The tolling of the bell, a loping, bluesy gait and Nick Cave muttering 'Take a little walk to the edge of town and go across the tracks', what else could it be but the return of Peaky Blinders, so engrained is the theme song in the short history of our favourite post, first world war, British gangland drama. The greatest thing on television by some distance, yet unbelievably still something of a cult, it’s a damning indictment of this nation’s TV culture to discover that lunchtime repeats of the inconsequential Bargain Hunt regularly pull in more viewers. Paradoxically, high viewing figures rarely equate to quality or style, and Peaky Blinders Series Three oozed both in abundance.
Picking up in 1924, two years after Series Two’s nerve shredding ending, the troubled Tommy Shelby (played by the superbly menacing Cillian Murphy) has invested the family’s ill-gotten gains in a move from the squalid, terraced streets of Small Heath to a Downton Abbey-esque country pile; the opening scenes feeling very much like a resounding fuck you to that ridiculous family pantomime.
From that first episode right up to the shocking, unexpected finale, the main storyline about a geopolitical struggle between imperialist Russian rebels, the Bolshevik soviet state and a clandestine arm of the British government does get a little convoluted, but running beneath it is a simple morality tale revolving around the notion of class struggle. And as if all that sin, guilt and redemption isn’t enough, there’s also copious amounts of sex, drugs, brutal violence and a startling cameo from Tom Hardy, all squeezed into the BBC’s standard six episode format.
Then there’s the striking, hipper than thou soundtrack. As anachronistic and brilliant as ever, Series Three doesn’t quite match the shock value of its predecessors, but then how could it when we all knew what to expect. Featuring more of the same dirty blues from stalwarts and newbies alike, notwithstanding the inclusion of celebrity viewer David Bowie, once again it’s the perfect juxtaposition of sound and screen. With the next two series already commissioned, Peaky Blinders is exactly the kind of television everyone will be raving about in a few years. What’s mystifying is why they’re not watching now!
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds / Red Right Hand (Let Love In LP April 1994)
There’s little more to be said about Saint Nick’s cautionary tale of a deal with the devil. Taking on a whole new life of its own, these days it’s impossible to hear ‘Red Right Hand’ without the accompanying image of Tommy Shelby emerging from the smoke and hellfire playing in your head.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds / Breathless (Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus LP September 2004)
In stark contrast to ‘Red Right Hand’, the soaringly romantic ‘Breathless’ plays over a montage of wedding scenes as evidence of Tommy’s loving (albeit weaker) side, a character trait rarely seen before.
Episode 2, 3, 5 & 6
The Last Shadow Puppets / Used To Be My Girl (Everything You've Come to Expect LP April 2016)
Creator Steven Knight clearly has a thing for the music of Alex Turner, given how regularly the Arctic Monkey’s and Last Shadow Puppets appear. Neither are obvious contributors yet somehow he makes them work, ‘Used To Be My Girl’ just one example of his curating genius.
The Kills / DNA (Blood Pressures LP April 2011)
This is more like it. Ignoring the fact that they’re American, The Kills primeval, malevolent, punk blues was obviously built for such a grim, brutal, blood drenched yet curiously beautiful setting.
Tom Waits / Soldier’s Things (Swordfishtrombones LP September 1983)
Peaky Blinders wouldn’t be the same without a blast of Tom Waits. Not being overly fond of the grizzled, would be hobo myself, like the White Stripes before him, a piano lament like ‘Soldier’s Things’ makes a lot more sense soundtracking a modern take on the tormented mind of a 1920’s Birmingham gangster .
Arctic Monkeys / Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair (Suck It And See LP June 2011)
One of the best things about Peaky Blinders is being caught completely unawares by a great song only to discover it’s by an artist you abhor. During Series One the use of Jack White in his various guises forced me to rethink my intense dislike for his music; in Series Two the same thing happened with Royal Blood, and in Series Three, despite Alex Turner being a wanker of the highest order, something similar with the post 2007 Arctic Monkeys.
P.J. Harvey / Meet Ze Monsta (To Bring You My Love LP February 1995)
Polly Jean Harvey has moved on musically in the 21 years since To Bring You My Love so I’m surprised Steven Knight hasn’t cherry picked some of her more relevant explorations of Englishness on Let England Shake instead. But no matter, until he does ‘Meet Ze Monsta’ will do just fine.
Archie Bronson Outfit / Cherry Lips (Derdang Derdang LP March 2006)
Queen Kwong / Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing (Bad Lieutenant EP June 2013)
Another wonderful thing about the Peaky Blinders soundtrack is when new pretenders usurp the old timers. Archie Bronson’s Outfit are over a decade old now yet I’ve never come across them before, not that I spend too much of my time listening to filthy, fucked up, garage blues. ‘Cherry Lips’ is all of those things and more, as is Queen Kwong’s sexed up version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing’. Managing to sound both ancient and modern, they capture the stylish aesthetic perfectly.
Radiohead / Life In A Glasshouse (Amnesiac LP June 2001)
Like Bowie, Radiohead’s megastar status proves more of a distraction than anything else, but I can’t deny that ‘Life In A Glasshouse’s woozy melancholy, playing out as Tommy looks forlornly around his empty folly in the final scene, is rather special.