The talent behind the tabloid headlinesThis past September, I had a somewhat revelatory experience. I made the journey to Belfast (my hometown) to see Babyshambles, a band causing a huge stir in my part of the world. I've been a fan of the band since they began basically, as have many fans of the front man Pete Doherty‘s previous band, The Libertines. It was revelatory because it's easy to see that Pete Doherty loves his fans, but it's something different because it seems both the audience and Doherty shared a mutual love for one another. It's one of the oldest clichés a person can use to say a performer loves his fans, but in this case it is true.
by Pádraic Grant
It's true because it's backed up by Doherty's personal philosophy, his body of work, and the gigs he‘s played, amongst other things. At that gig, I saw the crowd display love for Doherty. And he pours back in equal measure through small gestures such as reading the bits of poetry that were thrown at him, keeping anything that was thrown on stage (including rosary beads and prayer books), putting down his guitar to shake hands with the multitudes of people in the crowd, changing the lyrics to reflect on Ireland (as he does with all locations he plays in) and so on. Not only that, but I participated fully, as I have done before, in the adulation. Quite simply, I can see how people admire Pete Doherty so much because I do as well.
What inspires this admiration? Many things do; great music, great lyrics, a true bond solidified with the albums I'll elaborate on. I can see, however, the flaws that Doherty has, but the only difference between him and other troubled rock stars is that he can see the flaws as well, as shown in some of the more stark lyrics in his songs.
Doherty is somewhat of an enigma. Cast somewhere between a hopeless junkie and a joke unable to even make his own gigs on time, along with a dash of pure evil, the kind that drives him to inject helpless fans with heroin, the mainstream media has created a caricature, a person who simply does not exist in the real world. Not only is he not any of the things listed above, he is also a person with a lot to offer the musical world.
A Short History
The Libertines were a breath of fresh air to British music in many ways. Their music and lyrics were top rate, each song a piece of perfect pop with a distinct edge and sense of DIY ethics; these two traits blended perfectly in ways rarely seen since the height of Punk Rock. The lyrics were on a different level, full of allusions to literature and witty asides to the daily lives the two main songwriters in the band led, lives which matched perfectly the band name for Carl Barat and Pete Doherty did live a libertine existence, both in their daily lives and in their attitude to music. To Barat and Doherty, it wasn't strange to have a 54-year-old drummer (Mr Razzcocks, as he was known), or a revolving door policy with cellists and bassists coming-and-going. None of this mattered, as long as great songs were written and performed.
Arcadia and Albion
Idealism played a large part in Pete Doherty's personal philosophy, which extended to the Libertines themselves. There is often mention of "Albion" and "Arcadia" scattered throughout Doherty's discography. "Albion" is Doherty's personal view of England, marrying together themes of nostalgia and appreciation for working class life that can be compared to The Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society era. Albion is often represented as a ship in Doherty's writing and songs, and on artwork and merchandise. The symbolism is that Albion is a passageway to Arcadia, a utopian society without rules or boundaries, where "life trips along, pure and simple as a shepherd's song," according to the song "Arcady."
This mentality of good deeds, freedom, and lust for life was, sadly, to drive the first wedge between Pete Doherty and the rest of the band. It led to the idea of guerrilla gigs, playing anywhere and everywhere a gig could be played: car parks, houses, street corners and, strangest of all, old folk's homes were viewed as good places to have gigs and spread the message of goodwill to people. Old folk's homes however proved too much for some of the band who opposed playing there, much to Doherty's dismay.
The Demise of The Libertines
Eventually, problems would escalate far beyond simple matters such as gig locations, and into the less benevolent problem of drug abuse and inner tension. The band (now without Mr Razzcocks and the cellist, but with the addition of another drummer, Gary Powell and bassist, John Hassall) recorded the critically-acclaimed Up The Bracket album in 2002, which put the themes of Albion and Arcadia into a garage rock context and fitted in well with the "Garage Rock Revival" taking place around the time.
