For Pete’s Sake…

Babyshambles were voted the worst act of this summer’s festival season, which was no mean feat – I saw Primal Scream at Glastonbury with my own eyes.

Babyshambles were voted the worst act of this summer’s festival season, which was no mean feat – I saw Primal Scream at Glastonbury with my own eyes.

For Pete’s Sake…


Christmas has come and gone in an expensive materialistic flash.  All that remains is the memory of unwanted gifts, pine needles on the floor and a fuzzy combination of hangovers and daytime TV.


Television during the day is a luxury – especially if the usual routine of life involves obligation, being places you don’t want to be and doing things you don’t want to do.


Whilst watching an old Tom and Jerry cartoon, it came to me in a flash.  You know when Tom has a choice to make and an angel appears on one shoulder and a devil on the other, both offering tempting and compelling reasons why he should take the action they are proposing?


Well, it suddenly sank in through the hazy after effects of the grape and the grain – that is an apt metaphor for how I feel about Pete Doherty.  I could listen to both the cherub and the demon and could be swayed either way.


To tell the tale, I must go back to some months, when I was first tasked with writing something about our Pete. Of course I groaned inside – the rock star with the most column inches despite having the least to offer in terms of end product.  A man who will be known forever in the popular consciousness as "Kate Moss’ junkie ex-beau."


Naturally the choice open to me was easy – prevarication, procrastination and pissing about.  In others words I put it off for as long as physically possible.


Eventually the excuses ran out – so here it is, my views on one of British music’s biggest conundrums.  Regular readers of Fall from Grace will note that the column is a preserve of venom, invective, bile and abuse.  Of course such matters are subjective and you may feel that sometimes this criticism is unwarranted.  Personally I feel it is generally deserved – in music as in life you reap what you sow. 


I started out with the intention of sticking a Doc Marten boot into Doherty’s rear but soon found I couldn’t do it.  He does have some redeeming features – hence the stretched whispering angel and devil metaphor.  Fans of diatribe may cry foul – what a limp wrested approach.  How can a Fall from Gracer sit on the fence?  Our thumbs are down, big man – put him to the sword!  You are right, of course but to my mind Pete just isn’t that easy. 


We get an intelligent and interesting rock star and what do we do?  Trash him mercilessly. We spend our time bemoaning the dearth of interesting musicians and as soon as we get one we slag him off.  Is it Tall Poppy syndrome or simply that he is such a rare beast that we don’t know how to react? 


Doherty has appeared on Newsnight and been the subject of at least one documentary.  How many of his contemporaries could you say that about?  Would you like to watch an hour in the life of the singer with Hard-Fi, or Keane, or the Zutons?  Thought not – for all I know they would make very interesting documentary subjects – but they just don’t have Pete’s pulling power.


A friend of a friend likened Doherty to Jim Morrison.  Maybe stretching it to make a point – after all The Doors are likely to leave a much bigger footprint on the musical landscape than the Libertines or Babyshambles – but lean in closely and you might see something. An erudite and enigmatic singer with a genuine interest in poetry, 19th century French literature and self destruction. Doherty is a published poet who was taken as a schoolboy to recite his own work in Russia.  He has also appeared at a poetry gala in honour of Robert Burns. I also admire his take on Englishness, his desire for Albion, a sort of mythical Britain which probably only exists in his head.  Still, how many other current artists talk about such things and build them into their music and image? 


How about him writing a song for a BBC documentary about his comic idol, Tony Hancock?  Playing Anti-racism rallies?  I’m even going to mark him up for dating Kate Moss.  How many other musicians from the current crop of indie bands have even come close to stepping out with an internationally famous modern day icon? 


No doubting too that the man attracts a legion of dedicated fans.  With good reason too – he has made sure he treated them well.  He appears to have a lot of time for people at gigs and it would be churlish not to admire the DIY punk ethos which inspired secret gigs flagged only on websites and impromptu shows in pubs and flats open to anyone in the know.


However, before we get carried away and cynics start asking for a stewards enquiry – is this a Doherty lovefest?  Aren’t you selectively putting facts into your sack to get it to stand up?  You are right of course.  There is a reason why 9 out of 10 press articles about Doherty contain the words "shambles", "disappointment", "bust" and "cancelled show."


I hardly need elaborate on the minus sides of Mr Doherty.  You’ve heard it all before.  Seems like everytime he steps outside, he gets into trouble.  In a nutshell, he hasn’t really delivered on what has been promised.  True, he might not have personally promised it but even so. 


Babyshambles were voted the worst act of this summer’s festival season, which was no mean feat – I saw Primal Scream at Glastonbury with my own eyes. Pete seems to have a knack of passing up on once in a lifetime opportunities.  Messing up a tour with Oasis is foolish, blowing an appearance with Elton at Live 8 is just plain dumb – note Razorlight didn’t pass up such a chance. 


At best, the Libertines and Babyshambles could be seen as promising, enigmatic or mercurial but at worst they should be bracketed as hyped and disappointing.  Regarding the Libertines, once you scratched away the image, you were left with a handful of singles and couple of okay albums.  Left me and others I know a little cold.  Like the Clash but without the ideas, the energy and all the rest of it that ensured the Clash’s place in history.  OK – they can’t help not being there for the heyday of punk but even so.


Here is a great guitarist who has been nominated for an Ivor Novello award and yet even the NME described the Babyshambles album as a missed opportunity and called it the best demo you will hear all year.  One for the fans seems about right to me. 


But music fans are a fickle bunch.  Pete must be looking in the rear view mirror and seeing a raft of bands looming large for 2006 – Artic Monkeys, Editors, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, We Are Scientists etc etc.  People won’t necessarily hang about for him.


On his recent Newsnight appearance, Pete Doherty compared himself with George Best, whose achievements he said were swamped by his later hellraising exploits. Seeming to acknowledge his lack of end product, he added "For me, it’s going to be the other way round."


Let’s just hope so. A Fall from Grace on a man who has barely started out would seem to be a little harsh.  Here’s to talking about Pete Doherty for the right reasons in 2006 and beyond…