Few artists in history have created more headlines than the erstwhile Libertines and Babyshambles frontman.
Now, apparently off drugs, and with THAT relationship behind him, he's putting his band to one side and releasing a solo album. In a world exclusive Pete Doherty talks to Clash about his desire to silence the critics once and for all.
Interviewed in early December in Paris by Clash Editor Simon Harper, below is the full, uncut transcript of the article which appears as the cover story of Issue 34 of Clash, out Thursday January 8th.
How was today for you, Peter?
Yeah, it was a bit of a pleasant surprise, really. I was gonna say that I’m not used to this kind of bright lights and free clobber, but yeah, when I think about it, it does happen now and again. But it was refreshing. It was peaceful, and they were really nice people. So probably comparatively stress-free compared to how things generally get.
You’ve been in Paris for a while, haven’t you?
I have, yeah. I suppose I’ve been living there, really.
What’s the difference between living there instead of London?
To be honest, once I’ve got my head down and I’m scribbling away or strumming away, there’s not a great deal of difference, except there’s no cats in Paris where I am...although there was a stray kitten that kept turning up. And I’ve got heaters in my place in England - it was freezing in Paris. Absolutely brass monkeys.
I’ve had far too many coffees and far too many cigarettes... Actually that’s not possible at all - you can’t have too much coffee or too much cigarettes
Apparently you weren’t really bothered while you were in France - the people left you alone. Was that the case?
Yeah. It’s really strange; people would stop me in the street every two minutes in Paris to tell me how it must be great not being stopped in the street every two minutes. The thing about Paris is there’s more of an innocence to it; it’s more school kids and music fans. No one shouts out drug-related stuff or anything...
So that’s by-the-by in France, it’s you as an artist first and foremost?
Yeah. I don’t think anyone can really care less.
What was an average day for you in Paris?
Honestly? (Smiles) I’ve been getting up, I’ve been going for a little stroll, I’ve had far too many coffees and far too many cigarettes... Actually that’s not possible at all - you can’t have too much coffee or too much cigarettes. I made a few friends. There’s a lot of people, English people, who live in Paris, who go to Paris a lot, who love Paris, but have a problem with the French. I did find that, so I made quite a few friends. Just exploring, really. I love the way you can walk by the river, you know? Down by the enclaves. I don’t know if you know Paris?
Only from watching films.
It’s just like that; you can live in a film. You can just go along and before long you come across a group of musicians with Django-style guitars and spliffs, just sat round jamming and shouting at each other.
It’s obviously a city with a rich artistic heritage; it’s been home to everyone from Rimbaud and Verlaine to Picasso.
Rimbaud and Verlaine, they ended up in London, didn’t they? They had a thing for London. Yeah, there’s definitely an energy to it [Paris]. I know they’ve got severe social problems though. There was some kind of stand-off - I’m not sure exactly what as going on, but there was quite heavily armed riot police on one side - this was only two weeks ago - and there was a huge mob of Africans [on the other]. I don’t think they were French-Africans, it was like pure Africans - it was some kind of immigration thing - but it was a proper stand-off and it was absolutely terrifying. There was a full-on riot in Gare du Nord as well, not that long ago.
Did you get right in the middle of it?
You’re joking, aren’t you? I wasn’t in the middle of it at all. Those days are gone. I don’t think it’s clever to cover your face up, lob a rock at a policeman and then run away. I think it’s fairly middle-class and prosperous in a lot of the central areas of Paris. You’ve got those huge estates - what do they call them? It’s these complexes where they put a lot of the second generation immigrants. I wouldn’t fancy being a single female on the tube in Paris though.
Let’s talk about the album. Some people might say that Babyshambles is essentially a solo vehicle, so is this a big departure from the usual for you?
I’m quite confused about what exactly it is, because for your Babyshambles aficionado, you know, I don’t wanna be offensive, but your true Libs head or a Shambles head or a Doherty head is gonna look at this list of songs and think, ‘Hang on, I know that one, and that one’s been around for years...’ Although a lot of the songs haven’t ever been recorded or released, they have existed for some time, but they’ve always been songs that, to be honest, I’ve never felt comfortable playing them. Whenever I’ve tried to bring them up in rehearsals or in different album sessions, they’ve just never been able to find their feet really. Stephen Street is like an unmanned planet, if you like. He sets his stall out... I’m quite easily swayed. Not that I don’t believe in myself, but if Stephen Street turns around and says, “This is a great song and I wanna record it and it’s going on the album”, then bang, we’ll go along with it.
