Babyshambles: “The only reason we wouldn’t play is if Australia doesn’t let us in”

Babyshambles bassist Drew McConnell promises DAVID SWAN that the band will definitely be here in July, as long as border security don’t stop them.

It will take a special group of songs to overshadow the self-destructive force that is Peter Doherty, but that’s exactly what Brit-rockers Babyshambles are intending to do when they put out album number three this September. Despite years of tumult, during which Doherty has struggled with addictions and no less than 10 different band members have come and gone from the fold, the band are giving things another shot.

Bassist Drew McConnell is confident that they have what it takes. When I reach the chatty Brit, who is the band’s longest standing member other than Doherty, he talks with pride about the new record, Doherty’s efforts to keep clean and promises that (as long as border security don’t stop them) the band will definitely make it to our shores this July.

What’s the new Babyshambles stuff sounding like, and any word on a release date?

I would describe it as “Babyshambles-plus”. It’s all the elements that you’ve come to expect from Babyshambles but just cranked up, man. Everything’s jumping out of its skin. And we’re looking at September for a release date.

Any info you can divulge on album title, and number of tracks?

I don’t think I can tell you what we’re planning on calling it, but we definitely have an album title. I don’t want to say anything that’s going to come back to bite me in the arse, you know. We ended up recorded 18 songs, but we’ll end up with more like 12 or 13.

Did recording bits of the album in Paris have an effect on the album’s sound? Can you hear it in the tracks?

It had the effect of us focusing more. Decamping to Paris like that and plying up in a hotel that was right next to the studio meant that Stephen, Adam, the new drummer, Mick, myself and Peter were having breakfast together every day. We were making the record all day, and in the evening we’d go out for a meal together and go for drinks. So we were spending all of our time together; most of the time we were just talking about the record, talking about the songs. You’d see us shouting into each others ears at the corner of a bar at midnight, arguing about whether a song that we were about to record was in the right key. Whereas if we’d recorded in London, it’d be like, clock off at 9PM and everyone go home to your own house and come back into the studio at 11 o’clock and pick up your guitar and say “Where were we?” Being in Paris made us focus more and we got a more refined record as a result.

Were the band dynamics a lot more harmonious than previous albums? Did you get along a lot better?

Yes, is the short answer to that. I kept waiting for something to go wrong, man. I kept pinching myself, and thinking “This is going too well, what the fuck?” Everyone was playing really well, and the songs didn’t take too many takes. It was just good, it was a good time. And like you were saying, we were all getting along; we were all pulling in the same direction.

Peter and the band romanticise Britain and British culture in your songs, but what was it about British culture that drove him overseas?

I think you might need to ask him that question, but the way I see it is it allowed him some breathing space. They still know who he is in Paris but they just seem really respectful, they’ll come up and they’ll ask for a photograph or they’ll say they love his poetry. Whereas when Pete and I walk down the street in London, there’ll be two youths in Fred Perry’s and they’ll come up and wrap their arms around his neck and go “Oi mate, get the fuck off drugs mate, what are you doing you twat!” And it’s like seconds before Peter was calmly discussing Baudelaire, and before you know it he’s got two thugs yelling at him about drugs – it’s nuts. It tests his temperament. Whereas in Paris he’s really calm. Way more calm than he is in London. I’m really happy we made the record there.

“Pete and I walk down the street in London and someone will wrap their arms around his neck and go ‘Oi mate, get the fuck off drugs mate!’ ”

You won the 2006 Naomi Award for “worst live act” have you improved since then?

[Laughs] I’ve never heard of those awards, but certainly back in the day there were some gigs that were better than others, I won’t lie. But that was part of the band. A real, honest thing. When we were on tour sometimes, I’d walk off stage thinking “that was terrible”, and sometimes I’d walk off thinking “we are literally the best band in the world.” I’m the straight guy, my perception isn’t altered in any sense. And I don’t know, maybe those Naomi guys caught us on a bad night.

Do you feel like you’re more consistent now with your live shows – and that these ones coming up will go smoothly?

I think so. Of course it’s hard to know until you do it, and I don’t want to tempt fate, but if the rehearsals are anything to go by it’s sounding amazing. And Adam Faulkner, the new drummer, he’s just solid as fuck.

How was that transition getting him into the band?

I’ve known Adam really well. We’ve played together before in a band called Hey Tourists with John Robinson, who wrote some of the songs with us on this new Babyshambles record. And as a bass player and a drummer we really gel. So the short answer is “yes he’s going great”.

A lot of people have quit the band for various reasons over the years, what’s kept you in the band?

Initially my love of music, my love of the music I make with Peter. Basically I feel like I’d probably put up with anything if I think the music is good enough. Other people don’t really necessarily feel that way. I made the decision at a very young age that music was going to be the most important thing, and I know that finding a chemistry with another musician like I have with Peter is a once in a lifetime thing. So it’s not something I’m going to walk away from easily.

You’re heavily involved in “Love Music Hate Racism”, the anti-racism collective. Racism is a really hot topic in Australia at the moment, are we just at the start of that road, is there a lot more that needs to be done?

Yeah there always will be. You’ve got to keep trying to stamp it out. It’s like cancer, it just keeps coming back. You can never rest on your laurels, you’ve always got to be aware that at any given second it’s going to come back in a new form. In the ‘70s it was the Caribbean immigrants, in the ‘90s it was the Indians and Pakistanis, and now it’s the Muslims [who are vilified]. It’s all just an excuse, it’s all an excuse. The reason is that the government is feeding people excuses to feed their hate. It’s based on nothing other than fear and ignorance. I don’t know what’s going over in Australia but it needs to be challenged at every juncture. It can never be normalised, people can’t get used to racist behaviour, you need to pull people up on it straight away. Casual racism is bullshit. I could rant like this for hours.

You’ve cancelled gigs all over the place for various reasons. Is there an iron clad guarantee that the band will make it to Australia?

The only reason that Babyshambles wouldn’t make it to Australia is if Australia doesn’t let us in. We’ve got our flights booked, we’re coming over. If we don’t play, it’s because we got to Sydney Airport and we were turned around. It’s definitely happening, and I’ll see you there.

Babyshambles Splendour sideshows

Thursday, July 25 – Palace Theatre, Melbourne

Sunday, July 28 – Enmore Theatre, Sydney

Monday, July 29 – HQ Complex, Adelaide

Wednesday, July 31 – Metro City, Perth