On a cool breezy early May evening bustling youths could be found littering the streets of Leamington Spa; they’re dressed like culture guzzling scenesters as they drink from cans and draw breath between cigarette draughts in an air of anticipation. The Assembly Hall stands modestly amidst a diner and a nightclub, a short distance from the central parade.
The venue doesn’t look particularly spectacular from the exterior, but inside the stairwell paves way to an art-deco wonder hall of architectural splendour – shapes and intricacies that even the Romans would have been proud of. Previously a ballroom and once a bingo hall, on this night the building played host to ex-tabloid fodder and eternal Libertine Pete Doherty. Although now on a firm streak of maturity – he is billed as ‘Peter’.
He is late. Perhaps this time the reason is down to the traffic on the M40, but in all honesty this kind of anarchic behaviour has come to be expected of the Babyshambles frontman, and in any case the fans are less bothered about the wait these days. A mere 40 minutes behind schedule, the crowd have been waiting long enough for the levels of excitement to rise, yet not quite long enough for waves of agitation to sweep across the standing masses.
Semi-surprisingly, the venue has not been packed out to its full capacity, perhaps revealing once and for all the kind of sway bestowed in the reigns of the media. It’s been a bit quiet on the ‘Potty Pete’ front of late – from the tabloid presses to the quality music mags – and could it be that the reflection falls on ticket sales?
Fortunately for Pete, his talent and allure can stand strong long after the headlines have swarmed like locusts to leech his worth and vanish with the remains, for he has evident longevity. He has a loyal following too – young and older impressionables alike flock to him like some kind of prestigious god – the leader of the lost, and now on this night he had returned to the midlands; an area he can announce as a ‘home’ after spending part of his adolescence growing up in Bedworth.
Fans were certainly happy to see his return and so, after a few false starts, Peter burst onto the stage with a confidence hard earned after years of spotlight familiarity, with his tall glass of alcoholic coke in hand and his trilby perched proudly on crown – his cigarette still alight after entering from the stage door – and he’s looking good too! Washed hair, a trim physique, and no obvious signs of grubby fingers. The crowd screamed on before their icon, and Pete set up to open with ‘Killamanjiro‘ after a brief but meaningful apology for his later than planned appearance.
From the first note Doherty delivered an energetic and charismatic set which felt as fresh and relevant as when the songs were first written, demonstrating without cause to prove the indispensable passion Pete has relentlessly possessed as a songwriter and performer. The majority of the set alternated between past favourites penned historically by himself and Carl Barat during The Libertines’ heyday, and otherwise choices from the Babyshambles repertoire. ‘New Love Grows on Trees‘ and ‘Last of The English Roses‘ broke through noticeably as solo album ‘Grace/Wastelands‘ material, and one particularly nice touch came from a performance of ‘For Lovers‘ – a Wolfman song played with the addition of ballet dancers who joined Pete on stage for a few of the other softer numbers.
Despite this being an acoustic show, the set seemed to fit Pete’s particular mood of the day and the majority of songs were certified peppier numbers such as ‘Can’t Stand Me Now‘, ‘Time for Heroes‘ and an encore featuring ‘Fuck Forever‘. Every song was played with vigour and expression, often set apart by flamenco style outbursts and freeform instrumentals. It was certainly refreshing to hear ‘The 32nd of December‘ along with ‘Bollywood to Battersea‘; songs which are often neglected from some of the more current live shows. Occasionally Pete relies on his audience’s familiarity to fill-out songs and stands back to await the chanting to hook lines and series of ‘oh oh oh ohs’, himself jiving and circling the stage to a rhythm of his own. A fantastic display of artist to fans interplay.
Other points of interaction involved tossing unopened cans into the sea of ravenous scamps – receiving back the empty ones foaming as they hit the stage, and then capping his performance by launching his plugged guitar centre field. Just shy of two hours and the room had been thoroughly charmed by Doherty’s infectious enthusiasm and Irish shindig style tomfoolery… Even the security staff appeared enraptured at one point.
The generation defining ‘Albion‘ was one of the last songs of the night, and support artist Alan Waas returned to the stage after an earlier mediocre singer-songwriter performance to have another blast at his mouth organ. The moment was well received.
The night ended as it began, with dishevelled rogues and snappy dressers dripping steadily out of the Assembly and disappearing into the woodwork of Leamington’s silent streets. The last contenders lingered on to buy t-shirts and lighters in honour of their idol – let’s just hope that Pete is saving his merchandise fund for something useful.