On March 17th Shane MacGowan was due to play his annual St. Patrick's Day London show, a kind of popular hogfest strictly for the lowest dregs of the Irish Diaspora. Of late he has, however, been doing interesting low key but high octane performances at The Boogaloo, a north London bar presided over by Gerry O'Boyle, a man I've known most of the time I've been in London. O'Boyle is an Irish Gatsby who has long specialised in the organisation of beautiful parties involving a-list celebrities and authentic bohemians. I've seen several of MacGowan's covert Boogaloo performances because my pal Carwyn Ellis has been playing there with Shane. The day before St. Patrick's he rang me to say that MacGowan was doing a Boogaloo show early the following night prior to going transmetropolitan to play for the savages awaiting him in Shepherd's Bush.
This was great but the real street beat news was that, this time, Pete Doherty was going to join him. I don't particularly rate The Libertines, an above-average Brit rock band, but know that Doherty has the artistic facility necessary for entering into that rarefied atmosphere occupied by McGowan, Lou Reed, and Bob Dylan. He's been reamed up the ass by the British media of late because of his drug stance, his relationship with Kate Moss, and his innate mastery of outcast style. He is the first London singer/songwriter (I use that term reluctantly. Most singer/songwriters should be put up against the wall and shot. Rufus Wainright first.) since MacGowan to capture the beauty and the beast of drug addled outsider life. Like McGowan, he bears positive comparison with Villon, Verlaine, and Rimbaud. And he dances like a slut on junk.
The bar was full of Murphia, self-congratulatory doing-well Irish. There was a stern door policy; the guest list was strictly enforced (though babes were in with a better chance than pretty boys). No cameras, controlled media, a feeding frenzy buzz in the air.
Doherty is currently released on bail under curfew, awaiting trial on blackmail and robbery charges, so he had to be out of circulation by 10pm. At 8 he took to the stage, watched by the still fit Ms. Moss, accompanied by a couple of his court jesters - Alan Wass of The Left Hand on guitar of sorts, Dot Allison on drums - and Carwyn on piano. I think they did four tunes,'Don't Look Back Into The Sun', 'Once Again...', 'What Katie Did' and 'Hired Gun' before McGowan joined them. Prophets of doom who've never lived the drug lifestyle yapped about how fragile Doherty looked, how much they hoped he wasn't about to snuff it, what a great album he'll make if he survives. This is just total bullshit; he looked great, he looked like a star, he looked like a winner. I used to hear this crap some twenty years ago about MacGowan. Indeed, I have yet to meet anyone who, having sighted Shane, hasn't confidently predicted his imminent demise. Ipredict that Doherty, who is supposedly going into the studio with Mick Jones in April to do a Babyshambles album, will make a heroic and substantial stance in defence of rock's most noble and decent values.
MacGowan looked well, thinner than the least few times I've seen him, seemed to be drinking a pint of water. His voice was in great shape. The two did Hank Williams' Lost Highway, The Pogues' Pair Of Brown Eyes, and Sam Cooke's Cupid. By the time they slid into Cupid the synergy was very real and once-in-a-lifetime. Gerry O'Boyle beamed like the cat that'd gotten the cream while a surge of energy went through the sauna-hot Boogaloo.
I've never ever seen MacGowan pay any attention to anyone sharing the stage with him but that night he kept looking over his shoulder, literally and metaphorically, nervously aware of an impish equal who couldn't stand still - while he could barely move. This was genuinely touching. Doherty looked so young alongside MacGowan, who looked so old alongside him.
The next day the Evening Standard reported mischievously, "With these two under the same roof, it would be wise to expect some sort of rumpus. But it was Moss, 31, who provided it. She was heard arguing with bouncers who tried to shield her from photographers. "Let go of me," she shouted, and: "Stop dragging me.""
I don't know if this is true and don't really give a shit. Her high profile dalliance with Doherty is really bruising Kate Moss' lucrative portfolio of modelling assignments. When I left The Boogaloo immediately after the superb and superbly short set I noted polished black Mercedes' and stout security meninblack gathered around the back entrance. One car to bring Doherty and Moss back to his rehab clinic, the other to take MacGowan to work.
Joe Ambroses's book, Moshpit Culture, extreme travel writing from within the moshing subculture, is published by Omnibus Press.
Joe Ambrose has written 12 books, the most recent being Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. He is currently writing a book about the Spanish Civil War.