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Tome On The Range

Confessions Of A Blagger: Carl Barat's Threepenny Memoir Reviewed
Ben Myers , October 22nd, 2010 12:22

Carl Barat's new tome doesn't shrink away from embracing ugly self-truth - and according to Ben Myers, is subsequently far worthier of praise than the the tortured scribblings of Pete Doherty

It’s 1998 and I’m on my way to see a band at King’s College when I’m accosted on The Strand by two wildly enthusiastic lads in blazers. They’ve either sussed out I work for a music paper or are in the habit on stopping anyone.

"We’re in a band called The Strand," says the lanky one. "We’re brilliant."

"Do you want a badge?" says the other. "We’re going to be massive."

Getting flyers shoved into your hand by bands proclaiming their greatness is not uncommon in London, especially in the late 90s when anyone with good shoes could get signed. But for some reason I still remember these two today. Their forwardness and wide-eyed enthusiasm was endearing, but their dorky clothes and crappy name suggested otherwise. Britpop is over, I think. And thank fuck for that.

Four years later I’m sat in the 100 Club interviewing the same two lads – Carl Barat and Pete Doherty - on the release day of their debut album Up The Bracket. They’ve changed their name to The Libertines, are still wildly enthusiastic but a little frayed around the edges. Their stream of consciousness interview is so full of non-sequiturs, drug tales, romantic declarations, arguments and threats that I suddenly understand why crazy Pastafarian girls, trainee teachers and kids from the home counties follow them Pied Piper-like around the city. They talk so quietly that we have to huddle around the dictaphone and I get high on Doherty’s rancid halitosis. Then another four years later I find myself in Camden talking to Barat as he scratches his head, wondering where it all went wrong.

I mention all this because my memories of viewing the Doherty-Barat romance from afar tallies with Barat’s in Threepenny Memoir. And I mention these locations because this is as much a story about London.

The more gentlemanly of the duo, Barat adopts a non-linear narrative that jumps between cocaine deals, tour bus trysts, his early years spent careering between a Basingstoke council estate and the traveller’s site on which his mother lived, cells, hospitals, Parisians parks, squats, Brazilian beaches, and always with grimy London as the anchor. Musical epiphanies are scant, Barat instead citing David Niven as his true hero, while the phrase "I had romanticised it completely out of proportion" pops up a lot and speaks volumes of Barat’s approach to life.

There’s not a great many laughs in Threepenny Memoir. It’s an ash-flecked, blocked nostril of a tale, forever afraid of the dawn sun chinking through the union jack curtains. As Dirty Pretty Things’ ropey second album – recorded on Californian meth-amphetamine - bombs, the comedowns linger and Barat’s self-doubt and anxiety rises to the fore. Cue much therapy, soul-searching and a solo album.

But Barat is a likable host with a good turn of phrase and unafraid to present the ugly truth, unlike Doherty’s scribblings which perennially casts himself as innocent victim of circumstance. Barat is more fragile than expected and as surprised as anyone to find himself in the limelight. He knows he’s blagged it all, and that somehow makes this sordid tale of youthful hedonism all the more palatable.

Click here to buy Threepenny Memoir.

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