Do you think the songs had to mature to where they are now, or was now just the right time and place?
I don’t know. I’m really curious to find out what people honestly think of them - particularly critics, because in a way you can kind of bank on certain people’s opinions, you know? You know that if someone’s into you then they’re into you, whereas critics are gonna look at it less subjectively and pick holes if you like. That’s what I’m waiting for really.
It’s your name on the album. Is this a pure instillation of who you are and what you want to do?
Yeah, and that’s something that I’m wary of as well.
Um... They kept telling me in rehab that I had self-esteem problems, so I went along with it, but it didn’t really register. But now, I can really see that, because I can’t... I dunno. I don’t really believe people when they tell me that they love the record or they enjoy listening to the songs. Maybe I’m just warped, you know?
You must have too much time to think about it. For music fans, new songs appear instantly, but you have to live with them from conception through to release. That’s a lot of time to think about things.
All I want to do really is sit down and record twelve, thirteen, fourteen brand new songs that no one’s ever heard before and put them out, and do that once a week or once a month for the rest of my life. That would be my ideal career.
You used to put songs direct online for fans to download...
That’s what I’m trying to do. It’s an insurance policy, if you like, so if at any point someone says, ‘Hang on a minute, there’s a version of this song that dates back to 1972.’ I’d say, “Yeah, well first of all I wasn’t born then, and secondly, look, listen, I put this one out two weeks ago. It’s a bit scratchy but it’s brand new, and the lyrics are terribly good.”
So what’s the future for the band? Is there going to be another Babyshambles album?
We have to, otherwise they wouldn’t stand for this and the band would have to split up! We’ve got a belter waiting in the wings.
What will be the first single from this album?
(Laughs) Do you know what? I can’t for the life of me choose. I shouldn’t say this really, but I can’t see any singles on there, to be honest, mate. I’ve got a couple of brand new songs that I’d love to record fully with my band or on acoustic with care and put them out. I just don’t see this as having a massive appeal really; I don’t see it as a commercial venture. And that’s not false modesty at all; it’s not to say that I don’t believe that it can’t be a good record or that they’re not good songs, it’s just that I really can’t see any sure-fire bullseye banker sing-along-with-Dockers. I don’t think that’s a bad thing either.
Do you know which ones you’re going to play live?
Yeah, well I try; I’ve done a few. I don’t know if you know, in the last couple of months I’ve been getting out and about and doing acoustic sets here and there, and every time I’ve tried to drop one of these in, I’ve found myself playing to a wall of chatter; people nattering and that. “Oh, what’s this...” Before you know it, they’re talking about how United got on at the weekend. It’s just...
Mmm...yeah. Nah, I couldn’t give a toss. Nah, it’s devastating. Nah, I couldn’t give a toss. Nah, it’s devastating.
There are quite a few people who helped you in the making of this album.
Yeah, we’ve got Dot Allison, who is singing on ‘Sheepskin Tearaway’, which I wrote with her as well - that was 70/30 maybe. And there’s ‘A Little Death Around The Eyes’, which has got the line, “Your boyfriend’s name was Dave / I was bold and brave”, courtesy of Mr. Barat, so that’s a Doherty/Barat one in there - 80/20 I’d say, but I’m sure him and [Alan] McGee and the old firm will dispute that. John Robinson - late of The Bandits - an amazing fella, actually, as it goes. Got a great voice. Stephen Street had him quite low down in the mix, the last I heard. He’s had a song for a while called ‘I Am The Rain’, which we used to play backstage and in hotel rooms and at bus stops back in the days when The Bandits used to play with The Libertines. I always wanted to do it, so we worked on it a bit together, changed a word, nicked a third...
Graham Coxon was heavily involved too, wasn’t he?
Yeah, Graham ended up playing on most tracks. He was probably in the studio more than I was, to be honest.
Was he somebody that you’d admired previously.
