Tonight is the night that Mik Whitnall, Babyshambles guitarist, unveils his solo career. Supporting him are a load of new bands apparently “of the highest quality and all primed to the peak of their stage rocking best”. Unfortunately, the night turns out to be a reminder never to believe what a promoter says. In the end, this was a real shambles of a night.
First up is a guy called Pete, who is named on the bill as Max Bianco. He’s Bob Dylan, singing like Pete Doherty. It’s not the worst music in the world, but it’s mighty boring. The harmonica that interrupts his mediocre vocals is reasonably likeable at first, but the crowd’s appreciation soon diminishes.
Unfortunately, things are about to get worse. What look like roadies turn out to be the aptly named Deadbeats: five over 40s from Cumbria who, for the next half hour, will try to recreate The Stone Roses and prog-rock at the same time. They’ve certainly got enthusiasm (the lead singer bounces up and down for at least part of every song), and a lot of friends who’ve travelled down especially, but their set is truly disillusioning.
Finally, relief comes in the shape of The Hazeltones. You can tell by looking at this trio that they’re going to be good: a girl who can’t be older than 16 plays drums and provides backing vocals to a genuinely charismatic frontwoman whose enthusiastic singing style injects real life into their soulful pop songs. They are accompanied by a man who plays keyboards like it’s second nature, and occasionally bring introduce friends to rap verses. Some of the rappers are questionable, but here, at least, is a band with talent.
There are soon whisperings that Mik is wasted – as there often are about Mr Doherty at Babyshambles gigs – but he comes onstage almost shaking with nerves and fumbling with his set list in a way that screams procrastination. He tells us not to expect much, but there is an air of eagerness in the room.
He kicks off with UnBiloTitled – fair enough, he wants to warm up the crowd with a familiar track. But what follows is a set consisting of off-beat covers of the likes of Babyshambles’ I Wish, The Libertines’ I Get Along, and even The Clash’s Police and Thieves, as well as a few old reggae tracks. In fact, as far as anyone could tell, Mik Whitnall didn’t write a single song in the set. The launch of a solo career? Not quite.
Set list aside, it’s far from a brilliant gig. Mik’s nerves get the better of him as he messes up guitar licks that he must have played a million times with Babyshambles. He coughs violently in between songs, blaming his voice (which, in actual fact, sounds alright) for the shaky quality of his performance.
He ends on Fuck Forever, “so you can sing along”. Forgetting the words, he invites an enthusiastic fan on stage to sing, who forgets the structure. Mik apologises for the set and slumps off stage. Shame about the nerves, but it was the lack of new material that was the real disappointment.