Friday, December 24, 2004

POSTCARD FROM BLACKPOOL: We owe Matthew Lloyd from I Love You Trinny a huge, ribbon bedecked thank you. He was at Blackpool to see Pete Doherty, and he's sent us this report:

What Peter Did - Babyshambles In Blackpool

Last Christmas, Peter Doherty graced the cover of the NME dressed in tatty
Victorian garb fitting of Oliver Twist. One year on, and our favourite
Dickensian urchin that never was has seemingly taken his role to heart. Once
more cast adrift from the warming bosom of The Libertines, the little lost
boy of rock has stumbled into a dark underground of shady characters and bad
influences. The Artful Dodgers that are Babyshambles keep him from a
(relatively) calming family home. Fellow London bands take on the roles of
forgotten orphan thieves, veritable angels with dirty faces. So who plays
Fagin in this tale? The infamous Wolfman wouldn’t look out of place in any
pantomime, but perhaps the most damaging and corrupting influence in our
Peter’s life doesn’t take human form at all.

Babyshambles emerge on stage 45 minutes late, and bang out the intro to ‘The
Man Who Came To Stay’. Something of a relief, given the whisperings of a no
show that had been spreading across Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom. But
there’s still no sign of The Man We Came To See. A few minutes later, and
here he is. Cloaked in a familiar cream mac, Peter Doherty stumbles onstage
and lurches into his vocals. And they’re awful. Still, this is a man famed
for his, shall we say, unconventionality. Here is a man who named his outfit
Babyshambles, after all. The song peters out (no pun intended), and the band
gather around their frontman. It becomes apparent that there are rather more
road crew than usually necessary at the side of the stage. The events that
unfold over the course of the next few songs are absolutely astonishing.

It seems to begin when Peter jumps, or possibly falls, from the front of the
stage. He is frantically groped by the crushed and adoring throng as he
frequently lurches towards them. His eyes are barely open, and his skin a
peculiar shade of yellow, which does nothing to put off despairing girls who
attempt to push their tongues as far into his mouth as possible. Singing
takes on a background role for Peter, far behind the more pressing matters
of standing up and staying awake. As he clambers back onto the stage, band
members and road crew descend upon him, and offer encouraging hugs and pats
on the back. You can almost hear what they’re saying, ‘just keep it
together, Pete’.

While most of the crowd are growing tired of the rigmarole and giving a more
lukewarm reception to events, there are still the ever committed Doherty
acolytes crushed at the front, screaming at their hero’s every move. Then he
takes his coat off, to reveal a rolled up sleeve and a red belt tied around
his arm. A collective gasp can be heard around the room. Shortly afterwards,
guitarist Patrick throws his guitar to the ground and storms from the stage.
The look on Peter’s face is priceless, it sums up every event in the last 18
or so months of his life; he has no idea why his guitarist would leave. No
matter that he has already alienated one band in a similar situation; he
still believes he is a misunderstood innocent, a romantic poet who needn’t
be constrained by something as meaningless as convention. When Peter looks
in the mirror, this is what he sees, and not the dying face of a washed up
smackhead that stares out at us tonight. He lifts Patrick’s guitar from the
ground and attempts to play on himself, as the other two members of
Babyshambles mill around uncomfortably before following their guitarist from
the stage.

Similar scenarios arise throughout the gig with unsettling familiarity,
until it becomes a surprising feat that the entire band can be onstage
together. Announcements are made, Patrick disappears and returns, road crew
frequently take to the stage, and more items are thrown from the restless
crowd than if 50 Cent were to play Reading for a fortnight. At one point,
Peter is unceremoniously dragged from the stage in a headlock by the chief
roadie, to ‘have some water thrown in his face’, surely the understatement
of the year, as it’s unlikely that throwing acid in his face would wake him
from this drug induced stupor. Meanwhile, the crowd are subjected to the
sort of tedious, 10 minute ‘jam’ only a bass player and drummer can concoct.

Upon their return, Babyshambles launch into what must be said is a storming
version of latest single ‘Killamangiro’. But it’s too little, too late, and
the normalcy of awfulness is soon returned. Even ‘What Katy Did’, ever the
trump card of the Doherty cannon, fails to raise spirits. A few songs later,
and Babyshambles leave the stage with ‘Wolfman, one of the increasingly
disappointing batch of recent Doherty compositions. However, as the
houselights are raised, it becomes apparent that Babyshambles haven’t left
the stage at all. Or, more precisely, Peter’s still there. And so it is,
that the most lauded songwriter of recent years is reduced to caterwauling
through the songs of a band from which he has been cast out of for good.
‘What A Waster’, ‘The Delaney’, ‘Time For Heroes’, he trawls through them
all in the heartbreaking manner that only he can. Heartbreaking because they
are so appalling, so tragic, so fucking shit.

In a fittingly pantomime ending, a villainous manager emerges and asks the
crowd if they’ll be happy with ‘one more song’. The mob screams in
appreciation, like schoolchildren at a matinee performance of ‘Oliver’. A
girl nearby shouts to her friend, ‘best gig ever!’ And in the middle of it
all, a little lost boy with a guitar, too high to suffer the pain, too low
to feel any happiness, strums the opening chords of ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’. An
ending fitting for the start? Let’s just pray this is no ending at all.