He was actually, yeah. I was always a bit confused by him. I remember when I was about fifteen and still listened to Pet Shop Boys and Chas And Dave - I was still set in my ways - and some lad at school who was a bit of a mod - he was quite a good drawer but he didn’t get his GCSEs - he lent me a Blur tape and it had on it a song called...[sings] “Bank holiday comes six times a year / Days of enjoyment to which everyone cheers” [‘Bank Holiday’ from ‘Parklife’, 1994] And I was like, ‘What’s this?’ I said to him, “I liked that tape but that one song, it’s a bit fast.” And he said, “Yeah, it’s punk. It depends what mood you’re in.” [Clicks fingers] And then something sort of clicked in me. I’ve always liked Coxon, it seems, and I don’t know why. But yeah, he was there on the first day [in the studio]. A fuckin’ massive motorbike he’s got. When he said he had some Triumph, I thought it was gonna be like a kooky, kitsch, little vintage motorbike, but it was a fuck-off, big NASA-shaped thing - bombing down Hammersmith Bridge. I think where I grew up with Blur - they were massive at the time and I was just starting to get interested in pop music or guitar music - there was an element of awe and all that about him in the past, but whenever I’ve met him - like, I bumped into him in a pub once and we both happened to have guitars and we just started playing. It was really natural. I did a tune with him at The Forum once a couple of years ago, and he just looked me square in the eye and made some comment about mental illness and wetting the bed or something, and I just liked him. We have birthdays on the same day. And then I was absolutely horrified when he said he was actually a fan of some of the things I’ve done. Stephen Street got us together - they work a lot together; not just with Blur.
Will you be first in line for tickets for the Blur reunion?
Is that gonna happen?
Yeah, it was announced earlier this week.
Yeah? I could see that kicking off.
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Pete Doherty - Clash Interview’
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Does Bert Jansch play on the album?
He doesn’t, but do you know what, I’ve dug out some amazing recordings that I’ve got from the last sessions, just when we were sat around like this, just playing.
The two of you are a generation apart. What do you have in common?
I think at that time, certainly the way I was feeling, I wasn’t a particularly social creature. I was a bit paranoid and a bit pranged, and I think he just saw straight into that. It wasn’t like he took me by the hand literally, but there was an element of that.
Because he’s been there, done that, bought the t-shirt?
Completely, yeah. 100%. I think true love had seen him through as well, you know? The girl that he was with back then, she stayed with him and they’ve been together. I don’t think she ties his shoelaces - don’t quote me on that - but she’s completely there for him; it was amazing. They were both really, really supportive to me.
You have a dedicated fanbase - some might call them obsessive. Does this put pressure on you to meet expectations of what you think they want to hear?
It can, if I let myself get caught up in attaching a great deal of importance to that, and making it the be-all and end-all of my music - what a certain type of person is gonna think of what I’m doing. Yeah, it can lead to a bit of pressure, but sometimes when you just sit back and view things from a slightly different angle you see the pointlessness and selfishness of getting wrapped up in that, and what certain people believe that they’re owed by you just because they happen to understand you or have followed you for a while.
You are many things to many people. Out of all the different Pete Dohertys that the media portrays, which one are you really?
That’s actually an impossible question to answer, to be honest. It’s like that thing with a Bank Holiday - it always depends what mood you’re in, you know? Sometimes I think I’m the Pete that is just there for all the people that have been there for him and will always be there for him and will stand up for myself and what I believe in, but that’s not always the case, you know?
The danger stands that with continued negative coverage in the media, in the future people will believe that that is the real you. Do you work hard to ensure that doesn’t happen?
No. Not at all. I’ve learnt that there’s nothing in my day to day life or anything that I do that is in any way aimed at changing how I’m perceived or how I’m presented; it’s completely impossible.
Making music is what you do, so you just have to keep doing that and let it speak for itself.
