“This place is under new management,” Paul Anderson tells the crowd in full Arhur Shelby growl, “by order of the Peaky fookin’ Blinders”. With a simian prowl he stalks the gangway of the stage, sizing up the crowd as well as his fellow castmembers on the panel. It’s an animated and slightly terrifying response to a simple question from Peaky Blinders season five director Anthony Byrne: how easy is it to separate Paul from Arthur? Sometimes, the lines must blur a little…
Watch our video from The Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival 2019 above
Fiction and reality aren’t always that easy to distinguish between today, the first day of the inaugural Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival in the crumbling old industrial area of Digbeth in Birmingham. Part music festival, part Secret Cinema type affair and part time warp, the occasion brings in scores of fans, young and old, in full 1920s Peaky flat-capped garb. Our attempts to interview them immediately fall apart as we find ourselves unable to differentiate between the ordinary public and the actors hired to brawl, protest and go about their rogue ways in the street. Don’t let it be said that organisers paid no mind to authenticity.
“It began with episode three of season one, where a lot of fans have made fan art and gone tattoos,” show creator Steven Knight tells NME. “It is the sincerest compliment you can get, when people who are just watching the show have that response to it. It’s grown and grown and now there are beers, gins, and all kinds of things are Peaky-related. It’s become a real part of the culture – not just here, but around the world.
- Read more: ‘Red Right Hands’ – Cillian Murphy and co take us inside the music of Peaky Blinders season 5
“I just wanted to do it properly. There’s no point in moaning about other people doing stuff, if you’re not doing it as well. Just do it, get on with it. I completely admire people who do that. Just open the bar, fine – just as long as it’s delivering what the show delivers. It’s now up to us to do everything better.”
The music line-up certainly carries through the show’s DNA. Speaking to NME about how an artist comes to be selected for the show’s renowned soundtrack, lead actor, Tommy Shelby himself, Cillian Murphy said: “You just know when a song is ‘Peaky’. The artists are outsiders”. We have our fair of those today. Having written the musical score for Peaky Blinders season five, Anna Calvi makes for an early highlight of the line-up. Her soaring vocals and guitar virtuosity match the show’s cinematic drama, before things get as Peaky as possible when Savages’ frontwoman Jehnny Beth joining her for a feral and howling rendition of the show’s theme tune ‘Red Right Hand’ By Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. The series has always been driven by strong women who take no prisoners, and that’s what we get here in Digbeth today.
Another highlight comes when she invites Richard Hawley out to take on David Byrne’s vocals from duet ‘Strange Weather’. The swooning dark romance of Calvi’s grand finale soon becomes something a little more boistrous when the flat-capped crowd climb on one another’s shoulders for the not-so-secret special guest Liam Gallagher. Peakys famously love a party, and Liam’s here to bring it. “Listen, I’ve got a new album coming out soon and it’s all your fucking fault,” he snarls at the crowd as he roadtests a few numbers from solo album number two ‘Why Me? Why Not’, but all it takes is a few Oasis chords and they really start to ‘av it.
“We’ve got three tunes left, so start popping your pills and having a little dance – this one’s called ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’”. It’s not long before a few flatcaps start flying at LG, which he sees as a challenge. “I’ve got a big fucking parka and a big stupid fucking hat on. You can’t miss me! Come on!”
With that same outlaw spirit, Primal Scream prove to be the highlight of the day by bringing a nine-song blast of pure hedonism turned up to 11 and, in their words, ‘MAXIMUM ROCK N’ ROLL’. We get our rocks off, but it’s strange that we get the same vibe of artful menace from Bobby Gillespie and co as we do from Nadine Shah‘s chilling set beneath the crumbling arches and from the Rambert Dance Company’s Peaky Blinders-inspired ballet that closes the night. Without words, the dancers convey the themes of lust, death, addiction, war, class struggle and loss that pervade the show. You see why the ideas of Peaky have transcended genre and geography.
“Next year we want to do Birmingham, Boston, and possibly London as well,” Knight tells us of their future plans. “We want this to be a regular thing”. We’ll see you there, by order of the Peaky Blinders.
Watch our video from The Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival at the top of the page, and check back at NME soon for more footage, coverage and interviews from The Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival 2019.