Peace offering

Stephen Pennell witnesses the homecoming of Birmingham legends-in-waiting Peace.

Digbeth Institute,
Saturday 24th November

I spend most of my leisure time and about half of my working day – don’t tell the gaffer – seeking out new Birmingham music on the internet, but until quite recently Peace had passed me by. I liked the first two albums, but didn’t love them; I heard Radio One say they were The Sound of 2013, and read in The Guardian that they were the future of indie, but for some reason I wasn’t convinced. Nothing they did quite grabbed me like their mates Swim Deep did with King City, the signature tune of the B-town scene.

Peace seemed to disappear from my radar completely after the second album, Happy People, and my mate said he saw one of the boys in Snobs who’d told him they were “taking a break”. I thought they were finished, and though I was a bit sad, I wasn’t inconsolable.

I had my first real moment of clarity re: Peace when I heard last year’s From Under Liquid Glass, released in conjunction with, and in support of, the mental health charity MQ, and like Kurt Cobain’s daughter Francis Bean, I loved it. It signalled a new maturity in Harry Koisser’s songwriting and sparked an interest in their third album, Kindness Is The New Rock And Roll, released last May. I overcame long-standing Luddite tendencies to buy it as a digital download, and then bought the physical CD hoping for a lyric sheet (sadly missing).

I also bought the first two albums, and soon, as you do with children, I grew to love them all the same. A spur-of-the-moment jaunt to Coventry to see them at the Godiva Festival confirmed I was becoming obsessed with the band in a way I’d not been since following the Style Council around on a UK tour for an entire month back in the eighties, when I didn’t have a wife and six kids to worry about. When I bought tickets to see them at the Digbeth Institute, I also had a week in Mexico and a trip to my beloved Coronation Street to look forward to, but they became mere hurdles on the way to Peace’s glorious homecoming.

The Corrie tour, on the morning of the gig, was great, and helped get me through what would otherwise have been a tortuous wait for the main event. I took loads of photos of me and Wifey outside the knicker factory (Manchester’s greatest contribution to British manufacturing), and Roy’s Rolls, 0161’s best hope for a Michelin star, but remained distracted. On the drive home I broke into a cold sweat at every sign of roadworks and potential traffic jams, and at around Stafford I put on my seatbelt in the back, so determined was I to stay alive until after the gig at least.

I made it home safe and barely had time to say hello to the cat before I was Birmingham-bound with a mate who I bumped into at Marston Green station. I told him I was going to see the best live band in the world, and he informed me that “The Clash have split up mate”. He was on his way to see a Clash tribute act at The Asylum and on any other night I’d have been sorely tempted.

I met up with future Grime star Penance in town, and just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, we bumped into AffieJam (full title, The Very Wonderful Musician And Blogger AffieJam), in the boozer next door to the venue, and we exchanged cider and pleasantries before heading to the Institute. The stars were aligning – Birmingham’s coolest man and woman (Harry and Affie) would soon be in the same building. Thank God I wore plenty of layers.

The band took the stage to thunderous applause and announced their arrival with a wholly appropriate cover of Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town, and after thinking I couldn’t love a male non-relative any more, I noticed that Harry had cut his hair short.

Following a powerful rendition of latest album opener erm… Power, the band switched between their three long-players at will, performing Money from the second and Toxic from their debut, before treating us to the magnificent Magnificent, and the riff-laden You Don’t Walk Away From Love. Flirting USA and the Who-like power chords of Lost On Me preceded the beautiful and heartfelt Silverlined, my go-to song in those moments when, to quote the lyrics, “Life comes down on me with all its devilry”. It was indie dancefloor time again as Perfect Skin and I’m A Girl were given an airing, the latter a number I’d been particularly looking forward to as it includes the line “When I was in Digbeth I felt so alone”.

After a haunting cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt, and the gorgeous, melancholic Angel, Harry was alone in Digbeth once again as Boycie, Doug and Sam left the stage for him to perform accompanied only by his guitar. Gen Strange was first, Harry forgetting the words to the second verse until prompted by the crowd, followed by the anthemic Kindness… then the solo interlude closed with a lusty community singalong of Float Forever.

The rest of the band returned for the tune we’d been praying for above all others, one that they only perform as a special treat at sold-out shows. 1998, from their first EP Delicious, is a truly epic transcendental soundscape and one of the finest pieces of rock music I’ve ever heard.

Seven minutes later the crowd is in a state of utter delirium. It would be a fitting way to close any show, but Peace have more than enough crowd-pleasers in their locker, and there were plenty to come. After calming things down with Scumbag from the In Love album, Harry reminisced about his time spent “walking these streets, wearing an advertising board for The Rainbow”, by way of an introduction to the beautiful lament to Digbeth that is California Daze.

Drain and the Afrobeat undertones of Bloodshake fired up the mosh-pit mayhem once more, and yet again we were brought back down to earth with an emotional rendition of From Under Liquid Glass, which gradually builds towards an almighty crescendo of crashing drums and guitars.

Next up was Wraith, a song about falling in love with a sex-worker, which, given the band spent much of their late teens in the vicinity of an infamous Digbeth knocking shop, might be a little bit autobiographical. It’s also got the best singalong chorus of the set, and the crowd didn’t disappoint.

World Pleasure gave Harry’s brother Sam a chance to shine with a fantastically funky bass solo, and proceedings were brought to an end, after two pulsating hours, with an extended, joyously received Lovesick.

The Birmingham indie scene is incredibly vibrant at the moment, and Peace are the Godfathers of it, the OGs* as it were. They set an incredibly high bar and a fine example for the likes of Sugarthief, Karkosa, Violet, Spilt Milk Society, The Clause and The Novus to follow (baby). They’ve all made a promising start, but if any of them live up to Peace’s standards, Brum’s gig-goers are in for a treat.

It was a truly amazing concert by a band who are completely versed in the dynamics and emotional power of great rock music and deliver it with panache. I rank them alongside the best live guitar bands I’ve seen – The Jam, The Who and The Clash – and I emerged into the cold Digbeth night promising myself that I’ll never miss them play in Birmingham again until one of us dies.

*Original gangsters.