Yeah. It’s something that I’m still getting to grips with in a way. I don’t think I’ve ever suffered severe writer’s block, but sometimes you struggle to find a rhythm that you’re comfortable in, you know? And you end up going out on a limb and playing a set and you don’t know why you’re doing it and you’re completely disjointed, [when it] should be the most wonderful experience in the world, doing exactly what you’d always hoped to do when you were digging graves or selling popcorn or thinking of joining the Army or God knows what, and you actually find yourself in Hell and wish you were back in the Army or shovelling popcorn. I’m still definitely finding my feet with the music. There’s still a lot in there that’s dying to get out and never has. You often have to just gaffa things together at the last minute - you know, get these demos done for Rough Trade, and then it all went off course for The Libertines, get this other lot of demos together, get the boys together, get on the road, make tunes that everyone’s happy with, release them... [I think I want] an opportunity just to...not just present crafted pop songs that are gonna get me a hit or a crowd that sings along or a song on a film, but something that I’m completely satisfied with and that’s as true to me as some bit of prose or writing that I think is probably more representative of my ambition.
There are bands that have followed in your wake that instead of following your example of being someone chasing this musical ambition, instead follow the infamy that’s associated with it.
They’re completely separate. Having a good old knees-up, you don’t have to be a musician to do that. What is it someone said to me the other day? This girl I was trying to talk to, she said to me, [American accent] “Oh, my daddy was the greatest musician there never was.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “He was a hardcore junkie and he just let the drugs get the better of him and he never fulfilled his potential. But man, he was the best.” And I’m thinking, “Well...” “I got home one day and he’d sold all my toys for drugs, and I haven’t seen him since.”
People were starting to drop like flies, and everyone else has cleaned up - even the fuckin’ Wolfman has cleaned up.
So it’s one or the other?
Well, yeah it is if you believe what they tell you in these institutions where the only outcome for you if you pursue your addiction as an addict is death, jails or institutions - mental homes.
The General asked me to ask you about The Libertines reformation.
The General’s always banging on about these things. He gets caught up in shit he doesn’t know. He talks about the credit crunch and Kate Moss; he doesn’t know what he’s on about. (Laughs) Nah, he’s got these romantic ideas about what’s right and what’s wrong for me, and happy endings, but he seems to forget how things were, you know? I’m not gonna cheat myself just so The General can have a perfect vision in mind of what’s good for me.
You have a number of characters that pop up on this album and in your other songs. Are these based on real people?
That is the one thing about this album; it’s not a fairy story, you know? It’s quite descriptive and it’s quite honest in its descriptions, even down to “Auntie Arthur’s trousers” - the whole thing is dead personal and dead true to life. Maybe we should have a little clause at the front: ‘Any resemblance to persons living, past or present, is intentional’.
Do you think these people know that you’re writing about them?
When you’re out with someone and inspiration strikes, do you try and run off to write a song or do you try and remember it for later use?
It’s often very difficult, I think. What do you mean, capturing ideas?
Yeah; if you heard a good line would you write a note of it?
I don’t think it’s always appropriate to whip out a notebook at these times. Especially times of great sadness or a great ruckus, you just can’t do it. But anything that lodges and perseveres and crops up again and again, yeah, it’s gotta be made note of.
You said that these songs date from various times and places, but when you listen to it all, does it remind you of past times, or is it a forward-looking album?
Completely, yeah. It doesn’t remind me of past-times; it’s very much set in the present - it captured one month in a room, mostly alone, sometimes with Graham Coxon, and once or twice with Adam, Drew, Mick, Dot and John.
Have the older songs been given new life?
Yeah, but this is the cynical part of me that refuses to accept that people are actually getting off on these songs. A couple of people close to me who have heard the album and keep listening to it, and keep listening to it, and keep listening to it, and there’s a big part of me that just sees it all as one big charade, and that they can’t possibly rate it.
Is there anyone else you’d like to collaborate with?
Yeah, so many people. There are so many people that I’ve done stuff with; just sat round the house and either recorded it in very bad quality, or haven’t recorded it at all. Lee Mavers, he came round and we had a bit of a jam.
He’s a hero of yours, isn’t he?
A little bit of a hero, yeah. Maybe it was because of the shaky hand that the iMac Power Book didn’t do what it was supposed to do, and we lost some amazing stuff. So yeah, Lee Mavers, Amy Winehouse... Coco, believe it or not - Sting’s daughter. These are all people who I’ve just developed a genuine, natural admiration for.
Could you work with someone you didn’t admire? Does that connection have to be there?
Yeah, it does. I don’t want to name names, but I have plotted out with a couple of people and we’ve come up with a couple of things that were alright, but I just haven’t been able to answer the phone to them when it came down to it.
Do you find it easier to share song writing with someone, or do you do it better alone?
