Peter Doherty

To my credential I have been for a reason or the other, following the Libertines‘ hysteria since their beginning.
I was at the infamous Libertines gigs in 2002/3, I have seen Babyshambles when they were more of a pusher’s gathering than a rock band than again at their heydays. I saw Carl Barat with Dirty Pretty Things and solo multiple times and with this solo Peter Doherty gig I completed the entire spectrum of main and side projects of the two “libertines”.

The early Libertines‘ gigs more than concerts were stage diving shows performed in turn by Carl Barat and Pete Doherty and the few audience members that succeeded in the hide and seek chase with the security crew. But those songs in those times brought an amazing wind of energy in what looked a sedated young London post Brit-pop scene.

The Libertines‘ split and the aftermath, the side projects of Barat and Doherty always looked to me more than music ideas a competition between two ex lovers trying to accuse each other who’s the fault, who is right and who’s the best.

If it hadn’t been for NME putting them on cover one week after the other for almost a decade, if it wasn’t for the tabloids in search of needles and crimes (and the English people addiction for gossip), if Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse didn’t get involved with the man, the history of Pete Doherty would have likely been archived at the time of Libertines self titled second, posthumous release.

Instead since then we had (1) the pleasure of a greatest hit from a band which entire discography fits in a single CD, (2) a millionaire reunion that added nothing to rock music but a lot to some people mortgages accounts, (3) more NME attempts to create heroes to save itself from collapse, (4) two failed side-band projects, (5) Peter having is own Fashion label and now (6) both embarking in revamping their Rimbaud/Yeats myth with their own projects.

Let me be clear, I have got nothing against free market and rockstars doing marketing, but we have to agree this is quite a step ahead from someone who, not many years ago, invited fans at impromptu gigs in their homes and committed burglary of his band mate flat in search of money to buy drugs.

Within the Libertines‘ tale, there is a Libertines‘ music sub-tale, which I prefer to talk about.
Who read me in the years, knows that I have always seen Carl Barat as the music mind of the couple; despite some low points, Dirty Pretty Thing second album is very poor, and the audacious attempt to reinvent himself as a chansonnier, which I read as a brave and honest move yet a bit over the top, Carl Barat knows what music is, how to play a song, how to interact with a band and with the public in a bidirectional way.

On the other half, Pete Doherty always embodied the figure of the rebel, naïve, “poet”. The one beyond rules, law, police. I reckon he has more pending charges than Berlusconi.
In a word Doherty is the narcissistic one. Not that Narcissism is unprecedented in rock history, from Elvis to Kurt Cobain you can write the history of rock just naming prima donnas.
The difference is that, literally, a Prima Donna is a very talented person to whom a weird behaviour is tolerated because and only because of his/her genius.

Now I still have to understand where is Pete Doherty’s talent, it goes without saying genius. I mean as a musician, because his talent to invent himself as a celebrity star is beyond doubts pure genius.

A time I was almost convinced to have made a mistake about him was at the release of the second Babyshambles album, Shotter’s Nation. I don’t know if it is because it was inspired by the love for Kate Moss, by drugs or both.
Maybe it was Bert Jansch‘s magnetic presence, the acoustic guitar Jansch plays in The Lost Art of Murder enlightens the closing track. Fact is I enjoyed that CD to the point I gave Babyshambles a second chance after my first: A disastrous Cambridge appearance when Doherty arrived late to an embarrassed band who had been waiting for two hours to stage a ridiculous few “songs” performance before the venue had to close.

The second chance was a gig at the Brixton Academy. It was the band’s heyday but, despite the moment, despite the good album, despite the enthusiastic crowd it was still a poor performance. It didn’t translate anything of the atmosphere of the record not even any of the Libertines riotous and anthemic moments.
Shambolic they have always been but the point is that the sense of chaos Doherty puts in his shows doesn’t make any sense and chaos in music works only when it preserve a sense. From Sex Pistols to Praxis, from Keiji Haino to Pain Killer they all have their own sense. Babyshambles didn’t.

2011, I am inside a sold out Cambridge Junction to see if a Peter Doherty solo project changes things.
After all it could be his last chance. Babyshambles have run out of any fuel, they might live a short after life with a quick reunion but not much more than that. The Libertines already had the reunion moment and despite the NME attempt to convince itself before its readers that they still stands a chance, the band recognized there is not, not anymore. Indie-guitar bands are over, they are a thing of the last decade.

Those who were rebel teens stage-diving 8 years ago, today are about to finish university. Their rebellion either is in protesting against the Tories cuts or is put into something more satisfying than crowdsurfing as having real sex.

The Doherty myth survive of his own fame, which is where he is still good at but, when it comes to music it fails again, embrassingly.
Peter arrives on stage elegantly dressed, perfectly on time (appreciated, thanks!) with a beautiful acoustic Gibson and his usual wobbling stage presence. The first row of girls have enough to scream for attention for the first two songs. On the third a couple of ballerines surprise everyone including them. They attempt to dance to the rhythm of songs that have no rhythm. Go guess.

