Far from a shambles, baby
SINCE his time living in Falmouth, Drew McConnell's life has certainly been eventful.
He joined Babyshambles at the height of Pete Doherty's tabloid-baiting behaviour, but then tragedy struck.
In July 2011, a car ran a red light and crashed into the bassist's bike in east London.
He suffered horrendous injuries, breaking three vertebrae, five ribs, a shoulder and a knee.
Buy one get one free on main course and specials excludes fillet steaks and beef wellingtons
Must book to qualify and present voucher on arrival 01209860332
Contact: 01209 700617
Valid until: Wednesday, December 11 2013
It seemed that a new Babyshambles album wasn't exactly on the band's minds, especially as Doherty had moved to Paris and started an acting career.
However, they're back with their best album yet, Sequel To The Prequel, and Drew is heading back to the South West for a gig at Exeter University on Sunday, October 20.
Talking on a tour bus heading to Glasgow Barrowlands, Drew told me: "My accident was a contributory factor to the new album, but it's been a long journey.
"I basically had to learn to walk again. There was a point after three or four months when I could hobble about with crutches that I had the urge to get out of London.
"When I was young my family moved to Tenerife so I went back to a little village with no internet or anything.
"I started playing guitar and realised that every time I played the pain went away. It's like when you're little and you're watching TV and your parents are talking to you and you can't hear them – you're so zoned out.
"I played a lot and it resulted in a lot of songs, which I presented to Pete and Mik (Whitnall, guitarist)."
You may have a preconceived idea of what a Babyshambles member would be like, largely down to which newspapers you read and what they choose to print about Doherty and his often shambolic, drug-fuelled lifestyle.
But Drew is one of the friendliest, most genuine musicians I've come across. And, guess what, he doesn't take drugs, drink or even smoke.
I had no idea he'd lived in Cornwall until we got chatting.
Of life in the band, he said: "Pete living in Paris really isn't a problem. It's quicker to get there from London than it is Cornwall.
"I know, because I lived in Falmouth for two years. Basically, after a bust-up with my dad, I grabbed my skateboard and bass and left home.
"I went to Marseilles first, but it got a bit hairy so I came back. Some mates had moved to Falmouth, I called them up and they told me to move down.
"It's one of the most beautiful parts of the world. I had a little house next to Jacob's Ladder overlooking the marina in Vernon Place. I was there when I was 18 to 20, in 1999 to 2001.
"I tried to start a few bands there – I've been forming bands ever since I left home. I played with a friend of mine, Jackson Payne, who's the son of Davey Payne from the Blockheads. It was quite a creative little space – another friend in Falmouth was the poet Molly Naylor. The art college was full of remarkable young artists."
Drew was keen to hear how Falmouth had changed in the ensuing decade. I told him about the development of Falmouth University, the growth in local arts, from music and theatre to art, and how the town itself was flourishing with many new venues.
"I'm writing all this down – I think I may have to visit after we finish this tour. When I was there, the only venues were the Paradox and the Pirate. Much as I loved living there, the only drawback was how insular it felt, but it sounds like a lot has changed.
"I think about Cornwall a lot actually because the holding branch of my bank is still in Truro. My overdraft has probably caused them to go bust ...."
Sequel To The Prequel has been receiving rave reviews. How did it come together?
"We knew we had a really good collection of songs before we even thought about recording. We realised we were ready, but our label Parlophone wasn't! They wanted a complete set of demos first before they agreed to anything, which was fair enough.
"The band was really excited about the end result. We thought, 'quick call Stephen Street'!"
Street, of course, is the producer behind records by everyone from The Smiths to Blur, Kaiser Chiefs, Babyshambles' own Shotter's Nation and Pete Doherty's solo album, Grace/Wastelands.
"We've worked with Stephen so much now – you just know that he's not going to let anything that's not the best performance on the record. He's a safety net.
"Sometimes when you're in a band your judgment gets clouded; you get demo-itis where you think 'what are you talking about, five verses are better than one, we don't need a chorus,' things like that.
"We trust Stephen Street with our songs – we defer to his authority about arrangement."
I had to ask Drew about the media circus that surrounds being in a band with Pete Doherty.
"More than anything it's just embarrassing – I can tell you're not one of them, but most journalists make the error that all people want to read about is what rippled up into a lava of fetishised shock back in 2006.
"The truth is what's written is so distorted; 90 per cent is made up.
"There's so much more to talk about on a musical level – people who are into Babyshambles are probably more interested in reading about Pete's literary influences."
Most importantly, after his brush with death how's Drew's health?
"Good, man. I've got to keep up the physiotherapy, swimming and the gym. My spine was broken in three places – it hasn't healed completely straight. My doctor advised me to concentrate on my core strength otherwise it will keep bending.
"I don't want to go through any more surgery as I had four operations after the accident.
"I'm definitely fitter than I was before, there's no more rock'n'roll lifestyle. I actually gave up smoking and other things before the accident and have now stopped drinking. Productivity has gone through the roof – I'm an advert for quitting drinking.
"I suppose it is ironic that I'm in a band like Babyshambles – how the mighty have fallen."
Though he might not be the only one to get healthy.
"Funnily enough, in the hold of our tour bus we have a set of folding bikes.
"The band and crew will discover all the cities we are visiting while riding them. I'm sure much hilarity will ensue.
"If you're coming to see us in Exeter look out for a pack of dishevelled London wolves on bikes."
For tickets to the gig at Exeter University's Great Hall see www.seetickets.com