I suppose it’s the equivalent of having a conversation, you know? If it’s someone that you hit it off with and you feel natural talking to and it’s comfortable talking and you can be honest with them and they can be honest with you, you accept each other, you get to know each other, and it just works as a friendship or a chess partner or whatever. If that works as a musical collaboration, then that’s the ideal. It doesn’t always work like that; sometimes you find you get on with someone and you can have a laugh, you can have a giggle and a dance, but when it comes down to it, there’s not really much chance of anything coming of it that’s too productive.
I believe it was in this same hotel that you met and interviewed Paul McCartney!
Yeah! It was on this exact sofa - I was sat right there. I was shaking. I was chain smoking then as well.
He’s got a presence about him, doesn’t he?
Well, I gave him a present. I gave him a silver chip fork, but he didn’t give one back.
Did you get on well with him?
I think I did, you know? It’s hard to say, but yeah, too right, man.
Did you ask him to sign anything for you?
[Sings] “He signed his name across my heart, he wants me to be his bassist...”
You’re going to be singing with Roger Daltrey?
I believe so, yeah. It’s all come through, just been confirmed quite recently.
Is that one of his charity shows?
I think it’s going to be a one-off gig to benefit the Teenage Cancer Trust, which he has got a lot of involvement in. You know, he’d cut me off a bit in the press; “What’s he trying to prove?”, “He should be setting an example”, “He’s a waste of space”, “I know an ex-Japanese prisoner of war who says he’s sorry he went through all that so that people like me [Pete] can walk the streets”. I couldn’t get my head round it - I didn’t even want to believe it. And then he’s on the blower saying, “Listen son, all that stuff I said about you, right, I said what I had to say. Now, you’ve proven yourself. You’ve proven you’re a man and I believe that you believe in what you’re doing. If you need anything - anything, son - you just give us a tinkle.”
And there’s another collaboration due with your old mates Chas And Dave?
[Gasps] Yeah! Not the first, and hopefully not the last. Now there’s some people I would like to get into the studio with.
They’re due a revival.
“Due a revival”?
Well, in the bigger sense of popularity.
Fair point. Yeah. It will come - when music halls come back as well. Because their forte for me - obviously they had a few cracking cockney rockney hits - but their take on some of the proper old school music hall tunes, that’s where I picked up on Chas And Dave.
Are you the type of person to make New Year’s Resolutions?
I’m quite good at making them for other people, you know? I can tell what’s good for other people, and I can see how the need direction, advice or constructive criticism.
Are you happy with how you are now?
Yeah. Yeah. I’m a bit tired right at this second, but yeah, I am. Things have really settled down. I haven’t had much choice really, to be honest, because it was getting silly. People were starting to drop like flies, and everyone else has cleaned up - even the fuckin’ Wolfman has cleaned up.
Well if you’re tired we should let you go. In the meantime I just want to wish you luck with the album.
Thanks a lot. God bless the record. And if you have any suggestions for the album title...
Well, I was going to ask you about that!
Go on, any ideas?
My favourite song was ‘I Am The Rain’, but if that wasn’t completely written by you...
Nah, that doesn’t matter.
I like the lyrics of it, relating to the weather...
The song is unbelievable, isn’t it?
Yeah. Like the weather, you’re seen as this fleeting, changing, transient person...
Transient and unpleasant.
I didn’t say unpleasant!
Whatever happens, and however I fumble through the next week or the next year or the next couple of albums, I’m afraid I am in it for the long haul, until the day arrives that I have produced something completely satisfactory and have proved myself as a songwriter. I’m extremely driven like that. I need it, because it’s all I’ve got now. Mind my words though, the next ’Shambles album (winks) it is a cracker, man. He’s [Stephen Street] really pulled it out of the bag. He’s taken scraps of jams and rehearsals in ProTools and whatnot.
Will that be out next year?
Unfortunately, yeah. There’s no reason why we couldn’t whack it out next year, but you know how these things work. It doesn’t work like that.
Thinking about your album title though, something to do with the weather is a good call. It’s the changeability and the unpredictability an the magic of it all.
‘I Am The Rain’ is not a bad title.
The edited version of this interview can be found in Issue 34 of Clash magazine, out January 8th. Read more about the issue here.