Earlier, I’d been telling someone that when I saw Pete Doherty at a small Soho club called Jazz After Dark, back in January 2006, it had occurred to me, no doubt somewhat fancifully, that this was to some perhaps small but nevertheless vital extent what it might have been like to see the fledgling Dylan in some bar in Greenwich Village, when the 60s were still young.
This was at a launch last night for Asking For Flowers, the excellent new album by Canadian alt.country singer-songwriter, Kathleen Edwards, whose records to date have invited comparisons to the best of Lucinda Williams and post-Wrecking Ball Emmylou Harris.
On Asking For Flowers, which is produced by Tom Scott, who helmed Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac and has elsewhere worked with Wilco, Lucinda, Johnny Cash and Tom Petty, Edwards is backed by a pretty stellar cast of veteran session men, including drummer Don Heffington, bassist Bob Glaub, pedal steel player Greg Leisz and her husband Colin Cripps on lead guitar.
Tonight, it’s just her and Colin on stage at the Gibson Guitar Studio, just off Tottenham Court Road, where she’s playing the second of three showcases to promote the new album – yesterday she was in Paris, tomorrow she’ll be in Stockholm. Even without her ace band, the songs she plays are richly evocative in the story-telling manner of Lucinda or Josh Ritter, and her natural charm and wonderful voice are wholly beguiling – especially on the stinging “You Always Play Me In The Cheapest Key”, the bittersweet “I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory” and the bereft lament of “Scared At Night”.
After their short set, we have a drink and although I’m meant to be on my way across London to the Rhythm Factory in Whitechapel Road, where Pete Doherty’s playing a solo show, supported by Television Personalities, I hang around while Colin tells me about some dates he and Kathleen played with Bob Dylan in Montana that took them in three days from Jackson’s Hole, to Big Sky and Billings, Colin giving the impression of Dylan moving at lightning speed across the state, everyone racing just to keep up, breathless in his slipstream.
An hour or so later, I’m fighting for space at the bar of the Rhythm Factory after a probably predictable kerfuffle over the guest list and where on it my name might be. I’m talking to Terry Edwards, who I know from Gallon Drunk and Tindersticks. Terry’s DJ-ing tonight and is soon off for a stint at the decks.
It’s around 11 o’clock when a bunch of people who look like they sleep in bus shelters start shuffling around the small stage, most of them with their heads down, like they’ve dropped something they can’t find on the floor and are having trouble remembering what it is they’ve lost. This turns out to be Television Personalities and I think what they might have just been looking for is their drummer, who’s apparently gone missing, just as they’re meant to be starting their set, which they begin without him, Dan Treacy – that’s him in a black overcoat and woolly hat, glowering at the crowd with what quickly becomes mutual hostility – not much bothered by his absence.
They’ve just kicked into something resembling a tune when a burly fellow in what appears to be several T-shirts and a string vest clomps on stage, settles behind the drum kit, which he then proceeds to batter with some abandon, sounding not unlike a man hammering fence posts into unforgiving ground.
What Television Personalities are now playing is a cheerless dirge that I think is called “All My Dreams Are Dead”, which is not inappropriately titled since it soon leaves me wholly without the will to live.
Before it’s over there are loud boos from most quarters and the first of several pints splashes onto the stage, making Treacy’s evidently grim mood grimmer by the minute.
“You’re shit,” someone loudly tells him, a critically blunt but not entirely inaccurate assessment on the evidence before us.
“I may be shit,” Treacy replies somewhat forlornly, “but at least I’m getting paid for it. How much do you earn?” he then asks, and is then inclined to moody silence when when he’s apparently quoted a sum which probably roughly equals his lifetime earnings.
It goes on and gets unfortunately no better, the third number coming to a messy halt when the band appear to realise none of them are playing the same song. The crowd are now noisily antagonistic and Treacy looks painfully exposed and evidently frustrated by the chaos around him, of which he is principal author. It’s something of a relief for everyone, then, Treacy included I’d wager, when they finish and quit the stage, my sympathy going with them.
Another hour or so later, with Pete strumming listlessly through a vagrant version of “Albion”, I wish I’d left with them, Pete having turned in a fitful performance, sadly lacking anything like the lustre of the better times I’ve seen him play.
The Rhythm Factory is something of a safe haven for Doherty and Babyshambles and tonight it’s full of hardcore fans, who bellow along with everything – a mash-up of old Libertines songs, “What A Waster” and “Can’t Stand Me Now” among them and meandering bits and pieces from Down In Albion and Shotters Nation. For the most part, he’s lazily satisfied with starting a song and then handing it over to the crowd whose gurning singalongs at least have the merit of enthusiasm, which is something Pete is showing little of.
There’s a not bad “Back From The Dead” at one point, and a very good “Unbilotitled”, but the mood here is one of distraction rather than engagement, a rather glum drift towards the inconsequential – as if he’s finally getting as tired of these songs as much as some of his fans are. Tonight’s restless rowdy throng are perhaps too easily pleased and clearly want only the stuff they can join in on without having to give any of it too much thought,but most of these songs have been around for as long as anyone can remember, and surely in need of urgent replacement.
He’s going to need to pull off something memorably special at the Albert Hall to get everyone back on side, something of which he’s entirely still capable – even if much of tonight remains best forgotten.
I probably would have left in a more disgruntled mood, but the last thing I hear Terry Edwards playing is great and puts me in good humour for the long ride home – Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves Of London”. All together now, AHHHHH-WOOOOOO.