Included among the Evening Standard’s pick of 2008’s rock books, Beg, Steal or Borrow tells the tale of how Peter Doherty founded Babyshambles, in the wake of his pained departure from The Libertines, and how the band have fared since.
Written in a largely quote-based format, readers can discover exactly what the book’s protagonists remember about their respective journeys, which encompass, among manifold other incidents: spells in prison; the riots resulting from no-shows at gigs; the chaotic circumstances under which Down In Albion, The Blinding EP and Shotters Nation were recorded; the frenzied media reaction to Peter’s Live8 duet with Elton John; bedlam in Ibiza; the truth behind why the band missed out on a support slot with Oasis; arrests in Norway, en route to the Oya Festival, and in Sweden, for the Hultsfred Festival; dangerous drug-hunting excursions; visits to rehab; blood-squirting controversies; the kidnapping of a friend; the messy Transmission performances; the crucial Get Loaded show, and other festival appearances; paparazzi punch-ups; easing tensions with former fellow Libertine, Carl Barât; and, of course, the most important stuff of all – the music.
Synopsis: Babyshambles. Raw, personal and approachable. Unpredictable and intense. Creating blazing
anthems, they – like their legions of fans – are as comfortable in a skanky old back room of a pub as they are
on the big stage. The band and, most dramatically, frontman Peter Doherty, are now embedded in the public
consciousness as a consequence of the tabloid feeding frenzy that follows Peter wherever he goes.
In their early days, however, the band made only tentative steps towards widespread public recognition.
Predominantly embraced by fans of ex-Libertine, Peter – whose staggered, messy exit from the band he
formed with Carl Barât was played out under the scrutiny of the public eye – the birth of Babyshambles
was overshadowed by the Libertines’ split and the widely reported attempts by Peter to overcome his crack
and heroin addiction.
Despite the gross, tabloid-generated caricature of Peter, the band’s reputation as credible artists gathers pace,
their music reaching a wider and more appreciative audience not solely on the back of the circus their
frontman has inadvertently created. Two albums in, Babyshambles have grown to become one of the music
industry's most unpolished pearls.
Surviving the kind of knocks that might have seen lesser bands call it a day, while producing some of the
freshest, most exciting music around, the learning curve hasn't been realised with a great many growing
pains. They have made it through deep personal loss, betrayal, incarceration, severe addiction, numerous no
shows and annihilation in certain sections of an ever-observant media.
Initially a vehicle of creativity and freedom of expression that delivered Peter from what he grew to regard as
the increasingly dispiriting, commercially-driven grind of life with The Libertines, Babyshambles have
blossomed into a band in their own right. And now, some six years after the band’s earliest, inauspicious
shows, it could well be the right time to pose the question: are they standing on the frontier of greatness, or
destined for the gutter?
Writing Samples: Back in London, during a three-night residency at The Rhythm Factory on the 17th, 18th and
19th of January, Peter stumbled his way through three-hour mammoth shows, meandering from one song to
another without performing them in anything like their entirety, and falling into Adam's drumkit as the
audience stared on in disbelief, most leaving before the end.
More elongated jams than the usual medley of tunes, the disjointed songs lasted a good half-an-hour each.
In between, Peter lurched across the stage and fell asleep standing up, blinking himself awake to pick up
where he left off; if he could remember. The edginess on stage transferred to the audience, who were divided
as to their loyalty: one half were heartbroken and angry at the sight of an icon in freefall; the other rooting for
him to turn it around.
ADAM (FICEK, BABYSHAMBLES DRUMMER): "He was out of his tree, with no coherency whatsoever. It got so
bad that at one point people were scratching their heads in dismay, wondering what was going on, before
sloping off home. In those situations I just grit my teeth, lock onto Drew, and hope for a swift conclusion."
DREW (McCONNELL, BABYSHAMBLES BASSIST): "He got it into his head that we were going to play every
single song that we've ever recorded. I was so shattered, it was horrible. We played for so long that I think
there were only about thirty people in the room when we finished playing. I remember looking at the floor, at
the dance floor, and there were people falling asleep in the corner, near the bar. The bar staff had packed up
the bar, wiped the tables down. Peter stayed around, played some half-finished song that he’d written a
couple of days ago or something. That wasn’t rehearsed – just played the whole thing from memory."
An event that had been in the making since May came to fruition on the 27th of August 2006, as a long, hot,
stressful summer drew to an end. Turnmills owner Danny Newman had been searching for an act to headline
that summer's Get Loaded In The Park festival – the third of its kind – and with the Reading/Leeds festival
falling on the same weekend, he was under pressure to deliver.
