‘We live somewhere between life and death waiting to move on, and in the end we accept it. We shake hands with the devil and we walk past’.
There was much rejoicing in our house when Peaky Blinders returned to provide some pre-Christmas cheer. Now a recognised cult with theme bars and footballers and plasterers alike dressing up for stag do’s and a day at the races, it still gets trounced in the ratings by safe, comforting slush like Poldark and Victoria, but hey there’s no accounting for taste is there?
Peaky Blinders Series Four kicks off with Aunt Polly, son Michael, Arthur and John narrowly dodging the gallows after Tommy’s betrayal at the climax to Series Three, picking up a year later on 23rd December 1925 with the disturbing news that Cosa Nostra boss Luca Changretti has arrived intent on avenging the death of his father and brother by killing off the Shelby’s en masse, a plan that forces our favourite Brummies’ into an uneasy family truce, abandon their plush country piles and return to the shit strewn slums of Small Heath.
Thereafter the twists and turns of the myriad characters, plots and sub-plots become increasingly complex; Polly consumed by pills, whiskey and darkness; John and Michael gunned down in a hail of mob bullets; the looming general strike and introduction of real life union leader Jesse Eden, psycho gypsy law enforcer Aberama Gold and his cold-eyed boxer son; the return of the ever loyal Johnny Dogs, aristocratic horse trainer May Carleton and Tom Hardy’s seriously mental yet dog loving Alfie Solomons, not to mention the death of Arthur and youngest Shelby Finn’s violent rite of passage. And I could go on because Downton Abbey it most certainly isn’t!
Needless to say every episode is filled to overflowing with cinematic ambition, top quality dialogue and performances, an oft neglected wicked sense of humour and enough sex, drugs and wanton violence to satisfy the basest of instincts. Full of symbolism, metaphors and deep rooted themes of existential angst and dancing with the devil, one of the most interesting things about Peaky Blinders has always been the suggestion that Tommy is not actually impervious to the damage he wreaks but is simply a decent man reacting to the grim circumstances of his poverty stricken, dog eat dog times.
Now the reason we’re here and one of Peaky Blinders major strengths is its coolly curated soundtracks, but it soon becomes apparent that in Series Four things aren’t quite how they once were. Maybe it’s the absence of former regulars Jack White, PJ Harvey, The Arctic Monkeys and Tom Waits. Or maybe it’s because the shock of hearing a bunch of contemporary smash’n’grab tunes in a hard hitting period drama is no longer there, the first series in 2013 breaking the mould on that score. Nonetheless there’s still some great moments, not least the first appearance of an authentic, period hit that sounds all the more affecting alongside the aural assault of the 21st century stuff.
As for Series five due in a year or so? As Thomas Shelby OBE settles into life as the new Labour MP for Birmingham South and double agent for the crown working to suppress the Socialist revolution, anything could happen and probably will. I can’t wait!
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds / Red Right Hand (Let Love In LP April 1994)
I don’t know about you but I’m not in the slightest bit interested in shoddy, new takes on ‘Red Right Hand’ and Series Four is full of them. So forget Pete Yorn, Fidlar, the Voodoo Sharks (whoever they are) and Laura Marling, but most of all forget old lags Iggy and Jarvis who should know better than most that Saint Nick’s classic original is beyond imitation.
Savages / Adore (Adore Life LP January 2016)
Strange that a female groups glorious hymn to living each day as if it was your last should soundtrack our alienated anti-hero in bed with a prostitute two days before Christmas. Then again, maybe not?
Yak / Salvation (Alas Salvation LP May 2016)
The nearest we get to Jack White in Series Four is his official seal of approval for Yak’s exhilarating, feral rock’n’roll which in fairness does a pretty good job of covering his tracks.
Imelda May / The Longing (Life Love Flesh Blood LP April 2017)
A hard rockin’ slab of Irish Catholic guilt from the deluxe edition of Imelda May’s most intimate and heartfelt album makes ‘The Longing’ a perfect fit for a lead character tiptoeing around the ghosts of his more recent past.
Rachel Unthank & The Winterset / I Wish (The Bairns LP August 2007)
As Rachel Unthank’s disconcerting, ethereal folk tale of death and regret plays out, eldest Shelby sibling Arthur wrestles with his guilt and his God following brother John’s death, ironically at the same time as his pious wife Linda starts her dramatic transformation into a lustful, coke snorting, gin guzzler.
Episode 3 & 5
Gene Austin / Bye Bye Blackbird (Single A Side 1926)
Gene Austin’s scratchy, bittersweet standard provides one of Series Fours most poignant moments in episode three when communist firebrand Jessie sadly reflects on her war damaged sweetheart and his subsequent suicide, and then again in episode five as Tommy wines and dines her as only he can in the seductive setting of a scrapyard.
Foals / Snake Oil (What Went Down LP August 2015)
Nothing I’d previously heard of ‘feeling persons darlings’ Foals upwardly mobile indie funk had suggested they would fit neatly onto a Peaky Blinders soundtrack so the blunt force trauma of ‘Snake Oil’ must be the one exception. Opening up Episode Four I was blissfully unaware of its origins, therefore genuinely surprised when I finally uncovered the identity of its creator.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club / Beat The Devil’s Tattoo (Download February 2010)
Whereas the likes of Foals and Laura Marling aren’t obvious contributors to the Peaky Blinders phenomenon, the same can’t be said of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. In fact, it’s a wonder their resolutely retro brand of swaggering, leather jacketed rock and roll hasn’t been used more often.
Radiohead / Pyramid Song (Amnesiac LP June 2001)
Could there really be any other group to soundtrack Tommy’s holiday-cum-existential crisis than the solemn strains of Radiohead?
Laura Marling / A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Download December 2017)
Quite how Hampshire’s silver spoon folkstress Laura Marling got the Peaky Blinders gig is a mystery because she’s clearly no Polly Harvey. Yet while I will continue to bang the drum for a dose of Let England Shake, there’s no denying that unlike her woeful cover of ‘Red Right Hand’, her version of Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ during the election finale is triumphant. And that coming from a man who can’t abide Dylan!