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Pete Doherty - Manchester Academy 1 - 18.5.10

It’s a cool May evening on Manchester’s Oxford Road. Touts are asking for spare tickets, but as far as I know it isn’t a sell out.

As usual the Academy is bustling with a huge selection of fans, ranging from baby faced eighteens to those good few decades older.

It’s dark and it’s clammy inside and the audience are becoming restless. Plastic cups are being launched into the hemisphere. Peter Doherty, modern music’s most troubled star, takes to the stage almost half an hour late. Technical problems during the previous act caused the delay, although Doherty’s reputation precedes him and late arrivals are all just part of the act. Having already watched three support bands, all the masses want to see is the man himself.

The Babyshambles frontman and the eternal Libertine sullenly walks onto the stage and launches straight into Don’t Look Back Into The Sun, an old Libs favourite, the audience immediately perks up and it’s instant mayhem in the mosh pit as the levels of excitement rise.

Tonight’s gig isn’t a sell out. It could be possible that people are becoming bored with the negative media hype, but the fans that stand before this stage are the loyal ones, the ones that have been with Doherty through thick and thin, and despite what stories the tabloids print - Doherty is still their hero.

Peter has a certain allure, he still has that juvenile look despite his notorious and very public life. His scruffy appearance reminiscent of Oliver Twist, his waistcoat and pocket chain show a man who’s stylish and original, yet there’s a troubled look in his eyes tonight, as if he’s secretly carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

There is no band, no backing singers, it’s just Peter and his guitar, and he feels at home on the stage despite how empty it looks up there.

Doherty performs a charismatic set including songs from the Libertines, Babyshambles and new material from his solo career. His strong steady vocals clearly demonstrate what a talented singer songwriter he can be, but he has an aloofness that prevents us seeing that talent all of the time. However, he captivates his audience non-the-less and they reward him by chanting his name or singing along to the songs. He seems not to notice and doesn’t interact much at all and when he does speak, its inaudible.

The opening chords of Can’t Stand Me Now rev up the audience and they give a rapturous applause as the notes fade, before he sings a mini cover version of Blue Moon.

Singing Time For Hero’s is his greatest moment of the night. It’s clear that most of the fans are here to hear him belt out Libertines songs, from his and Barât’s glory days, a time that’s going to be hard to surpass.

At one point he leans forward from the stage and pivots dangerously on the edge. From my vantage point it looks like he may be shaking a fans hand, but he emerges with a card. He moves towards the dark recesses at the back of the stage, his hand in his scruffy hair while he reads what’s written. The crowd cheers. He takes a sip of his alcoholic coke. And he continues where he left off.

The first time I saw Doherty play, was in a field at Glastonbury in 2009. I came away feeling that something was missing. I feel he needs a band behind him. His voice and acoustic guitar seemed lost in the Somerset countryside, and I felt the same thing at the Academy tonight.

The only time he shares the cavernous stage is for his ballad Last Of The English Roses where a duo of ballerinas perform an allegro of movements in tune to the music. Up The Bracket is played full of vivacity and expression, he drags it out at the end, heartily plucking and strumming away at his guitar unaware that we’re waiting to hear what’s coming next. Peter holds his audiences attention well. He sings the Babyshambles classic There She Goes clearly and confidently:

“There she goes, a little heartache.
There she goes, a little pain.
Oh, make no mistake she sheds her skin like a snake,
On the dirty road to fame”

And seamlessly goes into a cover of Oliver Twist’s Who Will Buy My Beautiful Roses. There - I did say earlier that his appearance resembled that of the orphan Oliver? Is it because he’s in Manchester that he chooses to sing a few lines of a Stone Roses song Your Star Will Shine?

A member of the crew enters the stage and whispers in his ear. Looking at the time, it’s probably to warn him he’s over-run, but he doesn’t want to disappoint his adorning fans and he brings them what they want to hear. The crowd sing along to the anthemic Babyshambles track Albion;

“Gin in teacups.
And leaves on the lawn.
Violence at bus stops.
And a pale thin girl with eyes forlorn.”

There’s no encore and finale is abrupt, no words of thanks. He removes the guitar strap from around his neck before launching the instrument into the sea of fans before him. He doesn’t look back at the fight breaking out in the pit. Not exactly what the security guys were expecting.

Despite the Libertines demise both musicians have gone on to have successful solo careers. Doherty isn’t as energetic on stage as his former band mate Barât. Barât’s stage presence is captivating; his demeanour charming. It seems like Doherty feels he’s been left high and dry, sitting skulking on a low rocking chair or occasionally circling the stage, toying with the network of cables with his sloppy boots, he doesn’t shine like he did in the Libertines heyday. He has arrogance like a child with a behaviour problem, struggling to get through the day without getting into some sort of mischief.
Peter is a fantastic guitarist and he proves that over and over again. He has a huge talent, but I feel he’s doesn’t know how to harness it and use it to his advantage. His attitude to life, along with the drugs, have got in the way. But he wrote the line himself and he’s choosing to walk down the dirty road to fame.

And, although the ballerinas put on a visually pleasing performance; there’s only one person who should share that stage with Doherty…

… And his name is Carl Barât.

Words / Photos: Amanda J Window


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