An Evening with Pete Doherty, Hackney Empire, London

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Hard drugs, brushes with the law, rows with Kate Moss: such, one imagines, is a typical evening with Pete Doherty. But this promised to be different. It was billed as a night of music, poetry and special guests, curated by Doherty in a bid to remind us that beneath the tabloid infamy there beats the heart of a true artist.

In the event there was no poetry, which I suspect was no great loss, and the specialness of the guests was questionable. Bert Jansch, of the folk-rock band Pentangle, made an appearance – “I’m an old man from the 1960s,” he remarked in an avuncular manner – to perform his anti-heroin song “Needle of Death” with an unrepentant- looking Doherty. That was quite special.

Moss, introduced by the singer as his “beautiful fiancée”, also skipped on stage briefly to reprise her vocal turn on the Babyshambles track “La Belle et la Bête”. And two rappers turned up, their collaborations with Doherty proving an implausible highlight of the evening: him strumming a guitar and singing wayward vocals hymning London’s lowlife, the rappers providing gritty verses about street violence.

The other “special” guests included a young man in a hat who honked out terrible songs about drugs, and a Rastafarian ex-con Doherty befriended in prison, who joined him for a dubious reggae number. Hmm.

For the bulk of the show Doherty performed alone on stage. By his standards it was a professional outing: it began on time, there were no on-stage fistfights, he was lucid and upright. Yet my patience wore thin.

It is not that he lacks talent. His lyrics mythologise his lifestyle with wit and imagination: one new song referenced St Jude, patron saint of lost causes, another was about the lethal temptress Salome. His singing, a punch-drunk mix of Joe Strummer and Morrissey, had a vagrant charm. But the songs were rambling and frail. Most had the kernel of a melody but lacked the discipline to develop it, and as one bled into the next my interest waned. A dull evening with Pete Doherty? That I hadn’t expected.
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