Uncut Editor's Diary
'There's a four mile queue outside the disused power station. . .'
Someone’s put up large printed signs all down Stockwell Road and around Brixton Academy, large black letters on a bright orange background, their authorship unknown but their message starkly clear.
“DON’T,” they thunder gravely, “END UP LIKE PETE THE JUNKIE”.
They are referring to Pete Doherty, in case you were wondering, and you can only give due consideration to what they have to say. Who, after all, would want to end up like Pete?
I mean, he’s young, witty, good-looking, easily adored, a great songwriter, has recently signed a new record deal, loves to get high, is engaged to one of the world’s most beautiful women, gets whisked hither and yon on exotic holidays (from which he is occasionally obliged to return somewhat earlier than intended) and tonight – Sunday - he’s playing a sell-out Shockwaves NME Awards Show at the Academy, where a seething audience is in excited attendance.
Yes, there are spells in rehab to contend with, which can’t be much fun, regular court appearances and the still-lingering threat of a custodial sentence – but on the whole, you’d have to say there are worse ways to go.
Anyway, the last time I saw Babyshambles here, they were promoting Down In Albion, which hadn’t come out on schedule and whose release anyway was then wholly overshadowed by the Kate Moss Drug Scandal, an unfortunate distraction with much woeful fall-out.
The Academy was far from full that night, plenty of room for tumbleweed to do its thing among the draughty spaces at the back of the hall. The show was sensational, though – with guitarist Patrick Walden, now long gone, an absolute revelation, a cross in his way between Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards, a phenomenal presence.
Tonight, the place is as packed as I’ve ever seen it, the crowd a raucous thing that fair erupts when Pete appears, looking quite spiffing in a rakish trilby and tightly-buttoned black suit, out of which he fleetingly looks like he might burst out of and into an unwelcome version of the ghastly Alexei Sayle novelty song, “Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?”
Instead, the show starts with a slightly misfiring “Pipedown”- Pat’s replacement, former roadie Mick Whitnall barely audible when he should be whipping up a firestorm. They hit their stride, though, with “Baddies Boogie”, which provokes a crowd surge that alarms the Academy security enough to stop the show, the band leaving the stage while a few bodies are removed from the mosh-pit and the crowd encouraged to move back, a pretty sensible suggestion from the point of view of anyone being crushed against the front-of-stage crash barriers, or whatever it is they’ve got down there.
Pete repeats the same message when he comes back on for a full-blooded “Beg, Steal Or Borrow” and “The Blinding” and “Sedative”, which grows out of broody beginnings into a glorious mass singalong, one of many, the audience keen to join in whenever they can, which they do with particular gusto on the old Libertines favourite “Time For Heroes”.
Their only restive moments are probably on the songs from the unreleased but widely available Bumfest sessions, including “Unstookietitled” and “Unbilotitled”. “Killimangiro”, though, has the crowd sounding like something you might hear at a Cup Final. Kate Moss makes a fantastic two-part cameo during “La Belle Et Le Bete”, and her wiggling exits are among the evening’s undisputed highlights and the cause of much hearty cheering.
Pete’s early dapperness is a thing of the recent past, reduced now to a state of merry dishevelment, matched by a rough but lovely duet with Wolfman on what’s announced as the first-ever live airing of “For Lovers” and a raucously poptastic “I Wish”, after which the band promptly split.
The audience is by now is such a condition of euphoria they would probably have performed the encores entirely by themselves, but are joined anyway by a returning Babyshambles for “Albion”, “Back From The Dead” and “Fuck Forever”, which even deprived of Pat Walden’s original epic guitar intro is still a lusty anthem, the kind of thing the eventually departing crowd will sing long into the night on their various journeys to wherever they call home.
Outside, I am even more pleased to note that the finger-wagging placards I mentioned earlier are being torn down and ripped up by delirious fans, joyously refusing to toe the line, and letting the world know what they really think of the notorious Pete and how he looks currently ended up, which looks to me to be nearly the top of the world.
Just because it’s always worth watching, meanwhile, here’s a quick link to Babyshambles’ fantastic performance of “Albion” at last year’s NME Awards, the night’s high spot in fact.