By the time this issue of Upset goes to print, Black Peaks' livestream event, Live At The Brighton Centre has already taken place, and no doubt been rapturously received. It's also been released via digital platforms, though fans desperate for the vinyl release will have to hold tight until autumn. "Why cover old news?" you may be shouting. Well, because this cinematic performance will be an important staple in the Brighton band's history, and because it has once again cemented the fact that Black Peaks are one of the most vital alternative acts in the UK right now.
Even before the pandemic hit, Black Peaks had suffered unforeseeable setbacks, with vocalist Will Gardner suffering a life-threatening illness, thus Live At The Brighton Centre marked 16 months since the band had last played together. In fact, even their last notable show in August 2019 at ArcTanGent festival didn't feature Will, with Jamie Lenman stepping up to the plate to perform vocal duties.
"It's been such a weird couple of years," muses guitarist Joe Gosney. "Obviously, before the pandemic, we weren't able to play shows for some time. As musicians, so much of the pay-off of actually writing music and spending all the time on putting the whole package together is getting out and playing to people, so having this livestream event has been a good point of focus to throw all of our creative energy into."
Admittedly, the 'lockdown livestream' concept has come a long way since the pandemic first shut everything down. Those poor-quality bedroom acoustic sessions have been usurped by live sets with way more impressive production values, albeit played to empty venues.
"At first, we were very much in the camp of 'we don't want to do this, they suck!'" laughs Joe. "We thought we would just wait until live gigs come back and then get out and play a real show. But then we started watching a few of the shows with better production that were really good, notably Nick Cave, Biffy Clyro and Architects, and the longer all of this went on, we realised that if we could do something that had the production value we're happy with, it was kind of a no-brainer. I suppose at first, it almost came from a selfish place; we just wanted to get on a stage and do our thing for a little bit."
Despite being filmed in the depths of winter 2020, the band kept the performance top secret until its release four months later in April, though this was down to the full creative control Black Peaks had over the production more than anything else. "We're so picky about everything, we probably could have kept on going with the details; we just wanted everything to be right with how our music was represented visually. It reached the point where if we'd have kept going, normal live gigs would have been happening again!"
When it came down to visual representation, the venue itself, the iconic Brighton Centre, became a part of the show that was just as important as anything else, with cutaways of the empty venue punctuating the space between each song. This sense of empty space even translates through the audio alone, with emphasised transitions between each track creating an eerie pause for thought.
"We looked at a few different options when we were searching around for a venue - we even looked at the pier at one point. It was pretty tacky in a cool way, but it just wasn't the right vibe for what we wanted. We've all grown up watching shows in The Brighton Centre amongst other venues, but that's the biggest one, and we wanted everything for this live show to be as grandiose as it could be, so naturally, it felt like the right place to do it.
"We really wanted the empty space to be a part of it, and we wanted to try and embrace the weirdness of the situation rather than it be this awkward thing where we're in this 5000-capacity venue playing to ten people. We wanted it to be a timestamp of this moment as we wouldn't have done something like this otherwise."
Given how long it's been since any of us have been able to attend gigs, there's a huge sense of emotion attached to 'Live At The Brighton Centre'. Right from the extended introduction to the soaring 'Aether' from 2018's 'All That Divides', there's a sizzling sense of anticipation and electricity. It was also incredibly good to see and hear frontman Will in rude health, back in full powerhouse mode. Someone needs to give that man an award for most impressive set of lungs in UK rock.
"I don't want to speak on Will's behalf, but I believe he's all good now, which is so positive. He had sepsis, which is really serious; he almost died twice. I didn't even know what it was until I researched it and realised how serious it was, but he's in good health now.
"It was just so good to be together on a stage again, and what really helped on the day was that everyone felt really lucky to be there. I don't mean like lucky to be working for us, but just to be working at all. The whole events industry has been shut down, and no matter what was being done, whether it was just pushing some boxes on stage or setting up some lighting, there was such a good atmosphere."
One of the stand-out tracks from the whole recording is the mighty 'King', a stand-alone single released in September 2019 and the last piece of new material we've heard from Black Peaks. The track continued along the hugely dynamic path set by their second record 'All That Divides', while hinting at the even bigger things to come. Though it, unfortunately, coincided with Will's illness, the intention was to release the track and bide time while Will recovered and keep the momentum building before touring again and writing a third record. As it turned out, Live At The Brighton Centre was the first time 'King' got a proper outing on a live stage.
"'King' is definitely a sign of what's to come with us," explains Joe. "Without giving too much away, I think we hit on something with that song that felt really good, and we wanted to keep pushing in that direction. Of course, it was so frustrating with everything that happened; this is something we've all really given our lives to, and we've thrown absolutely everything into it, but sometimes things happen in life that can stop you in your tracks.
"Yet there's so much to look forward to even when everything goes tits up! Everyone has days where you think it's hard work, but for the most part, we all try to look forward, not back."
While the circumstances may have broken lesser bands, it's a testament to Black Peaks' resilience that despite everything, they're determined to keep moving forward. Live At The Brighton Centre proved that despite the setbacks, they are still a force to be reckoned with. Though work on their third record is still in the early stages, anticipation is already building.
"The positive side of everything that's happened is that it's given us patience. The fact we've managed to take these hits and work out ways to move forward with it has built us into a band that can take on a lot. Hopefully, that will serve us for a long time, and we'll be able to keep going as long as possible."
Taken from the June issue of Upset. Black Peaks' album 'Live At The Brighton Centre' is out now.
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