Memories of touring with Babyshambles : Pete Doherty’s past life on the road
Up and down in Albion: Babyshambles Pipe Down Tour 10 years on: A retrospective by Tommy Mack from White Ape.
I first met Pete Doherty in June 2004. Although he didn’t know it at the time, he was at the start of a roller-coaster ride of addiction and incarceration that would last much of the next ten years.
The Libertines were on tour without him. He had left The Priory for the second time in as many months. The Libs’ trial separation would drag on into a messy divorce. He would not speak to Carl Barat for nearly a year and wouldn’t perform with The Libertines for over six.
London, 2004: I’m 23 and somewhat green to say the least. I formed my band General Khaki under a manifesto of no compromise: harder and faster than punk, more musical and intricate than jazz, more catchy and infectious than pop. Brylcreme and polished boots and naval uniforms with shiny brass buttons. No guitar FX, no drinking before gigs, no songs over 90 seconds. Nothing like making life hard for yourself.
Johnny Sedassy, the sadly departed and much missed promoter at The Rhythm Factory in Whitechapel gives us a gig supporting Doherty’s new band Babyshambles. I was suspicious (and let’s be honest, jealous) of the hype around The Libs but enjoyed what I’d heard.
“He’s shorter than he looks on TV,” I think, mistaking Mark Keds for Pete, before the impossibly tall Doherty flounces into the gig wearing a flat cap and carrying a tape recorder. Dot Allison tells me she’s going to sing with him that night and does so beautifully. Babyshambles’ then-guitarist Pat Walden borrows my 12-string guitar. Dom Masters, The Others’ puckish singer, holds court backstage: “I’m trying to have a day off drugs,” he says while rolling a giant spliff. Gemma Clark’s still drumming for the band at this stage. Babyshambles’ manager James Mullord apologises for missing our opening set and takes a copy of our demo. Pete blanks me before the gig but turns friendly afterwards, tells me he likes my teddyboy haircut and pinches a roll-up off our bassist Kat.
The next day Mullord phones me up at work: he’s listened to our demo and enjoyed it: would we like to do an EP for 1234 Records? He doesn’t have to ask twice! Mullord visits us at our rehearsal studio with Sean McLusky and a deal gets thrashed out. Pete pops up as I’m signing the contracts, wipping off his grey Fred Perry sweater to get measured for a new suit and telling me I’ve got a chiselled jaw (where did it go!). We support Babyshambles a couple more times in London including a warm up gig at Highbury Garage the night before their onstage fight at Brixton Academy. The 1234 deal drags out without progress and General Khaki plough our own furrow, courting interest from other labels and promoting our own gigs with a very young Maccabees.
I’m at a house party when I get the call from 1234’s Lily (later to manage the excellent Talk Taxis): we’re going on tour with Babyshambles. Excited doesn’t cover it. A year’s passed and by now Doherty’s at the height of his tabloid notoriety: dating Kate Moss and in and out of court more times than a judge’s wig. At 24, touring to me meant driving General Khaki’s knackered Austin Montego to pubs in Leeds and Leicester, Manchester and Oxford.
Turns out, we were opening for Babyshambles on just three nights and driving ourselves but we’re not complaining!
Sheffield University, Sunday 25th September.
Pat Walden greets us outside the venue with hugs and handshakes. He looks knackered but radiates warmth and good cheer. We later find out Pat had got clean after a battle against crack addiction which nearly saw him sectioned.
Babyshambles’ soundcheck set echoes round the empty space. Adam Ficek who’s replaced Clarke on drums comes offstage looking stressed “How’s the tour going?” I ask. “Everywhere we play, the papers seem to drum up trouble!” Doherty’s been accused by The Daily Star of kidnapping a fifteen year-old girl who’d ridden on the tourbus under the headline Cops Race To Rescue Underage Girl From Junkie Pete Bus. “Oh well,” I say, “Oscar Wilde says there’s only one thing worse than being talked about and that’s not being talked about.” “I’ll remember than when my life’s falling apart” says Adam.
