Forgive me, I know this gig happened weeks ago but… I’ve been busy! Pete, being the character he is, and the impressions he makes on me, I remember the whole gig like it happened yesterday… so here goes!
Strolling towards Brixton Jamm, my anxiety and excitement are a crazy fucking cocktail and this is only intensified by a couple of geezers stumbling out of the earlier set merrily slurring a drunken rendition of ‘What a Waster’ !! The venue is rammed, I manage to grab another drink as the support act finishes and push my way to the front just in time… Taking to the stage in that casual manner synonymous only with his persona, black skinny suit, fendora, cigarette burning bright, the clamour for a piece of bad boy infamy continues undiminished: girls fawn over him, likely lads want to be him… well in this crowd at least. Still, for all the familiarity, his face is bloated due to what I suspect is the alcohol abuse which now I only hope is substituting his once out of control drug addiction.
Pete opens with ‘Lost Art of Murder’, a track from his solo album Grace Wastelands. Which is closely followed by The Libertines’ ‘The Good Old Days’ which feels more wistful with every passing year that I see him play live. As the track comes to a close amongst the screams and cheers, Pete grabs one of the many drinks laid on a speaker behind him and downs it in one. After some tuning and fiddling with his guitar he begins to play what I had been curiously looking forward to… ‘Flags of the Old Regime’ his new single and the final tweaked version of a poignant tribute to Amy Winehouse. The song pairs poetic lyrics sung in a mournful tone with some sublime violin playing, he removes his hat and his body barely budges, yet his facial expressions manage to capture feelings of intense pain, anguish, and despair….he pauses for a moment, it seems as if he’s struggling and the crowd shout words of encouragement. A truly touching moment within the gig, to be fair the song isn’t exactly new: it’s been circulating in various formats since Doherty wrote it following Winehouse’s death. But it’s truly moving in its final form.
Doherty’s Cockney warble is stronger than it’s been in years, and his lament for a friend’s last days ‘You stand up there in front of the whole wide world/ and you don’t feel them songs no more’, evokes a raw and acute sense of mourning across the audience. A ripple of relief spreads as the moving sober moment comes to an end and we hear the first notes of the much loved libertines track ‘What Katie Did’ ….which immediately lifts the crowd. Followed by a bombardment of Babyshambles gems ‘Back From The Dead’ , ‘Beg, Steal Or Borrow’ and ‘Delivery’. Doherty continues to grab the crowd by the scruff of its neck with ‘Palace of Bone’, ‘Don’t look back into the Sun’, ‘Carry On Up the Morning’ and ‘What a Waster’ where the venue erupts into an uncontrollable sea of fans hurling drinks into the air and climbing and bouncing off one another all over each other. As the sweating, drink stained, things kick on…..the madness is all of a sudden subdued with the ‘Sounds of Albany’ beginning and the crowd begin to sway… Pete starts to sing, but you couldn’t hear him for love nor money, only the crowd can be heard, belting out ‘Albion’ as if it was the soundtrack of their lives.
As goosebumps tingle across my body he continues into the The libertines classic Time for Heroes, and that’s exactly how I felt.. singing at the top of my voice, drenched in beer and jumping with the crowd I couldn’t feel anymore at home. Hat back on, and identity found, he launches into the true final song of the night, ‘Killamangiro, He’s certainly something’. I have truly lost count of the number of times I have seen him either live, solo, with The Libertines or The Shambles, but every time I do it just reminds me what a truly talented artist he is, one of the best lyricists of my generation. A fucking waster maybe at times, but a treasured one at that !!!
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Written by Tom Yates