Peaky Blinders has grown into an institution that has gripped viewers in a way that seldom occurs with television in the modern age. The BBC show still promises to be appointment viewing, and a vital part of its allure has been the obscure choice of music which adds a compelling ambience to the programme.
Admittedly, the show has caused a bizarre cultural shift. Walk into any city centre across Britain, and you’ll see a 30-something man who has morphed into a prototype Tommy Shelby by modelleing their entire personality on the fictional Birmingham mafiosa like he’s one of The Beatles.
While the success of Peaky Blinders has led to some regrettable hair and fashion decisions, on the musical front, it has given talent a chance to shine in front of millions of viewers and for artists to discover a wider audience. It was a bold decision to use contemporary songs as its soundtrack, but it has made the programme an outlier when it comes to period dramas, making for a much-welcomed change.
However, the musicians involved aren’t the major benefactors in this scenario. Instead, that is the viewer, and Peaky Blinders just wouldn’t have that same irresistible lustre if it weren’t for the innovative use of music during critical moments.
Below, we reflect upon six times when music vastly improved the Steven Knight creation.
The best music moments in Peaky Blinders:
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘Red Right Hand’
There’s no more fitting place to start than with ‘Red Right Hand’, a song equally synonymous with the programme as the gang’s trademark flat caps.
The Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds number serves as the opening theme to the series, and it has provided the classic track with a second lease of life. It’s impossible to picture the programme’s opening moments without his distinctive drawl.
Additionally, Cave is also a massive fan of the show, and during a Q&A in Birmingham in 2019, he spoke about the unlikely impact Peaky Blinders has had on his career. “It’s a great show,” he told the crowd. “But so many people come up to me and say ‘I’m a huge fan’ and have discovered my music through Peaky Blinders. But was Birmingham really like that?”.
Jack White – ‘Love Is Blindness’
‘Love Is Blindness’ has had an unusual trajectory. Initially, Jack White took on the track for a U2 covers album, AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered, and since then, it has continued to increase in status, with its appearance in Peaky Blinders playing a critical part in the rise of the song.
After appearing on the Japanese deluxe edition of Blunderbuss and The Great Gatsby, it was then included during the crucial final scenes of the first series as Tommy decides whether he’ll leave his life of crime behind for a fresh start in New York. At the same time, his lover Grace sees her mortality flash before her eyes.
Dan Auerbach – ‘I Want Some More’
When the Shelby’s pub, The Garrison, was bombed while they attended the funeral of Freddie Thorne, the family had to pull themselves up from the brink, and not even the threat to their lives didn’t stop them from giving up their cherished business.
They re-open the watering hole in episode two of series two as The Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach’s ‘I Want Some More’ defiantly plays out. The song perfectly amplifies the message of solidarity and resilience, which the family despite adversity.
Arctic Monkeys – ‘Crying Lightning’
Arctic Monkeys are an act that have popped up on Peaky Blinders on plentiful occasions. Series three alone featured ‘Crying Lightning’, ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’, as well as two additions from Alex Turner’s side-project, The Last Shadow Puppets.
While a dashing of Arctic Monkeys will never not improve a moment of television, the depravity of ‘Crying Lightning’ felt designed exclusively for the streets of a post-war Digbeth and a fitting precursor to the dramatic ending to the episode which turns Tommy’s life upside down.
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – ‘Devil Inside Me’
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes were among the artists who appeared in Digbeth at the inaugural Peaky Blinders festival in 2019. The use of their song, ‘Devil Inside Me’, cemented their place in the show’s folklore history.
When the track appears in season three, the Shelby’s are fearing for their future after a rival Italian gang make them their enemy. It seems that their world is on the verge of crumbling, and the empire that Tommy Shelby had accumulated was built upon sand.
Anna Calvi – ‘Lady Grinning Soul’
Anna Calvi’s fingerprints are all over series five of the acclaimed BAFTA-winning programme as she created the score and spent months inside the devilish mind of Tommy Shelby as she got to work.
The soundtrack for the series featured many moments from Calvi, including a cover of FKA Twigs and her original song, ‘Wish’, but it’s her version of David Bowie’s ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ during episode two which is the singer’s most striking contribution.
“It wasn’t difficult, it was just a lot of fun,” she later told NME about her experience. “It was incredible for it not to be about me and to really try and get into another character. When I was doing it, I really felt like I was him. I really got into the mindset of Tommy Shelby.”
IDLES – ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’
Another prominent feature in the fifth season is Bristolian post-punk heroes IDLES, who notch up three appearances across the series with ‘Divide and Conquer’ and ‘Scum’ also featuring.
In the finale, Tommy is questioned by Winston Churchill about his affiliation to the dangerous fascist, Oswald Mosley, and he pleads that the association is for infiltration purposes.
However, Mosley only continues to yield more power, and we hear the aggressive ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’ ring out as the loathsome figure makes his way to a far-right rally at Bingley Hall while Tommy questions everything.