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Breaking The Peace (first published in “The Stalking Corpse”, November Edition, 2005) - Milos de Bombast

Many a band has self-combusted through implosions both on the interpersonal and personal fronts, a direct result of the clash of artistic ego and excessive toll of the multiple vices of the rock and roll lifestyle. These generally lead to the death of a band’s soul, as members who become defunct due to alcohol/drugs/mental problems are thrown out and replaced, leading to new members and direction - if the band does not completely disintegrate. A few manage to reach their artistic zenith before succumbing to a supernova stage, but most do not and die as fallen stars leaving hardly a trace to show that they ever existed.

Amongst the fallen would be The Gifts - an early-nineties psi-country outfit featuring brothers Charles and Robert Peacefull. Their musical momentum fell far short of warp speed but currently circulating tracks indicate that they deftly wrote and performed songs both beautiful and edgy all at once. Their music incorporating dark lyrics juxtaposed with blithe melody would’ve inevitably led to comparisons with the likes of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen although the breadth of their canvas included nods to Nashville as well as more homely Manx music references, from whence they originally came. Probably no one before or since has employed a distorted, wah-wah lap steel with as much naturalness as Robert Peacefull. Their vision would even appear to have preceded the early fumblings of Will Oldham, Jeff Tweedy and the justly forgotten Scott 4, and the diversity of their fans was testament to this eclectic music style with indie kids standing shoulder to shoulder with old rockers and the odd cowboy hat.

Their Gifts to the world never reached full maturity however, as the group split acrimoniously in 1992. Rumours amongst the band’s following of Robert’s mental health first arose through his eccentric between-song banter at their ever-infrequent gigs. Not that Charles represented the steady keel of the siblings, having a reputation as an unpleasant fist-fighter, who made more enemies than friends. It was Charles who ended their righteous musical pilgrimage after months of increasingly bizarre behaviour from his brother, which included Robert refusing to leave the house for weeks at a time. There are suggestions that, building up to this, Charles wanted to follow more commercial ways of promoting themselves and their music. This would seem to be confirmed by the album they had begun to record for the legendary bastions of lo-fi, Sarah Records. However, the forthright Robert refused to be a part of it all. The fall-out was spectacularly inter-continental, Robert remaining in London and Charles allegedly disappearing to South America, while bassist Bryan Grimsby was last seen in Morocco and drummer Neil Wichelo emigrated to New Zealand.

The brothers were reunited briefly in 2001 at Robert’s wedding after leading apparently separate, eventful and itinerant lives (Robert’s cast in the shadow of mental illness). But it took the failed suicide attempt of the younger brother four years later for them to reconcile their differences and consider making music again. From that time till now they have retained an on-off partnership and nurtured what was left of the seed of their musical ambitions to reform as Quarter-Pounder. After over 13 years of musical exile, the Peacefull brothers are back and last night gave their first musical appearance together since the demise of The Gifts.

Some things stay the same in that the brothers’ new manager chose a quiet, unassuming ‘secret’ location for the gig which was advertised by fans around London using stickers and stencils. These could have gone unnoticed as mere graffiti and Quarter-Pounder could have been playing their debut gig to a group of bemused locals in the – perhaps ominously chosen -Blind Beggar pub. However, their fanbase of old did not let them down and, using their own grapevine, made sure there was a crowd there ready to receive amongst those lucky enough to have been there by chance.

The brothers ambled on ‘stage’, unrecognisable from their past incarnation. For Robert, there has been the well-documented battle with obesity, while violence and imprisonment have made Charles a harder, leaner figure. Seating themselves with apparent discomfort, they launched through a barrage of new material not once referencing any of their past. The influences remain the same, but more stripped down - you might call it a schizophrenic mélange of free country meets alt-folk in the English ballad tradition (slightly un-PC given the background). No glimpses were shown of the brothers’ prior tensions as both played and sang adeptly, if a little stiffly. Of the (unintroduced) songs, Silence Is Your Laser Beam reminded the most of their old band – an electric lament to impotence, with icy shards of Charles’ tremolo guitar, while Robert’s Chet Carter, much barer than the version circulating on the internet, fascinates with its delicate bouzouki and plangent lap steel.

The newly formed Quarter-Pounder were well received and the mixture of their laconic style of old interspersed with rushes of rousing energy convey a more rounded sensibility and balance between the quiet and the loud, the light and the dark, the sane and the mad. How long this might remain the status quo is open to debate as the brothers Peacefull strive again to make their musical mark. One of the most deserving unknown bands ever to have remained unknown is now reformed and reinvented. As the leopard cannot change his spots, so the Peacefulls remain tethered to much of their past musical influence, yet seem to have found new drive to their sound. Indeed, many believe both to be damaged sides of the same coin which when spun correctly can make fine music nonetheless.

Only time will tell if they can keep their coin spinning but fans old and new alike witnessed and enjoyed a cohesive act, albeit a slightly nervous audience given the unpredictable history of the performers. The brothers accepted the applause at the end of the set, before exiting stage left, with Charles’ hand resting on his brother’s shoulder. Whether this was out of brotherly love or professional restraint it would be hard to say – what is without doubt is that the peace has been broken once more.
2006 Copyright - all tunes and imagery cannot be republished without the express permission of Quarter-Pounder.