While bubbling away in the mind of young Peter Doherty for years, Babyshambles smudged their way onto the radar globally around 2003. Since then the sometimes lovable, sometimes infuriating band members have remained a permanent, if turbulent part of my life. At turns thorns in my side or unlikely saviours, for better or for worse I’ll always consider them family.
On and off, I spent much of the mid-2000s in their company. These were dream-like careless days, with no second act in sight. We lived in the present, oblivious to consequences, blinded by the foolishness of youth while the future looked on, shaking its head, willing us to realise that we knew nothing of its work.
My ever-faithful friend Sally and I call these ‘the war years’: an odd phase in my life where reality became stranger than fiction, the fallout of which still corrodes with a kind of psychedelic shell shock, and brings back a degree of post-traumatic stress. Appearances were always deceiving and no one was to be trusted, including ourselves; smoke ’n’ mirrors was never just an illusion.
Every day was a new drama: some press scandal, a band member’s arrest, a missed gig here, a band feud there, someone going MIA or losing their passport on the day they were supposed to travel.
When I attempt to recall episodes from this era, it can feel as if I fell asleep on the back of their tour bus as we departed London in 2003, then woke up as we rolled into Paris in 2008.
Photo Background Irina Lazareanu archives - Portrait copyright Jen Carey - all others copyright Sally Anchassi
Trials and tribulations aside, the fact remains that they wrote a phenomenal number of beautifully imperfect songs, a body of work that strikes straight to the soul. Undeniably honest music and lyrics that embodied what they were going through at the time.
Yes, their recordings (and certainly their shows) were peppered with false notes, mistakes and scrappiness, but around that time the industry was busy whitewashing guitar music with protocols and quantised, careerist ambitions.
These boys plugged straight into their amps, remembering to tune their guitars if the crowd was lucky. How the songs sounded changed from day to day, from gig to gig. Not a formula for global domination, but refreshingly authentic.
They sounded great, because they felt every note and believed every word; it’s that realisation – how emotion and content are the most valuable assets an artist could hold – that makes them who they are.
They left their mark in music with relevance and honesty
Photo bottom left copyright Gavin Doyle – all others Irina Lazareanu archives
Photo bottom copyright Stephanie K. Nihon – all others Irina Lazareanu archives
ON THE ROAD
It was my first time in Glasgow, the magnificent Scottish city and birthplace of our very own ‘Sally Queen of Scots’. Between hitting the outskirts of the city and parking up at the venues, I became excited at the prospect of sightseeing and discovering the city, but even more enthusiastic to get off the tour bus after arguing with Peter for six hours straight.
As we arrived at the Barrowland (which feels more like a gladiatorial arena than a venue), I couldn’t help but be impressed by the raw punk energy of the kids queuing around the block – they were by far the most intimidating and stylish crowd I’ve ever seen. All sporting a no-nonsense, stripped down, ‘fuck you, Dad’ look. Leather bomber jackets, ripped T-shirts and dirty jeans held together by a frayed thread of great expectations. After the gauntlet run to get inside (the artist entrance is conspiratorially placed beside the box office), we decided to remain indoors to explore this beautiful old venue.
By the time the gig was in full swing I watched, transfixed, as the crowd stomped their feet on the bouncing floors (the Barrowland has one of those old Northern soul sprung dance floors), echoing Shambles lyrics like war cries up to the rafters. It felt like the whole place was going to collapse, but not before those riot kids might break through the security barrier and destroy everything in their wake (after what happened at the Astoria a few years before, even the seasoned local security seemed a little on edge).
Stage invasions have been a hallmark of Shambles shows from day one, and this mob didn’t seem too shy. As a venue, traditionally the Barrowland ain’t for the faint of heart. If the kids don’t like a set, they let the band know. I think it’s that ‘no bullsh*t’ spirit that makes them love Babyshambles, who often performed exhausted, no sleep for days, still fucked or drunk from the night before, getting 2,000 kids to help them kick a can down the road.
Anecdotally, the venue and road crew loved them. But logistically, they knew to stay on their toes, as the Shambles were famous for swerving conventional formalities such as radio promo (Nice. Thanks, lads!) or sound checks (FFS! Thanks, lads . . .), often rolling into the venue minutes before hitting the stage. Tonight, as far as the crowd was concerned, they got their money’s worth with a filthy, frenetic punk set, leaving all present with sore lungs and dripping with sweat and god knows what other bodily fluids.
When the venue finally pulled the power and put on the house lights to get them offstage (Peter is notoriously hard to get onstage but sometimes even harder to get off, especially if he’s told there’s a fine for breaching a curfew – I kinda love him for that), we bolted back to the hotel where I planned to unwind, take a bath, then find the right moment to talk Peter into returning my tights. (He was labouring under the misapprehension that they looked better on him, even though we can all agree I have much better legs. Right guys?).
Shortly after reaching the sanctuary of my room and slipping into a bathrobe, I heard a strange noise coming from the hallway. Every atom of my intuition told me not to, but against my better judgement I decided to investigate, only to be faced with what could charitably be described as fresh hell.
Peter and Mick were dragging an unconscious body wrapped in a sheet through the hall. To my horror, just as I opened the door a limb fell lifelessly from the makeshift cocoon. I believe my exact words were “what – the -f*ck . . .” as I froze, aghast.
Photo copyright Philip Gay – from Runway Bird - A Rock n Roll Style Guide
With a calmness that belied the severity of the scene, Peter looked up and raised a finger to his lips in the international ‘shush’ sign.
Indignation snapped me out of my catatonic stasis.
“Go back inside, Reens,” he suggested, unhelpfully.
Peter’s gaze wavered unsteadily from mine to his hastily mummified new mate, then slowly back to mine.
“Um, nothing to see here,” he added, optimistically. Still reeling from the evening’s stimulus at the Barrowland, my boggling brain strained to massage the information before me into some logical context. Realising it couldn’t, as plausible deniability raced through my mind, I subconsciously began scanning my brain for the names of lawyers who may conceivably owe me a favour. Weakly, I mouthed the words “Is it . . . still alive?”
Jan Welters - From Runway Bird A Rock n Roll Style Guide
On closer inspection, my moral compass and I were relieved to learn that this unwitting extra from a Goodfellas outtake was just a drunk stranger who had collapsed by pure chance outside Mick’s room. The chaps were, in fact, endeavouring to relocate the sorry soul to the hotel lobby. Part benevolence, part conditioned aversion to drawing any attention to the vicinity of their rooms.
After checking his pulse (and stifling a laugh when I heard him quietly snoring), I let them continue their conspicuously covert mission. I closed my hotel room door, intent on taking an inventory of my hotel minibar and erasing the last 2.6 minutes from my memory. The contents of said minibar, I reasoned, were in the best position to help me do so.
As I nursed a restorative whiskey and reflected on some of my recent life choices, my reverie was interrupted by another commotion, this time from the room next door. The singer from the support band was apparently in the middle of an existential meltdown and – in a pique of postmodern rock star delusion – was attempting to slide a flat-screen television through the narrow opening of his hotel window.
Deciding this was definitely Someone Else’s Problem, I turned up the Patti Smith record I was playing, put a wet sock over the smoke sensor (tour tips freebie) and, using my own sliver of a window, I smoked the cigarette I’d been saving.
Just another night on tour with this lot.
Extracted from Runway Bird: A Rock ’n’ Roll Style Guide by Irina Lazareanu