La dolce vita (with thanks to Pete and Kate)

Britain's first couple concluded their Italian tour last night, performing at the reopening of a club which epitomised the spirit of 1960s Rome
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Babyshambles' tour of Italy, which finished in Rome last night, has been a coup de theatre. Pregnancy, impending marriage, and the final gig in a newly reopened Roman club which once hosted Pink Floyd, Genesis and Nirvana ­ the whole confection has been a publicist's wet dream.

The caprices of Pete Doherty's girlfriend Kate Moss, the world's most bankable bad girl, have kept the audiences guessing all the way down the Italian peninsula. In Milan and Florence she showed up, duetting with her fiance on "La Belle e la Bete" and a few other songs, closely watched by her bodyguards.

In Turin and Rimini she didn't. By yesterday she had plainly had enough: paparazzi snapped her back at home in London.

Doherty's performance at Rome's Piper club for the last night of the tour lived up ­ or rather down to ­ expectations.

He splattered his band with red wine, finished glugging it then smashed the bottle, hurled a can of beer into the crowd then, when they chucked something back, went after them with a mic stand and could have done somebody a serious injury.

Having finished the wine and made a good dent in a bottle of vodka, he brought the evening to a rousing climax by by manhandling the amplifiers, smashing the drum set to pieces with another mic stand then lying down as if out for the count among the debris. Stirring himself, he gave a deep bow and tossed the crowd his trademark trilby. Despite the disturbing violence, which provoked boos, "fantastico" seemed the general verdict.

The surprise for those who only know of Doherty because of his drug busts and generally moronic behaviour away from the stage was that, in between the childish mayhem, the band was tight and quite good. Doherty himself looked much healthier than on his last appearance here, though God knows why. The words of which he is so proud were entirely inaudible but the audience knew them by heart so it didn't matter.

The venue for the gig, the Piper Club, first opened in February 1965 in what had been intended to become a cinema, and succeeded in catching the tail end of Rome's "Dolce Vita" period and the first phase of the rock revolution that began in the same year.

Few places in the world other than King's Road, Chelsea, were as trendy as Rome in the years when Fellini was making his crazy late pictures, Pasolini was still a force to be reckoned with, and the huge soundsets of Cinecitta, the movie studios built by Mussolini in Rome's eastern suburbs, were filled with bronzed, sweating American hunks like Kirk Douglas and Charlton Heston, making Spartacus and Ben Hur.

Where is the cultural intersection of those thundering big-screen epics of the ancient world and the world of LSD and the flower people, phenomena which seem to have nothing at all in common except unconscious camp? For several years it was the swish cafes of Rome's Via del Veneto, the cheap and delicious trattorias of Trastevere - and the Piper club.

The closest British equivalents were probably the UFO club, where Pink Floyd started, or Middle Earth in Covent Garden. But of course rock music was and remains an exotic genre in Italy, so the then-hip bands like Procol Harum and Small Faces and Van der Graaf Generator who adorn the Piper's history alternate with other foreign acts who they would be unlikely to rub shoulders with at Soho's Marquee club - the likes of Sandie Shaw and Pet Clark - and then a host of obscure, mostly Italian rock bands one has never heard of, The New Trolls? Mal and the Primitives? Iskra and the Tombstones?

But let it not be forgotten that Pink Floyd played here, two nights, 18 and 19 April 1968, with their original and best line-up.

And out of the melee of weird Italian group names a legend suddenly leaps out ­ Jimi Hendrix! Sadly he never played at the club ­ maybe Mal and the Primitives refused to make room for him on stage. He had just finished a gig at another Roman club, the Brancaccio, then piled into a Fiat 500cc with his Italian rock chick girlfriend Patty Pravo and headed over to the Piper to unwind. That was the sort of place it was.

"It was one of the most important clubs in Rome at the time," says Carlo Jarno, spokesman for the Babyshambles tour promoter. "It was an arty place in the beginning, with a cool light show, a psychedelic experience, Andy Warhol paintings on the wall and lots of artistic stuff going on inside. It was a dolce vita place, one of those places people felt they really had to see when they came to Rome in the 1960s and 70s.

It continued as a live venue into the 1980s, the last really big gig was Nirvana in the 1990s. Then it became a disco, which is how it's still being used now. The idea of starting live gigs again was that of Carlo Bornigia Junior's, the son of the owner. It's a good idea: it's one of the best venues we have in Rome, it's big enough with 1,400 capacity.

The club was launched by a lawyer, Alberico Crocetta, and Bornigia, a businessman, who became the sole owner when Crocetta went his own way.

"I had inherited a large car showroom from my father," Bornigia said last year on the club's 40th anniversary, "but my desire to create, with my friends, something really new for Rome in the sphere of entertainment led me to focus on the world of the night." He had no idea, he admitted, what he was getting into.

"None of us could have imagined that this new reality would definitively transform the habits of entire generations and of a bourgeouis quarter like Parioli.

"In those days lots of people wanted to go out and dance, and this little club was the only place to do it. Both for the kids and for VIPs it became the trendy thing to finish the evening at Piper."

The refurbishment of the club and its reopening last night just failed to coincide with the latest attempt by Rome's energetic mayor Walter Veltroni to re-establish the Eternal City as one of the world's most dynamic capitals: on Saturday Rome's first international film festival came to an end, having featured Roberto de Niro - who showed off his Italian passport - Nicole Kidman and Sean Connery.

By his audacious use of ancient sites like the Colosseum and the Massensio basilica to host rock concerts and literary festivals, Veltroni has certainly proved that Rome has some of the best wallpaper for cultural events of any city anywhere.

But does it have the buzz to go with it, the sort of creative voltage that saw Gore Vidal and Federico Fellini chewing over joint projects back in the 50s and 60s?

Clearly not. In place of the movie greats it has enormous crocodiles of tourists. Where once played Pink Floyd, there stands Pete Doherty. Places like Trastevere, pulsating with earthy Roman life 40 years ago, are now splattered with vomit and littered with broken beer bottles, the stamping ground of what the Roman press calls the "punkabbestia", beastly punks who sit on the ancient stone steps, boozing.

Doherty and his band have nonetheless won a cracking reception everywhere they have played in Italy, with or without Ms Moss. His sets may have been short but the audiences dug the way he seemed smashed out of his head from the first note, the way he flung himself carelessly into the crowd for a bit of body surfing, the joint he allegedly smoked on stage in Milan.

When Kate came out of the Milan club spattered in blood it was a nasty and inexplicable moment ­ but the whole Pete n' Kate phenomenon gives Italians a bit of a headache anyway. If she's so rich and gorgeous, why does she throw herself away on the guy?

The Italian women's weekly Grazia quoted an academic at the University of Montreal as explaining, "Music signals, to a potential partner, good physical, sexual and intellectual health: men who know how to write and perform songs are perceived as 'creative', in other words, better equipped for perpetuating the species." He must have had somebody completely dif ferent from Pete Doherty in mind.

Comments