Drew McConnell passes backstage, “Hey, General Khaki!” he says, wearing the same navy Fred Perry polo as me. Johnny, Babyshambles tour manager, asks if we need anything sorting. Later, Pete flounces past our dressing room in a stripy Paul Smith sweater. I ask if Muzz from the band The Fuckwits (now with the brilliant indie-pop band Faerground Accidents) can go on Pat’s guestlist. Pat drove Pat to Babyshambles London gig at the Astoria (the gig actually ended in a riot after Doherty failed to turn up) and Pat’s forgotten to put him on the guestlist. “If he’s Pat’s mate,” says Pete, not unreasonably “why don’t you ask Pat?” I said I was green back then.
I look for Pat backstage but a bloke rolling a giant spliff shouts at me to shut the door. Later it turns out Muzz got a free ticket off a tout who liked his Vivien Westwood T-shirt (the one with the two cowboys touching cocks). Alan Wass wanted to borrow it for the stage but wandered off before they could swap shirts.
General Khaki’s set goes well, the crowd are quiet to begin with, just starting to fill up the venue but they’re well into it by the end. We hand out flyers which get torn to pieces in the frenzy, kids grabbing our clothes like we’re rock stars. Alan Wass does his Dylan thing – Pete gets Littl’ans drummer to back him.
Littl’ans take to the stage only to get booed off after a few songs. Suddenly our slow start doesn’t seem so bad!
Babyshambles play a blinding set opening with Man Who Came To Play. Pete goes into the crowd, tearing his black Harrington. Half a dozen songs in, Pete throws a drink, setting off the fire alarm. The venue get cleared, I’m rushed outside with crowd. Kids come up getting me to autograph flyers and shoes, girls going for a kiss. I could get used to this!
After what feels like hours, we’re let back inside for the rest of Babyshambles set. There’s only one problem: they need to replace fire alarm cover and it’s nine feet above stage. A bouncer point at me, 5’6” and skinny as fuck, “I reckon I could lift him up and he could reach it!” He holds me up and I screw it on. I stick my arms in the air and the crowd roars back with their arms up: a bigger cheer than we got for our set! Great second set from Babyshambles.
“Have you got a boyfriend?” My brother, our drummer’s girlfriend (now wife) is waiting back stage and Babyshambles’ roadie is on the scout for groupies. “Yeah, he’s the drummer with General Khaki,” she says “Shame, cos Pete and Pat are looking for some slags…er, not that I’m saying you’re a slag!”…charming!
We load our gear out, kids are six deep outside the venue. Girls are grabbing me through the fence, going for a kiss. One kid asks if I’m Alex Kapranos, another says Preston.
I’m chatting to Johnny and Adam about the tour. Pete opens tourbus window, spots me and gobs up on floor. Dunno if he was aiming for me!
Nottingham Rock City, Monday 26th September
General Khaki spend an Albionesque day playing cricket in park after a greasy spoon breakfast. We meet a couple of kids outside venue who don’t have tickets and promise to help with the guest-list. The Paddingtons arrive like the bash street kids piling off the school bus, swigging White Lightning from plastic bottles. Their driver looks weary!
Babyshambles soundcheck is fantastic: brash and skeletal but hard and tough, nothing like the rickety sound of their early gigs. Souring anthemic melodies that go to unexpectedly odd places. They cover She’s Lost Control too. Babyshambles Manager Mark sorts out the guestlist. We phone the kids we met outside and tell them they’re in, they’re overjoyed they’re going to see Babyshambles.