After the release of the album though, Doherty's drug abuse spiraled and according to the rest of the band, made him unreliable and hard to work with. He was kicked out of the band due to this and because of a burglary of Barat's home which also led to a short jail sentence. After Doherty's emotional return to the band, the band once again fractured and split, and amid the turmoil, recorded The Libertines in 2004, an extremely emotional album with songs detailing the collapse of Doherty and Barat's friendship. Soon after, Pete Doherty was made to leave the band unless he could curb his drug abuse. This he failed to do and so the band effectively split in late 2004.
After this, Pete Doherty went on to form Babyshambles, while Barat and Powell founded Dirty Pretty Things, and John Hassall formed Yeti. All of these bands have enjoyed a degree of success, but it is Pete Doherty who has become well-known due to his tabloid visibility and relationship with supermodel Kate Moss.
Away from all of this history, in time periods hard to specify, Pete Doherty was writing and recording songs, which were then released as numerous "sessions" and albums, released for free on the internet. Not only did this continue the spirit of Albion that Doherty projects, but it also made his fans some of the most passionate in the UK. Aside from that, they also contain bloody great music.
The albums that Doherty has released onto the Internet are not only great pieces of art but more than that, they represent a symbolic bond between the artist and the audience, breaking down the walls of commercialism and connecting with the fans. Easily obtainable and containing a great deal of lyrical and musical genius, they are usually recordings of Doherty by himself, with the music stripped to the core of acoustic guitar and vocals. This is fascinating in its own right, but is made all the more compelling when compared to the full versions of the songs which are almost always re-recorded with a full band. On many songs, it turns out that the acoustic versions have something more that the "official" songs just don't contain.
Pete Doherty's solo albums are more than just demo versions or throwaway pieces of music. They represent all that is right about his view on the world, past the ugliness of the drug abuse and tabloid attacks, and onto a more idealistic view of the music industry. In an age when many bemoan (with some justification) the commercialism of mainstream musicians, Doherty's albums represent his world view; a world view many fans welcome with open arms.
Of course, this is all good to hear, but what do the albums sound like? Are they even any good? Are they only for die hard Pete Doherty fans? What exactly do they entail for music fans?
First of all, for the most part, they sound very lo-fi. They appear to be recorded in people's homes, and many contain sounds of Doherty conversing, hitting against things, and on The Whitechapel Demonstrations, a mobile phone going off in the middle of a song. These minor distractions only increase the charm of the songs, and show that it's honest music, free from soulless studio trickery.
But they are more than just good - some are astonishing due to the fact that they are so basic, yet have the kind of melodies and sound that appeal to not just Doherty fans, but music fans in general. Put simply, they have better melodies, better lyrics and more moments of inspiration in songs than most mainstream musicians struggle to cobble together for full albums. The songs appeal to everyone because they are, basically, fine, well-written songs.
The implications of Doherty's albums are, however, much bigger than being simply full of good songs. They establish a connection between the musician and the listener that is hard to find anywhere else. His emotions are laid as bare as the sparse instrumentation, and at times, this is part of the appeal of the music. Though a cliché, this is music with heart; from bleak despair to moments of joy, from social commentary to personal, introspective passages. Many bands have of course released demos and the like to fans, but Doherty's albums are rare because they are not mere demos, but feel more like real albums. They also fit in with his concept of the beatific Arcadia, representing a new kind of culture, one which fits in perfectly with the nostalgic Albion he has created. From playing in old folk's homes to embracing his fans with displays of musical generosity, Pete Doherty has only good things to offer us fans of music. For anyone who heeds his call, it is up to us to offer an embrace back to him.
A Few Highlights
Pete Doherty's solo discography is extremely muddled, with albums being issued under The Libertines and Babyshambles names, different songs being compiled together to make "new" albums and so on. It is worth trying to check out as much as you can, but I offer here a few highlights.
Chicken Shack Sessions
Recorded: September 2003
Circumstances: Recorded after Doherty was first kicked out of The Libertines, and before he returned to record their second album, these songs are for the most part quite bleak, but contain moments of optimism such "Don't Look Back Into The Sun." This session was recorded by Doherty alone, but also under The Libertines name.
