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.

Know them all here:
Babyshambles [myspace] and [website]
Dirty Pretty Thing [myspace] [website]
Libertines [myspace] [website]

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Photo tip

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?


~ by Valerio on February 15, 2008.

16 Responses to “Babyshambles”

  1. I feel very closed-mind in front of artists like Doherty.
    You never know where is the line between real value and media exposure.
    Are they famous because they are ill or are they ill beacause they are famous?
    Amy too is one of that kind.
    But Amy sings. Sometimes sings weel, some other not so well. She’s a real DIVA and she does not need a brilliant engagement.
    Maybe when Doherty will be definitely drug-free and katemoss-free I will be able to listen to his music (he’s also a songwriter not only a singer) without thinking about the gossip.
    Before this there’s too smoke around him, for me.
    However, very smart post Valerio. And great photos too.

  2. Great photos and tips on staying on after the first three songs! 99% of the bouncers in London are thugs so doubt I’d leave my livelihood with them! Hope to see you soon. John

  3. Back from another NME quadruple bill show. Exhausted but The Cribs are quite good.

    drug-free noone believes but katemoss free it seems to have happened.

    Thanks John,
    next time tell me about the London security BEFORE I leave my lovely film cameras to them ;-)
    Hopefully everything was there!

    So courtesy of Mr Rahim, addition to the tip, when you are asked to leave your stuff, be sure they give you back a receipt. At Sheperd’s Bush they do, at Brixton they actually don’t!

  4. i fully agree with diamonddog, i had the same kind of problem with axl rose back in the days, i couldn’t stand the hype around him and so even though i liked g’n’r i was put off by it.
    now i like them onca again (in moderation obviously…) so i guess with doherty i’ll also have to go full circle.

  5. You had me up until you said that Mik Withnall does a better job [playing guitar] than Patrick Walden! Oh my, I disagree.

    But that was a good read. Thanks.

  6. Thanks Katt,

    if we are talking about rockstar’s attitude on stage, I am with you, Patrick is a stage beast, Mik is much more on the quiet side, which is not very Babyshambles.
    When I saw Patrick he just rejoined the band after a break, arrived with Pete veeery late, probably I missed him at his best.

    Talking about studio recordings, between the chaos of Down in Albion Vs the sharp sound of Shotter’s Nation, beyond the good production and Pete (surprisingly) good singing, I think is Mik’s guitar to make part of the difference.

  7. Hi, Valerio. Brilliant photos, really stunning. And very interesting write up. I, too, hail from an earlier era, but must confess to have been completely sucked in by Doherty and Babyshambles, although not by any means to the exclusion of Barat’s Dirty Pretty Things.

    I was unfortunate, ensconced in small-child world, and distracted during the halcion era of the Libertines, but became interested with teenage children as they were in their death-throes. Watched with interest the evolution of both men’s new projects, and avoided Babyshambles as I have a low tolerance for drug-addled incoherence (too much exposure decades ago to that sort of stuff), and didn’t really want to see Doherty in 05-06. But went to see DPT and was blown away. The band rejuvinated my interest in music and found I actually liked the push and shove of the mosh pit.

    It wasn’t til early 2007 that I saw Doherty and Babyshambles – at the Rhythm Factory. And was completely seduced. Granted, it is an ideal venue to see him, and he was in much better shape than he’d been in the previous few years. And I have been going to see both bands (and Pete solo) rather compulsively ever since. I’ve been trying to work out what the appeal is, since my partner has the same critique as you – that the quality of the live performances is just too messy, too uncontrolled to do justice to some (he admits) good material.

    But for me, I think the performances are, at best, electrifying. And it is precisely because they border on the chaotic that I like them. I don’t think I could say this of the performances of eighteen months or so ago in terms of Babyshambles, where the balance was firmly on the side of chaos, but now, from my perspective, it’s a different story. I’m not sure I want to see a band perform a live version of their studio recording. I want to see something a bit different, something that is less predictable. For me, Doherty’s current live performances – most fully realised in the recent Barrowlands shows – are amazing. Not because he stage-dives (although I think that’s kind of fun), but because he’s there, in the moment, with the audience, and the experience is a shared one. I like the fact that he tries to do a guitar solo and just can’t. I like the fact that at the Rhythm Factory’s solo show in December 07 he got the audience to sing Barat’s guitar bits to ‘Don’t Look Back into the Sun’ because he can’t play them. I like the fact that at the same show he tried to play ‘I Wish’ and confessed that the still can’t play it properly. He’s a charismatic performer for my money, and the very blurring of lines between audience and performer is a non trivial part of the charm. You have to like his breathy, seductive voice, and you have to think that he’s a rather clever songwriter, with an ear for lyrics and an abilty to create a tune. But if you like those things, and find him interesting, then the gigs are a buzz. Some of the crowds are mad, and some are annoying, and some of the teenage angst (screams of Pete, Pete in my ear just don’t enhance any experience) is horrid, but I’d go and see him again and again because every time is different. And knowing that means some times are better than others.

