The night before Pete Doherty plays a sold-out solo concert in the plush splendour of the Royal Albert Hall, we find his former Babyshambles bandmate, guitarist Patrick Walden, getting ready for a gig with his new band, Big Dave, in a small tacky room above a bar called Catch 22 in Shoreditch.
There can’t be more than 100 people here, if there are in fact that many. This is probably just as well – the premises would otherwise be a place of grim and uncomfortable confinement with too many bodies and too little space to move, breathing a problem in the crush, long waits for drinks at the bar, that kind of thing.
It’s just over two years now since Pat finally quit Babyshambles, at which point in his life he was probably not looking at getting much older if he had stayed, so fucked-up by then had he become. You look back at pictures of him then and it’s frightening, frankly – Pat not much more than a hollow-eyed skeleton, who at times managed what many would now think impossible by making Pete look a picture of robust and carefree health, Pat hooked on God knows what, someone who if he hadn’t quit when he did might have very soon ended up on someone’s floor, turning blue, the life drifting out of him.
Things at first went from bad to possibly worse, a brief, involuntary stay in Pentonville, followed by a lengthy period of recovery, which you have to be glad to report has left him in good health and now back playing live on an increasingly regular basis with Big Dave, a trio in which he is joined by big-haired drummer Seb Rochford and bassist Ruth Goller, the rhythm section from Acoustic Ladyland.
It’s fair to say, as I probably have before, that Babyshambles are not the same without Walden – he brought to them a wild unpredictability, in more ways than one – and as much as I still like it, I guess the principal reason I don’t play Shotters Nation as much as Down In Albion is because Pat’s not on it. He’s all over DIA, of course, often majestically, and co-wrote with Pete most of its best songs – including “Fuck Forever”, “Pipedown”, “8 Dead Boys” and the awesome “Up The Morning”, the avalanche of noise he wrings from his guitar as that track reaches its incendiary climax finding an echo in some of the things Big Dave play tonight.
A couple of months ago, I was given a DVD of one of Big Dave’s early shows, somewhere in north-east London, out towards Walthamstow or somewhere, I think. My first impression was that the band had simply turned up, plugged in and started jamming, not always with a unified purpose. It all seemed a bit too pointlessly freeform, a noisy unravelling, Pat with his back to the audience – or what there was of one – scrabbling away at his guitar while Rochford thundered somewhat fussily on drums.
Tonight, there’s a lot of what I think at one point Pat describes as “punk jazz”, which occasionally means a lot of abrasive time signatures and jolting tunes, but it’s much less meandering than I might have expected and at its most fiercely intense sometimes reminiscent of the Endless Boogie album John’s recently been playing a lot in the office. Things benefit greatly from Rochford’s less elaborate drumming and become very exciting indeed when he locks into tumbling repetition, providing a relentless rhythm bass over which Walden solos with increasingly gripping urgency, his playing by turns violent and lyrical, tender then brutal.
I don’t know any of the songs they play, but there are hints and echoes here and also there on some of the longer instrumentals of the Hendrix of Electric Ladyland, and one thing they do has the lovely melodic feel of something like “Little Wing”. Elsewhere, I’m reminded more than once of Syd-era Pink Floyd and wouldn’t have been surprised if at one point they’d soared off into a version of “Interstellar Overdrive”. There are even a couple of what you might call pop songs in the mix, sung diffidently but affectingly enough.
This is still early days for the band, but there’s an album being recorded with more dates to follow. Keep an eye on this space for more about them.