Instrumentation: Acoustic guitar, harmonica, vocals, backing vocals
2. Campaign Of Hate
3. Curtain Call
4. Curtain Call (Gaks & Enob Mix) - Note: This is simply "Curtain Call" played backwards
5. The Man Who Came To Stay
6. My Darling Clementine
7. Stix & Stones
8. Pay The Lay
9. Don't Look Back Into The Sun
10. Bucket Shop
Whitechapel Demonstrations Sessions
Recorded: February 2004
Circumstances: Upon being released from jail, Doherty was back in The Libertines. This album was recorded under the Babyshambles name, but is again a Pete Doherty solo effort. It is also extremely rough, but contains several classic songs.
Instrumentation: Acoustic guitar, vocals
1. Anything But Love
2. Dilly Boys
3. Love On The Dole
4. Another Girl Another Planet (Cover of The Only Ones song)
5. The Whole World Is Our Playground
7. I Love You (But You're Green)
8. What Katie Did
9. Skag & Bone Man
10. Pipey Magraw
Recorded: April 2004
Circumstances: Again issued under the Babyshambles name, these songs are also the work of Pete Doherty alone. Many of these songs also appear on the Pete Doherty Only Peons Make Excuses solo offering, which is basically the same album with a few extra songs and a different track listing. The second Libertines album was being recorded at this point, with tensions in the band a at boiling point. Despite this, there is a high degree of optimism in these songs, several of which are rightly regarded as classics, including songs which were never released officially.
Instrumentation: Acoustic guitar, vocals
1. A Little Death Around The Eyes
3. Un Bilo Titled
4. I Love You (But You're Green)
6. In Love With A Feeling (10 Seconds)
7. East Of Eden
8. He Will Fall
9. New Love Grows On Trees
10. My Darling Clementine
11. Back From The Dead (25 Seconds)
The Freewheelin' Pete Doherty
Recorded: Late 2004
Circumstances: With a title obviously inspired by Bob Dylan, this was recorded amidst/after the demise of The Libertines. This album is my own personal favorite of Pete Doherty's solo efforts. Full of anguish, loss, despair, and moments of happiness through the gloom, this is almost an album of defiance against the odds, especially since Doherty's next band, Babyshambles, went onto great success after its recording.
Instrumentation: Acoustic guitar, vocals
2. Can't Stand Me Now
4. Back from The Dead
5. Don't Look Back Into The Sun
6. The Ha Ha Wall
7. Blackboy Lane
8. Hooray For The 21st Century
9. Conversation Diva
10. Pipey Magraw
11. East Of Eden
12. The Whole World Is Our Playground
13. Darling Clementine
14. The Ballad Of Grimaldi
15. There She Goes (A Little Heartache)
Shaking & Withdrawn Sessions
Circumstances: An album worth listening to for the lyrics themselves, some of which are extremely bleak but beautiful and defiant, and perfectly complimented by the emotion in Doherty's voice. The music itself has some of his catchiest melodies.
Instrumentation: Acoustic guitar, vocals
1. My Darling Clementine
2. Back From The Dead
3. Lady Don't Fall Backwards/Bollywood to Battersea
4. The Whole World Is Our Playground
5. Hooray For The 21st Century
6. Curtain Call
7. There Is A Light/32nd Of December (Short cover of The Smiths classic firstly)
8. Conversation Diva
9. Never Never
10. East Of Eden
11. My Darling Clementine
12. There She Goes (ALH)
13. Can't Stand Me Now
14. The Ha Ha Wall
15. The Ballad Of Grimaldi
16. Stix And Stones
These sessions, and numerous more, can be downloaded free and legally on the Albion Arks website (www.albionarks.com).
"Listen now, I have gone
You will know I was the only one
That would die for what was wrong
In the eyes of the cruel and unknown."
Pete Doherty, "Killamangiro"
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS|