Writing about Pete Doherty’s isn’t going to be easy, my teens are back in history and this doesn’t help to be empathetic with teenagers’ hormonal disbalance. Let’s try to zigzag among cliché and prejudice.
First time I heard about Doherty, journalists were heading to a London jail to interview him.
In need of money to buy some class A substances he was caught robbing into pal and band member’s flat. Rockstar arrested and locked up…that’s an intriguing story, isn’t it?
That day I also heard of The Libertines, of the Barat-Doherty friendship, their “philosophy” (well, the name speaks for itself), the free gigs in the flat to help paying the rent, the police always about to arrive.
A whole dictionary of indie rock’n’roll rebellious stuff was saturating tabloids and NME.
Second occasion, I listened to Up the Bracket. Tell me whatever you want, I consider Libertines debut a brilliant album. Mick Jones (Clash) produced it and manage to direct (control?) the two irrepressible friends. The songs coming out of that CD are a landmark sound for anyone who wants to understand the London indie music scene this side of the millennium.
When Doherty was set free, the original line-up reunited for their at the times raucous, now legendary Brixton gigs. I went to experience the live thing and I came back disillusioned and a bit disappointed.
Spending the night plunging from the stage onto the crowd doesn’t make you a great band, at best it’s worth thinking to join a diving team to access the more comfortable Olympics pool.
Music was a marginal aspect of this wild act, where, it must be acknowledged, the interesting bit was to see the fans and the band merged into one thing.
This was the key aspect of Libertines phenomenon. A band that was not letting fans identify with them but a band which was itself part of the fans. Live in a London club, the Libertines and their audience, as a magic, became one single thing.
The second Libertines homonymous album came out after Barat sacked Doherty. The Libertines is not half as good as the debut. Drugs and Kate Moss made him unmanageable. Barat fronted the band alone for a while then split. As usual, the early end of a band signs the birth of a myth.
Carl Barat took with him the excellent Libertines drummer, Gary Powell and formed Dirty Pretty Things. To me he has always been the one of the couple who has the songs and the music.
Doherty formed the Babyshambles. They have always had the gossip-tabloid-celebrity side. Permanently on the front pages, the most talked about, never for their music, guess why?
Dirty Pretty Things debut Waterloo to anywhere is a good album. Without the unruly Doherty and with new entry Cooper Temple Clause’s bassist they are also a charismatic live band.
Babyshambles Down in Albion, in contrast, is a chaotic collection of songs, notes demos and nonsense that seem to come out of a teenager diary kept together with magic tape and blue tack.
With the NME tam tam on their side, singles Killamangiro and Fuck Forever construct the path towards the charts but the result is no more than mediocre.
Babyshambles tour touches Cambridge. I am there, Doherty is clearly not. He showed up two hours late. He is with the guitarist that rejoined the band that night. Doherty had played previous weeks taking full guitar duties. I don’t want to imagine those sets. The guitarist didn’t help anyway.
Doherty, wandering around, staring into space, high on something that you don’t need an expert to guess what, fails to moan words into songs. Even fans leave disappointed. That concert was probably the worst concert I saw in the whole year. I promise to myself to give up with this fu#@ing tabloid sh£t for good!
More than a year on, the sophomore Babyshambles CD is out. Shotter’s Nationis praised not only by NME but by all the press, up to the Observer and the Independent. I am resolute on my decision. I ignore the reviews, I ignore it!
Friends try to convince me it’s good. No way, I don’t compromise; I have had enough of next big things who turn out into celebrity crap!
Someone plays a dirty move and tells me Bert Jansch is in a touching song. Argh, touched! I start giving in. I sneak into their myspace to listen to The Lost Art of Murder. Wow, it is actually quite a good tune. “It must be Jansch”, I tell myself. No need to go further.
Second dirty move, someone passes me the full length release. I distractedly put it on the player. Shotter’s Nation is, to be frank, a pleasant listening. I went through it once and I wanted to play it again and again.
Doherty is singing, and this is already news; a new guitarist does a much better job and a perfect production serves an outcome that is fresh, tasty and entertaining. Delivery, French Dog Blues, There She Goes and the cited Lost Art of Murder are first-class tunes.
Addictions don’t stop, I need to verify live.
After a controversial Arena tour, for a band that is the perfect act to fill small clubs, NME invites Babyshambles back to “their” Brixton Academy.
The usual crowd is there. Teenagers are still fusing with their idol, body and look. Doherty, if not of EMI, has definitely boosted up the sales of trilby hats.
This time he shows up on time (!) and looks clean (!!). He has his distinctive big kid eyes, swaying pose and disoriented look but visibly there are not as many drugs in his blood as two years before.
I hope it implies a better show but I am too optimistic, the gig starts and I am disillusioned once again.
The new songs are better but the live experience is still far behind the shiny sound of the CD.
Babyshambles live drive is to make a mess, their purpose is not creating good music but creating a riotous audience response. Doherty guitar strumming is out of everything but that’s his charm. Judging from the level of crowd’s excitement, they deliver and satisfy anyone except me.
I wait till the end of the show but only mulling over the gig on the train I am convinced that is me pretending the impossible. I go to see Libertines and Babyshambles’s gigs at the Brixton Academy and pretend to listen to well played music as they were Steely Dan at the Royal Albert Hall? For Christ’s sake Valerio, it is just not going to happen! It must not happen!
It wouldn’t be fair for all those kids, it’s their nights out, they want and they deserve fun, not a daddy rock lesson. I fell asleep, feeling younger and sympathetic with the youngsters.
I don’t know about you, concert photographers, but my drive for going to shoot gigs is not only about taking the pictures but about having the opportunity to see the live gigs, virtually for free.
So anytime I am after a photo-pass, I verify with the PRs if either I am allowed to stay for the show after the 3 songs rule or to have a plus one ticket to view the entire concert.
Most of photographers I meet in the pit take the pictures and rush back home, ignoring the music.
I don’t, I actually decide not to go when I can’t stay in. I couldn’t stand to see a band I like through my lenses for 10 minutes and then go away.
If you are into music and want to see the whole show, next few tips are for you.
You can draw a linear correlation between the size of the venue and the chances you have to be kicked out after 3 songs.
First, choose to go shooting (and seeing) your band in the smallest venues of the tour that you can reach. London and Manchester gigs are charming but not the best photography-wise.
I ignore stadium and arenas, apart that almost certainly you will be confined miles away from the stage and in need to rent a 400mm f2.8, no one will let you stay in after that to enjoy the concert. Stadium rock is not my rock.
Venues in small towns are better. In Cambridge, where I live, I never had problem with security, they always leave me in. In Kings Lynn I enjoyed a wonderful Morrissey gig after the 3 songs shooting.
In medium size venues you come out of the pit and you are in the stalls enjoying the gig.
Tiny ones have no pit so there is not a lot to say, is it?
In London even with tickets in hand I often had to discuss (read “I lost part of the concert to talk to security”) to explain to them I am allowed to stay in.
The big spots, Brixton Academy, Sheperd’s Bush, Hammersmith are tough. Sometimes you can stay in, but only after leaving your cameras in the cloakroom.
All-seated events are even more difficult. Being the seats numbered usually you cannot accommodate anywhere often even when they are not sold-out. Ask for a plus one, buy a ticket or expect to leave the venue.
On the contrary outdoor events are usually relaxed, they are easy to stay and to enjoy the show.
This is England, what about your experience elsewhere?