Live: Peter Doherty / Luke Wright / Vona Vella / The Meffs

The Waterfront, Norwich April 24, 2023

by Paul Hammerton

It’s rare to arrive at a gig with so little idea of what the evening has to offer.

Ex-Libertine Peter Doherty performing a solo acoustic set? A single advertised support band with little public profile?

Yet those getting here not long after doors arrive to find a band already playing, and the stage times on display suggest a full and varied evening ahead.

Luke Wright is a welcome addition to the bill (Picture: Paul Jones)
Luke Wright is a welcome addition to the bill (Picture: Paul Jones)

It’s The Meffs who are already on – a duo from Essex, reminiscent of old-school punk such as early Piranhas.

Guitar/vocalist Lily Hopkins and drummer Lewis Copsey give enough to the building crowd to suggest a visit upstairs to The Waterfront Studio on May 16 for their headline tour will be a good night out.

We might even discover why drinking craft ale is “so modern”…

With barely enough time for a trip to the bar, next up are Vona Vella, and singer-songwriters Daniel Cunningham and Izzy D with their acoustic guitars give us wonderful harmonies.

It's a very different Peter Doherty compared with his visit here two decades ago (Picture: Paul Jones)
It’s a very different Peter Doherty compared with his visit here two decades ago (Picture: Paul Jones)

Their own material is catchy, although the stand-out song is a cover of The Fratellis’ Whistle For The Choir.

The close proximity of the noisy bar to the stage and a few sound problems means The Waterfront is not the ideal venue for this tuneful duo, but it would be great to see them back around here in the near future – the Arts Centre, maybe?

Before the headliner comes on act, there’s a treat with the appearance of poet and UEA alumnus Luke Wright, who’s here before joining Dr John Cooper Clarke’s nationwide tour.

In a rapid-fire interlude of poems from his new book Peak, we learn of the erotic allure of women in grey tracksuits, and that relating a tale of physical liaisons over pub grub really is possible using only words containing the vowel “u”.

A short but sweet set: Peter Doherty (Picture: Paul Jones)
A short but sweet set: Peter Doherty (Picture: Paul Jones)

In 2004, a wafer-thin, bare-chested Peter Doherty advanced above the frenzied crowd, hanging on to the pipework of The Waterfront’s ceiling. The near-religious adulation of many of his audience was somewhat disconcerting for an uncommitted fan.

Tonight, the difference is stark. A trilby-wearing Doherty appears, rounder in the face (but aren’t we all, nearly 20 years on?), with a broad smile on his face, and we’re treated to an hour’s-worth of solo acoustic tracks by a performer at ease with himself and enjoying the affectionate rapport with the sellout crowd.

Libertines’ songs are what people want, and he skilfully intersperses them with Babyshambles tracks and his newer solo material.

Peter Doherty's set comes at the end of a satisfying evening all-round (Picture: Paul Jones)
Peter Doherty’s set comes at the end of a satisfying evening all-round (Picture: Paul Jones)

For diehard Libertines fans, identification of the songs is perhaps instant, but one appeal of the evening for the rest of us is slowly identifying familiar tracks as the acoustic intros develop.

Songs such as Music When the Lights Go Out and Boys In The Band lead to melodic singalongs but it’s Babyshambles’ Albion that is the highlight of the night.

Accompanied by his pregnant wife on mouthorgan, their dog wanders around the stage, and the namechecks of a number of Norfolk towns get a cheer.

Headliner Peter Doherty (Picture: Paul Jones)
Headliner Peter Doherty (Picture: Paul Jones)

There are also a few unfamiliar songs that are performed with no introduction from Doherty. One of them provides a scathing view of unsolicited demo tracks while another seems to be a wry look ahead to the upcoming coronation. 

A slightly longer set from Doherty would have been welcome (What Became Of The Likely Lads, anyone?). But it’s a proper show, with four all acts making a good impression, and 2.5 hours-worth of solid entertainment on a Monday night in Norwich should be celebrated.

Roll on a future incarnation of Doherty entertaining us in another 20 years’ time, supported by a further set of new, exciting faces.

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