Battle of Orgreave" in which dozens of strikers were assaulted by South Yorkshire Police. The social and economic problems caused by the decline of the coal industry are incalculable, not least because by breaking the National Union of Mineworkers, the government secured an end to the might of the trade unions in British politics.
They Gave Me a Lamp (which takes its name from the out-of-print autobiography of coal mine resident nurse Phyllis Jones) features the voices of Margaret Donovan and Christine Powell, both of whom were leaders of women's support groups, discussing the impact of the miners' strike on their personal lives. And whilst it was undoubtedly a struggle, the upside was that it gave many women like them an opportunity to prove their mettle, asserting themselves independently of their husbands and fathers in a way that gave them an irrevocable sense of empowerment.
"A lot of women weren't as fortunate as me," says Margaret Donovan. "They weren't taught how to change a wheel on a car; they were taught the proper way to iron a white shirt. You can't climb up this tree, you're a girl. You can't come with us 'cause you're a girl. And it made me damned determined to do it. And I suppose it sort of stuck with me. So I didn't see any reason why I shouldn't be out there, doing what I was doing, why I shouldn't picket with them, why I shouldn't be in a support group."
"Politics was just something that wouldn't affect me," says Chris Powell, who was treasurer of The Neath and District Miners Support Group "but politics is life, and everything to do with it affects you, directly or indirectly."
"The strike brought home to many [women] for the first time how much they have in common with other people fighting for peace and justice, both at home and abroad," says the National Justice for Mineworkers website. "Hardship and demoralisation have taken their toll. Some families have had to sell their homes, and those women who had been able to find jobs were working to pay off massive debts. Many marriages went through a rough patch, and the relentless pressure by management on men in the collieries [coal mines] affected the whole family. But as people got their finances straightened out the old fighting spirit returned. For hundreds of women, the strike opened new doors, and there will be no going back."
You can learn more about Public Service Broadcasting here
About the curator: Jon Ewing
After graduating from the University of Keele in England with a degree in Politics and American Studies, Jon worked as editor of a music and entertainment magazine before spending several years as a freelance writer and, with the advent of the internet, a website designer, developer and consultant. He lives in Reading, home to one of the world's most famous and long-running music festivals, which he has attended every year since 1992.
4 March 2021
A high-speed combination of punk chorus and ska verse, Mustard Plug’s singalong Unite and Fight is just one of a sensational 28 tracks on the Ska Against Racism album compiled by Bad Time Records in 2020 to raise funds for non-profit organisations working to improve education, opportunity and justice for black people in the USA and beyond. With a barrelling momentum and a repudiation of violent action, this uplifting song is a call to arms for those of us committed to disarmament.
8 September 2020
Celebrating the determination of “one hundred thousand teenagers” to take over the streets of London to save their future from calamity, KIDSTRIKE! by novelist and singer songwriter JB Morrison – aka Jim Bob – is taken from the UK Top 40 album Pop Up Jim Bob released in August 2020 and inspired by the real life activism of countless young activists. But the song is run through with a rueful recognition of the singer’s own fading urge to save the world.
28 July 2020
Inspired in part by the fatal shooting in New York of a ten-year-old black boy by a white plain-clothes policeman, the audacious centrepiece of Stevie Wonder’s experimental 1973 album was a seven-and-a-half-minute meditation on the brutality of black America: Living for the City…