    I have a huge respect for Carl Barat, and think he’s proved himself able to hold his own musically post Libertines. Indeed, am flying tomorrow to Paris to see DPT at a small acoustic gig. Sadly, I don’t think either of them have created music as great as ‘Up the Bracket’ since that time, but that feels churlish. Like knocking ‘Blood on the Tracks’ because it wasn’t ‘Blonde on Blonde’ (not, btw suggesting a direct parallel between Dylan and the Libs). But it’s a sad thing for both Barat and Doherty that they seemed to stimulate, challenge and tease each other into being greater than the sum of the parts. Along those lines, I think, like you, that Mik Whitnall is a better foil for Doherty than Pat Walden. Walden is an extraordinary guitarist, but too chaotic to balance Doherty’s style which is untamed and is best framed within a tight musical structure – that Barat clearly provided, and that Walden did not. Whitnall, whilst being considerably less versatile or innovative than Barat, gives greater musical form to Babyshambles.

    Interesting stuff. Sorry to ramble, but, as with all good reviews, you’ve made me think. And that is always interesting. All I’d say, is don’t turn away, but keep trying, because, in my view, Doherty is worth hanging in there for.


  8. ho valerio, what’s the english for “anima gemella”?

  9. Wow Alice thanks,
    I like your sheer passion.
    You manage to explain very well one of my beliefs.
    Whatever you listen to, whatever you read, everywhere you go the final decision about the power of music, whichever music, is only ours.
    There is not a right and a wrong answer, there is our answer.
    It is not about you or me being right, the point is to get to the music that makes we feel part of it.
    I agree that Doherty and friends live are able to merge into one single thing with fans, which is not common.
    I appreciate that there are Doherty fans who know and can talk about “Blonde on Blonde” and “Blood on the Tracks”!
    Hope you had fun with the Dirty Pretty Things in France, how do the new songs sound like?

    I actually didn’t know until 5 minutes ago…but online dictionary suggest “Twin Spirit”!

  10. Hey Valerio,
    Very interesting photoblog/website you have here! I’m glad I stumbled across it.

    As a budding rock photographer myself (and having recently moved to London) your tips for staying in after 3 songs are enlightening. I’ve only ever shot small-relatively unknown bands so I don’t have any experience of so-called mammoth venues. But I will bear your advice in mind, I’m very keen to expand my little photo empire!

    Love your photos of Doherty, especially love your black and white style. This is something I have a passion in myself – if you have a spare moment some of my work is up at


    Look forward to hearing from you :)

  11. Hey, Valerio, Indeed, the experience is totally individual, and there are no rights or wrongs about it, just what you think and feel about it. And ultimately that’s what counts.

    DPT last night in Paris was an odd, but great experience. Odd because the setting and gig was so unlike their usual – a posh art centre, performing in a blank studio theatre with no seating, no bar, no barrier, only that elastic-tape stuff between posts they have at airports. And barely 200 people. A rather arty set of support bands, a quiet, tired audience, loads of standing about, and then DPT, doing an eclectic set, including a number (5 or 6) new songs, a smattering of things off WTA, reworked versions of 9 Lives, Plastic Hearts and Come Closer, mostly played with a rather offbeat drummer from one of the supports (one man band style), and a couple of lovely performances with the fiddle player from the first support. Mainly, though, was the quality of the sound (brilliant) and the quality of the new songs. A sigh of relief from this quarter that Barat has clearly not lost it at all in his nearly-year of writing, and little performing. Punchy, raw, gut-twisting lyrics, angry, passionate delivery… Familiar style, but new stuff, and if the album reflects this at all, it’ll be good. A feeling that all is not well in the band-record company views on the mix still leaves a sense of anxiety about the final product, but I reckon the songs are strong and with any luck this will shine through. Be interesting to see them again next week at the Crisis gig. xx

  12. Hi Valerio! I got into your blog from the forum. I’ve read your tips about shooting at gigs and, really, I found them very surprising. Having always photographed in Italy, I didn’t know how things worked in the U.k., but here it never happened to me to be asked to leave after the canonical three songs, neither in small venues nor at big festivals. I actually would have found it very disapponting, because, as you said, it’s worth the photo shoot as long as you can listen to good music – or maybe even not that good :D.
    By the way, I love the Babyshambles, and your pics are great!

  13. Pete is a poet then – maybe ca depend des goutes – a musician.
    But he’s a poet, his words falling and rolling and glowing.
    His words breathe.
    I always flirt with death
    I could kill, but I don’t care about it
    I can face your threats
    Stand up tall and scream and shout about it
    I think I’m on another world with you
    I’m on another planet with you

    You always get under my skin
    I don’t find it irritating
    You always play to win
    I don’t need rehabilitating

    Another girl, another planet
    Another girl, another planet

    Space travels in my blood
    And there ain’t nothing I can do about it
    Long journeys wear me out
    Oh God we won’t live without it

    Another girl is loving you now
    Another planet, forever holding you down

  14. XD Now this is a band I cannot like. Is this “indie” with all the tabloid press, the super-model connection, etc? Maybe bad music by bad musicians is the newest fad. I like good music… (and I’m someone who found The Sex Pistols intresting back in the day, and still enjoy most of their songs)…

  15. around here (Romania), the photo pass is also the ticket, and usually one is allowed to also shoot from the crowd, but we do have our boneheaded event organisers (I remember someone telling me that they needed to turn in their cameras outside of the 3 songs from each concert at a festival, but they were allowed to stay and see the shows).


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