Peaceville Life – by Paul Hammy Henshaw

“Anything for a Peaceville Life”

At the start (At The Gates!) of Hammy Henshaw’s excellent and valuable book, there are quotes about the book from various artists whose bands have been, or still are, signed to Peaceville Records, such as At The Gates, Anathema, Opeth, and Autopsy.

I have to share the quote from Fenriz of Darkthrone with you (like myself, a man who collects books and records – you know, the essential things in life). He says wisely: “In the future people will need small apartments as music and book collecting is no longer the norm. Buy books and vinyl and impress your surroundings with obvious wealth and fine taste.”

We should all take Fenriz’s wise council on board, no download can ever compare to a book, CD, Vinyl, DVD, video, or cassette.

Just looking through my vinyl and CDs, I noticed many with the distinctive Peaceville logo. I have and still do review Peaceville releases to this day. And I have interviewed Peaceville artists, my interview with Fenriz being my favourite – his huge love of 70s and 80s metal is very infectious and life-affirming.

I love the story in the book about Darkthrone’s ’89 demo being returned from Peaceville, only for the band to send it back with the instruction to “listen to it properly this time.” What an attitude – and it worked. I can’t see anyone doing that today, either label or artist!

As well as a fascinating history of Peaceville, this is an important history of late 1980s/90s underground metal. Music wasn’t available at the click of a mouse in those days. It mattered, and it required work and effort to obtain. But in those hands-on days, this meant dealing with actual human beings and forming friendships. (I know which method is best.)

The book is very well-written, and well edited (by Hammy’s wife Lisa, a huge part of this tale, so that is as it should be). There are many highs in this story, the equivalent of a good night out at a gig with your friends, or coming across a great record you never heard before. But there are lows too, for instance, losing Opeth to Music For Nations. Hammy asks the question. “How can people be nasty just for the hell of it?” Maybe, because being decent requires effort, empathy and self-awareness, things lacking in many people. But decent is the word that comes to mind a lot reading this book. Hammy and Lisa come across as good people, not something that’s as valued as it should be in 2018, but I think it’s what matters most.

I also saw, as I read Peaceville Life, that it’s invaluable book for anyone wanting to start their own business. There is much useful knowledge and cautionary tales here.

Overall, Hammy and Lisa come across as a couple who love music massively. As someone who has given us countless free hours over the years helping often ungrateful bands, labels, publications and individuals, I fully understand that if you didn’t love the music, you couldn’t continue to do it.

Will we see another label like Peaceville? A hard question to answer. To my mind the biggest pitfall is this. In the 21st century we have a generation that don’t pay for music, which has turned music into a valueless item (a tragedy to me). If a band or record label cannot make their costs back, and make at least a subsistence wage, then all the passion in the world won’t sustain a business. A major label in 2018 would be doing well to have the sales of an indie label in 1988 or 1998. Those are hard facts, but until people see the big picture and pay for their music, the music scene will eventually die.

Meanwhile, I heartily recommend this fine and special book from a special couple and a special label, who have done so much for the music we love.

Peaceville Life playlist: the soundtrack to the book

Steve Earles is author and co-author of numerous projects, including To End All Wars: The WWI Graphic Anthology, available summer 2014 (