General Khaki storm our opening set: 2000 people giving us our best reaction yet. Dan throws his brand new drumsticks into the crowd. Alan Wass plays solo while swigging gin and tonic from the gin bottle, wearing an Adam Ant-esque jacket, Babyshambles T-shirt and turquoise boots. Later he says he thought the Sheffield crowd reaction was better. I remind him he had drums in Sheffield. He says he prefers to play solo. “Like the calm before the storm?” I say. “Yeah, the shelter before the storm” he says and plays a few bars of Shelter From The Storm on his acoustic guitar. Pete comes into the dressing room. I tell him the Sheffield gig blew me away. “Yeah?” he asks suspiciously. “Yeah,” I say. Johnny gives me an apple from Babyshambles rider.
Paddingtons whip the crowd up. Doherty has a mate with him on tour nicknamed Little Richard “they call me that cos I’ve got a small penis” – apparently. Pete goads him into performing a stand-up set. “When you’re having sex, spare a thought for the people in Iraq cos every time they go to bed, the earth moves” he says. Silence. “Y’know cos of the bombs and that.” There’s a wave of booing and jeering, bottles flying through the air. Paddingtons tour manager’s going mental trying to protect their amps and kit.
Babyshambles’ headline set is incredible, Pete’s messianic. They segue She’s Lost Control into Man Who Came To Play. Tom from The Paddingtons sings Kilimanjaro with Pete. Everyone’s standing open mouthed at the side of the stage: security push us back as we gravitate towards the newly powerful sound. A young guy looks like Pete, I ask if he’s his brother. He says everyone asks that.
Three girls in the car park ask if there’s a party, sliding their arms around me, I walk three of them into the venue and leave them hanging out with Tom Paddington as we go off to crash on my mate Alex’s floor!
Northumbria University, Newcastle – Tuesday 27th September
Fuck me it’s a long drive.
The venue at Northumberland uni is a big empty wooden hall like a high school gym. Paddingtons ask what’s the room like and mock my use of the word gantry. Pete jams with Paddingtons, playing drums on a cover of Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer. Mark asks if Pete can use the shower in our dressing room. Stripped down to his boxers, he waltzes round the room with me, still singing Psycho Killer.
Mark tells me Pete and Pat haven’t taken drugs since the start of the tour, are sleeping at night and getting up in the morning. Everyone seems in good spirits. Bina’s left to look after Pete when he comes out of the shower but he wanders off to do a photoshoot for The Observer. Dan and Bina steal his dirty boxers and toenail clippings but they can’t bring themselves to sell them on eBay and end up burning them in their back garden!
Little Richard sings Happy Birthday to someone. Wisely he’s ditched the stand-up.
Great reaction to our opening set. Drew and Adam watch from side of the stage. I break my guitar strap on stage. Later when I jump into the crowd, a girl grabs my cock and gives me a smirk.
Fans storm the stage, security push them back and Babyshambles respond by kicking the monitors into the crowd. There’s a tug of war with fans: bouncers trying to drag them offstage, the band trying to drag them on. The bouncers look daggers at Pete. About twenty minutes after the end of their set, Babyshambles come back on without Pat and play a brief encore as a three-piece to a half empty hall. They’ll end up playing a lot of gigs as a trio when Pat decides he needs to quit the band to stay clean.
Alan Wass shows up from his court date, drops a pill on his black shirt “it’s just a painkiller!” Drew says he loved the set “You’re much weirder than I expected: what do you listen to to make music like that!” Pete gives me a hug and a kiss, we swap numbers (it’s like a first date!) Pat slaps me on the back, promises more support slots (it never happens!). All our badges get stolen from the merch stand. Better than no-one taking them. Some girls show up to say thanks for getting them into the gig.
Fuck me, it’s an even longer drive back to London.
The next time I see Pete Doherty, he’s fronting a three-piece Babyshambles back at the Rhythm Factory where we first met. Looking relatively clean and wearing a white dinner jacket, he exchanges a brief hello (“It’s good to see you playing live again” “You haven’t seen us yet!”) This time, it’s General Khaki who are on the skids and I’m planning my next move. Drew and Adam are friendly as ever and it’s good to catch up but I’ll never forget those three nights in 2005 we rode with the craziest circus in town.