Public Service Broadcasting – They Gave Me a Lamp
This past July, the new album by Public Service Broadcasting, Every Valley, was released. It’s an album filled with songs about coal mining in the valleys of South Wales in the UK; from the days of literally fueling the nation’s industry, through the progress of mechanization, the strikes in the 80s, the pit closures, and the loss of jobs and devastation of communities that followed. You might think it would be an odd subject to write an album’s worth of songs about but in the aftermath of Brexit and Trump, it’s actually incredibly timely.
I went to graduate school in Wales 20 years ago. Mid-west Wales not the southern coal fields, but still, Wales with its rolling hills dotted with sheep. People spoke Welsh there, in addition to heavily-accented English, and it’s also where my husband and I met. So I knew nostalgia was going to be pulling hard and that I was going to like this album for those sampled Welsh accents no matter what.
However, I didn’t necessarily expect to love this album for the stories it tells. It deserves to be listened to in its entirety, start to finish, as the songs follow the sequence of events as they played out in the valleys. If you’re not familiar with the history of the rise and fall of these Welsh coal mining towns, you can imagine it being coal towns in West Virginia, or the car factories in Flint, or steel mills in Pennsylvania. [I also strongly recommend you watch the movie Pride. Even if I can’t convince you to listen to the whole PSB album, watch that movie.] It’s what happens when an industry dominates a town or region, and how the working-class people who built it up are “chucked on the scrap heap” when those industries leave.
This song, “They Gave Me a Lamp” is about the women’s movement during the strikes in 1984-85 when Margaret Thatcher was determined to break the miners. I saw PSB in Boston back in September and when they played this song there were video clips of women on the picket lines and putting together food packages for striking families. It could just as easily be video clips from the Women’s March back in January. I’ve seen a video from their recent show in London and J. Willgoose, Esq., introduced this song by talking about the samples in it as “telling the story that we wanted to tell, what I think is quite a powerful story of feminism, of political awakening, of political emancipation in a way, the power of protest really, which seems it’s worth to write songs about, no?”
After the inauguration, I felt like the Women’s March was such an empowering moment and I wanted it to be the start of something, not just a one-off. There were a lot of resistance groups sprouting up and a lot of them were lead by women. I went to protests against the travel ban, the March for Truth, but I also joined my local Democratic party. I’d always voted but I felt like there had to be more we could all do. I’d read about how entrenched the Republican party had become in local politics, which in turn leads to Republican-controlled statehouses, which is what gets you those horrible politicians who want to return to the 1950s, if not earlier. They often run unopposed and consequently win in places that vote blue on the national level. If we are going to succeed at preventing this country from becoming a fascist state and hopefully moving it forward from where it was at the end of Obama’s two terms, we need all hands on deck.
So when I hear the woman in the interview at the beginning of this song saying, “if you could get a woman involved in one thing, they could see there was this other life … like myself, politics was just something that shouldn’t affect me, but politics is life and everything to do with it affects you, directly or indirectly”, I raise my fist in solidarity. By the time the second sample plays the woman saying, “I think a lot of women found their feet” I see the huge crowds at the marches, I see the women who, like me, got involved in local politics, I see the new faces of the younger people who took the leap to run for office. And when those Brassy Gents™ come in and the song really takes off, I can’t help but get goosebumps and tears start rolling down my cheeks.
Today was election day. Democrats won the governors races in Virginia and New Jersey. A transgender woman beat the GOP incumbent in the VA state legislature who sponsored the “bathroom bill.” A Sikh man won as the mayor of Hoboken, NJ. Maine, with their horribly racist and just generally idiotic governor, who was Trump’s prototype, just voted to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. And here in my town, we swept our local races. Swept. Them. The resistance is just getting warmed up.
A lot of women found their feet, and now we’re ready to run.