I must admit, I went along to this gig expecting it to be bad. I expected a drunk, possibly stoned mess to appear before us and for him to maybe collapse in a drunken stupor unable to slur his way through his recently-released album. I was wrong. It wasn’t without faults, but Pete was on some kind of form…
Date: March 18, 2009
Venue: Rock City
IN the bad-old days of calamitous Babyshambles shows, the talk before any of their gigs was if Pete – sorry, Peter as he now likes to be referred to – would actually turn up, or if he did turn up, what intoxicated, drug-addled state he’d be in.
These days the rumours are more positive: “Will Graham Coxon and Dot Allison make an appearance?”, as they do on his new solo album Grace/Wastelands, or, as many had ambitiously mused “Will Carl (Barat, ex-Libertines man and former bezzie mate) turn up?”
The latter may have been a little too much like wishful thinking, but Coxon is conspicuous by his absence, as he was billed as appearing on this tour to add beef to the new tracks. But this is not a matey matey tour. It’s not about who’s not here but rather who is here.
This is Peter’s time; a time for a hero, a time to release himself from the shackles of his band for a while, a time to get away from the media circus and into the spotlight for the right reasons – his music.
Emerging on stage in a casual jumper, minus his trademark trilby, he looks almost apologetic as he’s greeted by the most rapturous of applause. Like a rabbit dazzled in the headlights or a little boy lost he takes the mic, his saucer eyes surveying the army of devotees who have stuck with him through thick and thin and speaks only to moan “What a waste of beer”, as litres of liquid take to the air in reckless abandon.
It’s those ardent fans that have kept Peter with at least one eye on the ball through his dark times. Such is their loyalty Peter could record the sound of his cats walking along cracked laminate and they’d download the torrent from the web.
Tonight he can do no wrong in their eyes, even though it wouldn’t be a Pete Doherty performance without the odd mess-up here and there.
For the first half of the set it’s just him, his guitar and some heavy reverb. He starts, surprisingly, with a disjointed rendition of The Libertines’ classic What A Waster, and the tone is set for generous scatterings of Libs and Babyshambles songs, interspersed with tracks from his new record which sound like quintessentially English romantic poetry.
You see, for all his faults, Peter is a talented, informed, literate and clever individual. Not many give him the credit he deserves and struggle to see past the tabloid headlines. But scratch the surface of the man and you see that music and poetry spill from him like water from a fountain, and it’s utterly captivating when done well.
But it doesn’t always work. Some of the set is almost like a medley as songs clumsily segue into one another, losing their way as they meander down the wrong path. He pulls it together in the second half though, a half which could be entitled ‘The Babyshambles Half’.
It sees Mick Whitnall – guitarist in the band – add some much-needed electricity to the gig. But his inclusion seems incongruous considering this is supposed to be a showcase of Peter’s new songs, which have been performed only sparingly.
But it’s hard to criticise. Tonight Peter looks contented. He no longer looks like he’s simply filling an entitlement. The new songs are lush, elegiac laments and sound beautifully natural acoustically, especially on the wondrously lolling Last of the English Roses, and Sheepskin Tearaway, on which Peter is joined by Scottish alt.folk songstress Dot Allison for extra cosiness.
Tonight wasn’t about Potty Pete the infamous celebrity. It wasn’t about endurance or filling an obligatory booking just to pay the rent. It was about a man proud of his work, high on music and not on mind-altering substances.
Where once there was a shadowy figure there now stands a healthy-looking man and the Good Ship Albion is on the straight and narrow once again.
Let’s hope it doesn’t alter its course for Pete’s, sorry, Peter’s sake.