Beginning life as a weekly Thursday night event held at Turnmills, a friend of his suggested taking the
Get Loaded concept to a bigger stage – namely, Clapham Common, which could hold up to twenty thousand
people. In earlier years, the event brought bands such as the Happy Mondays, The Farm and Flowered Up
back together to perform but, not wanting to be pigeon-holed as a promoter of nostalgia gigs, Danny needed
an emerging force that would appeal to a new generation of festival-goers; and a band capable of shifting
tickets – quickly.
Danny had experienced at close quarters Babyshambles' riotous stage act, the band playing Turnmills in
August 2004 – a night he described as "mad, shambolic fucking madness," with pints thrown and property
smashed. Thankfully, the experience wasn't enough to deter him from taking a high-risk punt, figuring that
each party could do the other some good: Danny needed a fresh, edgy headline act, at a stage where tickets
for Get Loaded should already have been on sale; Babyshambles needed focus, unity and a major platform
on which to prove that they had what it took to jostle for prominence at the forefront of the British
A twenty-four concern, Danny regarded that year's Get Loaded operation as a "day-by-day-by-day thing."
At no stage did he dare look too far ahead, the precariousness of his situation exacerbated when shouldering
much of the weight Adam in particular had been lumbered with in previous months. Danny had been wary of
pushing Peter too far and risk damaging the trust that had built up between them; and yet realised that, if
Peter was left to his own devices, he could be staring disaster in the face come late August.
With media interest in Peter mushrooming by the day and the police knocking on Turnmills' door in search of
an easy tug, Danny spent much of the summer on tenterhooks. He would give the paparazzi the slip when
driving Peter to and from Turnmills, repel the countless negative influences more interested in persuading
Peter to bankroll drugs binges than allow him time to recover and recuperate, and try to ease the concerns
of the doubters – his corporate backers among them. And now that he had assumed Adam’s responsibilities,
he would handle the largely fraught task of overseeing the organisational side of things.
It was decided that another single, The Blinding, would be recorded at Turnmills, and given away with
Get Loaded sponsor The Big Issue – another publication that put the band on its front cover – to encourage
sales. Former Happy Mondays keyboardist Dave Parkinson – a friend of Danny's – landed the job of producing
the track, having been sitting in the studio when Adam walked in to discuss it with Danny. The trio chatted a
while, whereupon Dave was asked whether he fancied the job. He gladly accepted but, racked with nerves
and eager to impress, he drank so readily that he can barely remember the first time he met the rest of the
band. In possession of a patchy, at best, memory of the encounter, Dave did recall Peter saying that he
wouldn't last "two seconds," which hardly filled him with optimism for the task ahead.
From near-universally-maligned, so-called shambolic beginnings to a widely-acclaimed second album and
arena tour, a transformation achieved on the back of a rollercoaster ride of intense highs and lows.
But while the band's music has grown from a wiry, scrappy nucleus into a tight, muscular sound, the air of
unpredictability that has underpinned Babyshambles from the start remains. Turning up for a gig still means
not quite knowing what you’re going to get, what's going to happen. And, though far less so nowadays, if
anything'll happen at all.
Morphing from an interchanging cast of musicians into a solid collective, the songwriting has swung from the
Peter/Patrick axis to far more of a shared process. As Drew explains: "The whole approach to knocking a song
into shape is more of a forward thing now than it was before, which is great. It makes you feel more
accomplished when you’re involved in that kind of thing."
Undoubtedly the spearhead of the band, the predominantly negative perception of Peter attracts the wrong
kind of attention, the music too frequently lost amid the rubble of gossip-mongering. It is somewhat ironic
that treading the path of a libertine has in so many ways compromised his freedom, his gross,
tabloid-generated caricature ensuring that Middle England's brow – and countless others, besides – remain
firmly furrowed, ignorant to the unwavering invasion into his personal life and the strength required not to
crumble under such gigantic pressure.
"Honniball…has clearly been granted extraordinary access to Pete Doherty and the motley
crew of musicians and assorted hangers-on who inhabit the chaotic world of
Babyshambles." (The Guardian)
"Honniball has secured interviews with the band and his book distils the court appearances,
crack pipes, used needles and no-shows into a clear narrative." (Q)
"This book gives an amazing insight into the members of the group, charting their wayward
journey from playing tiny gigs to headlining large summer festivals." (The Sun)
"Like all good horror stories, this is gripping stuff." (Mojo)