Last week I was just another boy in another band. Trying to entertain, have fun, and say something real about my life and my friends’ lives: playing to small but dedicated crowds far and wide across the UK, and basically just scraping by. I’m still scraping by and I’m proud of the people we have reached with our music and Rhymin’ Simons act – wondering how much further this is all going and where the journey ends.
Seven days later, I’ve become Pete Doherty’s new lead guitarist in his new band the Puta Madres. Somehow there seems to have been a mini-ripple through my shadowy end of showbiz and suddenly, I’m getting offered free shit all over the place – First Kooples offer me clothes (look out for Kooples clothing on eBay), Levi’s offer me some jeans (look out for Levi’s Jeans on eBay), a free hat from a fashion dude (which I later threw into the crowd) and important stuff like pedals and guitar strings… long may it continue, I say.
Then – boosh! Argentina. To meet Pete and begin to learn songs I’ve never heard. Burnt by the sun and eaten by mosquitoes, but probably the happiest and most liberated I’ve ever felt. Trying to get my head around Pete’s songs – so many little intricate gems, new and old. We fly back from South America. The plane is being hounded by lightning as it wobbles through the sky. After Sting, we’re re-opening The Bataclan in Paris for two nights. I defy mother nature or the devils of engine failure to stop us.
We arrive in London – quick wash, change of pants and socks. Then it’s a jump from Muswell Hill to The Eurostar to Paris. At the station I meet the rest of the band: Drew, Miki & Rhys (Miki’s boyfriend & I’m guessing new Roadie). We’re all feeling jetlagged, I’ve left my headphones in the house and I can’t listen to songs on the train. Disaster. I’ve only had a week with the songs and I need more listening time… but amazingly, Miki potters off to buy a drink and saunters back with some headphones – I’m full of love!
We check into the Eurostar and blast off. We’re in France before we know it. Pylons line the fields in the distance. Trees brush and blow in the wind. Hilariously the tunnels screw up everyone’s wi-fi. The smug-looking business guys checking their money on FTSE will have to wait an hour longer to find how much money they have lost or won by clicking round on their computers. How sad. Boo hoo.
We get to our hotel and check in: it’s opposite the Gare Du Nord. The walls are a calming pale blue. They make it easy to relax. I sit down in my chair. This feels different from sleeping in the back of my ex-Police Scotland Ford Focus estate with Wayne, the bass player in my band. Suddenly I feel thankful for all the hours I spent marooned in my tiny bedroom as a child teaching myself obscure guitar licks and writing below average lyrics. Luck has sought me out and found me. I’m going to do my best to make it welcome and hope it hangs around.
We are waiting for the call to go to Peter’s house for rehearsals. The hours are ticking by and it’s beginning to look less likely that there will be any rehearsals at all before one this momentous night. Peter is unwell – sounds about right.
I get a call from Peter’s manager saying our driver’s outside the hotel, and he’s been waiting there for two hours. What kind of crazy cab driver doesn’t ring you when he arrives and then waits for two hours outside on a cold night in Paris? Not a very bright one, obviously. He’s a shortish man with thick glasses and equally thick hair growing out of his ears. He drives at 15 mph all the way and misses every turning on the Tom Tom. Drew (using one of his many talents) has to teach him how to read the sat nav.
By the time we get to Peter’s house it’s so late we’re almost asleep. We say our huge, huggy hellos. Peter puts some logs on the fire and we begin to practise. The neighbours have complained about the noise so Rafa (the incredible Spanish gypsy drummer) is playing with spoons.
Unsurprisingly, we leave Peter’s to find the same taxi guy still outside. We smile and jump in and he takes us back to our hotel. Drew politely asks him to speed up. I don’t think the man hears him. There seems be too much hair around his ears.
It’s the morning of the show. I wake up at 10:25am. This is five minutes before free breakfast buffet closes. Despite the fact I’m never hungry, it feels like a crime to not go down to the buffet and completely stuff your face with as much food as you can when its free. So I do. Six croissants, two plates of scrambled eggs, two boiled eggs, three slices of toast, sauté potatoes, fruit, yogurt, coffee, (even though I don’t drink coffee) juice, until I feel so sick I have to go back to bed. Not well thought-through preparation for the biggest night in my life so far.
We are in the taxi on the way to The Bataclan and I can’t stop thinking about the evil monstrosity that happened here last year. It’s enough to make your blood run cold and give up on the human race. The significance of where we are about to go eats away at my stomach and my brain. I look up at Drew who puts a loving hand on my shoulder. I know tonight’s gonna be alright.
We arrive at the venue and we meet the fans who are already queuing outside. Lovely Helen and Beth and so many people I’ve got to know this year. I hear them say that this is the true reopening of the Bataclan. I can’t help but feel there was something very cynical about Sting’s last-minute reopening of the Bataclan – the day after his new album came out. The heavy feeling is hard to ignore. We soundcheck and the nerves settle. Rafa is playing drums like a demon tonight. It’s gonna be brilliant. I know it.
First up I do my support slot. I’m a Welsh boy speaking English to a French crowd. Reciting poems ‘Pound Land,’ ‘To Be a Libertine’ and ‘Health & Wellbeing.’ I play Leonard Cohen’s ‘Tonight Will Be Fine’. Everyone in the crowd is quiet and attentive. It’s unbelievable. You could hear a pin drop and although many of the people might not speak the same language as me it doesn’t seem to matter. I say ‘merci’.
Backstage, before we go on, Peter and I are talking. I never knew Nick Alexander, but we had some mutual friends. Tonight Peter has decided not to have a merchandise stand in his honour. Peter writes Nick’s name in huge letters across my chest and says if you don’t take your shirt off – I’ll rip it off. And so he does.
Miki, the brilliant violinist supreme walks on alone to play ‘La Marseillaise’… I see people faces moved to tears in the crowd – everyone is singing. It’s the biggest two cold fingers up to those useless monster c**** (twats) who caused so much pain to so many families.
I play a couple of notes, Peter starts singing and the set takes off. Peter is throwing everything into the crowd – guitars, mic stands, harmonicas, flags, you name it and it’s gone. Miki note-perfect on violin. Drew keeping everything together. Katia perfect on the Velvet’s cover ‘Ride Into The Sun’. Then, just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, Carl Barât shows up & does the guitar solo on ‘You’re My Waterloo’ and later in the set ‘Time For Heroes’. Songs from the new album take on a new significance tonight, especially the haunting ‘Flags of the Old Regime’, and the Paris attacks-inspired ‘Hell To Pay at the Gates of Heaven.’ I see girls with their hearts in their mouths and grown men welling up. Not many people can do this – only a select few in the whole world, and Mr Peter Doherty certainly is one.
I come off stage to see a gleaming Matt Bates (Peter’s proud agent from the start) and a whole host of friends whose faces say they have witnessed something special. Every teardrop and bead of sweat is dripping with triumph. I walk over to Rafa. He has broken down and is crying in the corner. I put my arm around him and ask if he is ok… he says, “30 years I busked on the streets – Peter saved my life. Tonight I have finally made it”. Just like that he hugs me and the sad water streams. You have made it, my boy. You bloody well have.
Trampolene releases new mini album ‘Pocket Album Five’ on November 25.