Peter Doherty - 12 Bar Club, London - 10/4/07

12 Apr 2007

an acoustic solo set from the babyshambles frontman, one which would have been quite intimate if it weren't for the gaggle of tabloid press at his feet, though the songs, crucially, still shine brighter than the photographers' flashes.

FLASH.

What the hell was that?

FLASH.

We cover our eyes and, subsequently, trip up over the steps on our way in.

Peter Doherty

Great. It appears it was one of many, many lenses being illuminated to full effect in the entrance of the 12 Bar Club, photographers simply lining the walls, eager-eyed and peevish. It's impossible not to feel like a walking showroom.

Arriving at a smoky, sidestreet bar at quarter to midnight on a Tuesday. Just what are we doing? Knackered, staring at a screen all day, the 21st Century idiom of the workplace. By this point of the day, we could be hallucinating... And, wait a second - is that... Finley Quaye over there? Yes, it is. Christ. That's weird. And Kate Moss... Shh, don't look.

So, this is the secret gig. Announced just hours earlier on a local radio station, the glitterati of under-aged and gladrags-doused London is out in force, awaiting the smallest Peter Doherty gig for about, ooh, three months. Still, in seriousness, there's a sense of anticipation about the place that's undeniable; the most controversial and talked-about artist of our age, clad winningly in suit and hat, crawling on to a stage space not even suitable for an Oompa Loompa and strumming to around 80 people. There's justification for sweaty brows and wandering eyes.

But, really, it's just a shame half of the attendees here are clearly not real fans. Such is the intensity of the tabloid public eye focussed in on Doherty in recent years that you have as many bystanders wanting to see 'the new Sid Vicious' in person after watching his appearance on 'Jonathan Ross' or 'Newsnight' rather than really absorb what he's purveying. So the atmosphere is iffy throughout; not the fault of the performer, or the venue, one clad in vintage rock legacy and faultless intimacy. For once, it's our fault, the audience's, for being so damn curious, for guzzling merrily the vulture feed that's served up in droves every day in 'Bizarre' columns. If we're not careful, we'll destroy what we created very, very soon.

Pete Doherty

The crowd yelps as Peter perches on a low stool and enters straight into an almost-never-interrupted 70 minutes of music. It starts off, in fairness, quite haphazardly; guitars are switched and words are partially slurred as recent and new songs go down famously with the hardcores at the front, mouthing every syllable. But it warms up quickly. It's the older matter - 'Music When The Lights Go Out', 'Mockingbird', 'Killamangiro', a ragged but thrilling 'What A Waster' - that cuts through and gleams, romping choruses and music hall verses charming, and we feel like it's 2003 all over again. The applause grows, as does Doherty's beam.

Only towards the end does the interaction occur, though - people bellow their hometowns and our hatted troubadour attempts to fit them in mid-song, and it's warming - the acknowledgement that was missing earlier on. EastbourneHarrow suddenly sound poetic when sung from these tar-encrusted lungs. It provides a humour otherwise missing, and an empathy that endears even the ardent cynics present. And, just like a true magician, as quickly as he is onstage, he's gone, packing away the guitar and disappearing through a sidedoor to an awaiting taxi. Not before a final tease; he delivers the first line of 'Time For Heroes' and we bellow with approval, but then he sniggers and swiftly offers, 'Sorry, gotta rest my voice now. Thanks, bye.' and

It's a sharp and almost cruel exit, but completely forgivable: the next two nights see Peter single-handedly take on sold out 'An Evening With...' outings at the grandiose, 2,000-capacity Hackney Empire, with readings, covers, special guests, and the sort. Then it hits us: few others could deal such ambitious cultural offerings and it be such an intriguing, alluring proposition. For all the bluster and headlines, Doherty remains a beguiling fixture, and there's ample rhyme and reason here tonight to back it up.

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