The few memorable moments of the night reside easily in the Libertines songs, not because in these stripped down versions they sound better than the rest, they don’t, just because undeniably songs as Time For Heroes, Can’t Stand Me Now, Don’t Look Back Into the Sun shine out and, in front of an adoring crowd, maintain the anthemic, enthralling appeal.

Before that, we also have the teenager moment, better described as the moment for the teenagers. A big teddy bear flies the opposite direction. Peter Doherty brings it on stage and throw it to the fans. Groupies aren’t anymore, are they?
[(my suggested) soundtrack No Pussy Blues – Grinderman]

The one thing that is changed from my previous encounter with Peter is his firstname, that since his solo album Grace/Wasteland has an “r” appearing at the end.
Don’t know if it changes something but that is the only thing that changes.

I may be so old style that when I go to a concert I expect to listen to some music, and when I say music I don’t mean Rush or Primus. I was moderately happy even listening to his mate, Carl Barat doing a low key gig trying to reinvent himself as a chansonnier. He is not Jacques Brel but he put on stage enough honesty and modesty that made me appreciate the effort.

Doherty puts on stage only himself. He looks at himself in a beer bottle and tries to hide his lack of talent with a narcissistic attitude. He loves himself so much that doesn’t have space for anything else, mistreating even the music he writes. Without being Bob Dylan.
A bit of humility, a bit of commitment, some respect for the non fanatic part of the audience and the entire thing would be less appalling, but that would be like asking Prince to let his music on youtube, and it may be too late.

The encore is for Albion, on record one of the best things he did that tonight, played inviting on stage an unknown man (unable) to play the fiddle and the harmonica of Alan Wass, the guy of the Lipstick Melodies who opened the night. Someone who would like to be Bob Dylan.

Funnily enough Albion gets medleyed with Twist and Shout which becomes another mess even for one of the easiest chord progressions ever written in rock’n’roll music.
Doherty disappears in the background, the girls scream, the rest of the people curfew.

More about Peter Doherty is here: [website][myspace][facebook][fansite]

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Photo tip

I haven’t been a fan of colour photography for years but since I went digital the amazing world of ISO 6400 and white balance made me rediscover the pleasure of colourful images.

So when editing my first digital colour shots I tended to oversaturate them. I thought, if colour it has to be, then lets’ go the Alex Webb way: high contrast, sature tones, deep shadows, shiny lights.

One day few months ago, editing some portraits that didn’t work at all in color and I didn’t want in black and white, I moved the Aperture cursor the opposite direction. I desaturated the images up to discover a pleasing balance between monochromatic and colour. From that day I am experimenting with desaturation.

I never believed photography represents the real (I won’t write an essay about this, don’t worry). It does not in the digital era for obvious reasons but it didn’t even in the past. If you have studied W. Eugene Smith prints (not the photos but the way he printed them burning and dodging his negatives in the darkroom) you see how even in old times a photograph has always been an interpretation of how the photographer want to show what happened in front of the lens.

This to say that I think using saturation or desaturation, B&W or high contrast is fine as long as it is done to give the image a sense of what I want to express.

If desaturation looks good just from an aesthetic perspective, most of times because is different from the usual color balance, there is something wrong.
I hadn’t find a nice way to use it for concerts until today. I was annoyed by that impression of using a trick, a shortcut to hide a poor image.

At last I find desaturating photos of Peter Doherty to go well with the vanishing star image he left me with.

~ by Valerio on May 10, 2011.

5 Responses to “Peter Doherty”

  1. great pics valerio! hey but wasn’t he fatter 3 days ago!?!??!? What the hell!

  2. I’ve shot “Peter” a few times also.. Im of a mixed mind, no he is not a musical great in any sense of the word but there are times his lyrics are poetic….

    As on the desaturation, it’s a valid technique. I’ve always said our job is to represent the feeling of the concert, what was it like to “be” there. On the street, covering events the light is constant, its quite easy to see when an image is modified (and this is wrong for news) but in a concert, milliseconds in timing change the look of the image hugely. We have a number of tools at our disposal and WB, Saturation are valid tools to represent the feel, particularly in the context of the lighting.

  3. Thanks Chiarina,
    I believe that is the reason he opted for a suit ;-)

    Hi Julie,
    agreed, but let’s say that some poetic lyrics don’t make you a poet.

  4. Loves the photos and the writing that went along with it. I’ve done the same thing as far as color photography but I’m still stuck in the early stages. ;) Check out my page sometime, just don’t make fun of my current Libertine/Babyshambles obsession.
    Cheers!

  5. Mr Doherty was late on stage last night but pulled it out of the hat at the Shepard’s Bush Empire.

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