It’s not often I’m sat in front of the TV only to be jerked from my post work, catatonic state by a Nick Cave tune, but that’s exactly what happened during the opening moments of Peaky Blinders. Expecting a slightly more sinister version of Downton, ‘Red Right Hand’ set the tone for a historical British TV series daring to be different. First shown on BBC2 in the autumn of 2013, Peaky Blinders is a post first world war British gangland drama starring the supremely talented Cillian Murphy as the menacing yet fundamentally decent Thomas Shelby, the mastermind behind the Shelby brothers gang of fucked up ex-soldiers on the make.
Named after a real life Birmingham gang who stitched razor blades into the peaks of their cloth caps which they then used to slash the eyes of their victims, Peaky Blinders is the first time early British gangster lore has ever been fictionalised. Set in the shit strewn, poverty riddled backstreets of Small Heath, with squalor, sex, drinking and violence a plenty, it gets as deep down and dirty as you’re ever likely to get on mainstream TV.
While the acting and storylines are top drawer, pissing all over an American snoozeathon like Boardwalk Empire, it’s the anachronistic, contemporary soundtrack that really pushes Peaky Blinders into brilliance by typifying not necessarily the era, but the grimy thrust and grind of the setting and the characters.
Now I realise I may be jumping on the bandwagon, but I can’t possibly let the end of Series Two go by without featuring ten of the best songs from the soundtrack of both one and two, especially as there are currently no official plans to release anything. Maybe it will also inspire you to check out the DVD’s because most folks I know remain completely unaware of Peaky Blinders. It really is as stylish and cool as its soundtrack!
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds / Red Right Hand (Let Love In LP April 1994)
From the moment Saint Nick blasted out the title song, it was obvious Peaky Blinders wasn’t going to be the usual BBC period piece. And when I heard my woman absent mindedly humming ‘Red Right Hand’, despite her intense dislike of ‘doomy’ Nick, I knew it was going to be a winner.
Series 1 Episodes 1 & 3
The White Stripes / St James Infirmary Blues (The White Stripes LP June 1999)
I’ve never liked The White Stripes that much and believe me I’ve tried. Far too retro, reverential and stylized for my liking, they’ve always left me cold. One unexpected bonus of the first series of Peaky Blinders was how the regular use of their songs taught me to appreciate them a whole lot more. It’s weird, but somehow The White Stripes make a lot more sense soundtracking a 21st century take on 1919 Brum.
Series 1 Episode 2
The Raconteurs / Blue Veins (Broken Boy Soldiers LP May 2006)
No matter how many disguises he hides behind, Jack White has always played by his own rules. Even if I’ve not necessarily enjoyed the end result, I’ve always admired him for it. Luckily, I do like The Raconteurs who definitely have a bit of Led Zep about them, ‘Blue Veins’ perfectly capturing the soundtracks stylish blues aesthetic.
Series 1 Episode 4
Tom Waits / Clap Hands (Rain Dogs LP October 1985)
What is Peaky Blinders if it’s not theatrical and carnivalesque, two qualities Tom Wait’s oozes in abundance? Consequently he was always going to be a good fit, particularly as his drunk and disorderly accompaniments and gravel voice never fail to conjure visions of a long gone underworld.
Series 1 Episode 6
Jack White / Love Is Blindness (Single B Side July 2012)
Jack White really outdid himself on ‘Love Is Blindness’, a song he’d loved since he was a 16 year old nobody. U2 covers are rarely successful yet he completely transformed the songs feelings of submission and surrender into anger and fighting spirit, imbuing it with an outrageous power absent from the original.
Series 2 Episode 1
P.J. Harvey / Long Snake Moan (To Bring You My Love February 1995)
If Nick Cave and Jack White were the stars of Series One, Polly Harvey was the queen of Series Two. Her songs were used throughout but it was the voodoo holler of ‘Long Snake Moan’, a song I’d forgotten about, that worked the best.
Series 2 Episode 2
Dan Auerbach / I Want Some More (Keep It Hid LP February 2009)
Much like the Peaky Blinders soundtrack as a whole, The Black Keys Dan Auerbach has never moved far beyond boozy, bluesy garage rock. So what could be better than ‘I Want More’, the title alone a perfect analogy for Tommy Shelby’s singular philosophy on life?
Series 2 Episode 3
Royal Blood / Out Of The Black (Royal Blood LP August 2014)
With so much Jack White in Series One it made sense to bring in one of the newer, younger groups he’s so clearly influenced. Brighton’s Royal Blood offered a harder hitting, modern take of the same formula that worked just as well. Using a wider range of artists was a minor, almost unnoticeable change, but it did match Series Two’s more expansive feel.
Series 2 Episode 6
Arctic Monkeys / Do I Wanna Know? (AM LP September 2013)
Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson and Joe Cole as the Shelby brothers achieved the impossible by making the Brum accent cool and of course in a former life, Alex Turner did exactly the same thing for Sheffield. Unfortunately, with his recent ‘ironic’ Elvis parody and transatlantic drawl, those days appear to have gone for good. At least the arrogance and swagger of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ their best most recent tune, manages to retain some of their original charm.
Series 2 Episode 6
Ane Brun / All My Tears (Rarities LP October 2013)
Who would have thought that the most memorable moment of such a thunderous soundtrack would be Norwegian chanteuse Ane Brun’s heartbreaking yet gut wrenching version of ‘All My Tears’. Playing out as Tommy knelt in a field raging ‘I nearly got fucking everything’ before facing his destiny in the dying light; it proved the best possible finale to such an awe inspiring series.