With a lot of thanks to Bella, of course.
It's 9.30pm in Paris on the first day of February. Half a kilometre away at Place de L'Opéra, rioters are clashing with police in a protest against the government's handling of the economic crisis. Two and a half kilometres away at the Crazy Horse cabaret revue club, Dita Von Teese is preparing for the opening night of her new burlesque show - a glamorous showbiz spectacle to which she has personally invited every rock star, fashion mogul and proper celeb in the city. Here, over dinner at an upscale boutique hotel on the Parisian Right Bank, meanwhile, Peter Doherty is busy making his excuses to leave before dessert arrives.
"Are you going to the Dita party?" asks his manager, nervously eyeing the following day's schedule, which begins with a breakfast call followed by the NME covershoot.
"Well I was thinking about the party," demurs Peter, in that voice that can only be described as a louche Frank Spencer. "But I'm also just really enjoying sleeping at the moment, y'know?".
Tomorrow morning at breakfast (which he doesn't make it down to, but does take in his room), his PA will confirm that he was indeed fast asleep in his room by 9.40pm. Peter - the 'r', we are soon told by the man himself is now mandatory - has been living in Paris on and off since October, around the time he finished sessions for his forthcoming solo album, Grace/Wastelands, back in London. Produced by Stephen Street (whose previous credits include The Smiths, Blur, Kaiser Chiefs and Babyshambles flaccidly received second album 'Shotter's Nation'), it features Graham Coxon, singer-songwriter Dot Allison, his Babyshambles bandmates and longterm Doherty muse Wolfman as guests and co-writers. His record company PR tells me on the way to meet Peter that EMI hope this will be the album that redeems him in the eyes of the media.
While the time to re-educate the tabloids about Pete the Poet (as opposed to Pete The No Good Scaghead) is, they realise, long gone, the hope is that the broadsheets at least will accept Grace/Wastelands as the dawn of a new Doherty: creative, diligent and mature, with just the headiest whiff of a dangerous, tortured past. Peter himself seems happy enough to play along. He is, he says "growing fonder by the minute" of this "mellow, laidback album," named after a photo of Elvis which he couldn't afford to pay The King's estate to use as his cover-art. He's even removed the sole punky, Babyshambles-like number 'Through The Looking Glass' from the tracklisting at the 11th hour to replace it with the more dulcet 'I Am the Rain'. It's also perhaps why he shocked his entourage by showing up to this afternoon's interview band on time - "punctual and striding purposefully through the lobby!" he will later gloat. Or why tomorrow's schedule also includes going to the studio of a French music TV show, where he will perform 'Karma Chameleon' in an unlikely collaboration with indie's very own bedwetters Keane. Or most tellingly, why Peter nixes the idea of doing the NME interview in a nearby bar, and instead opts to go for a stroll "where we can find somewhere quiet." Which is how we come to find ourselves outside, drinking tea in the Jardin des Tuileries in the final few hours before Paris, the UK, and half of mainland Europe are enveloped in some of the heaviest snow since 1991 - Peter cadging a steady stream of cigarettes from passers-by and hardy autograph hunters, as the wooden horses and circus music of a nearby carousel whirr away serenely in the background.
NME: What brought you to Paris?
P: It's the end of the line really, of the train I got on. I had an unwelcome visitor who wouldn't leave my house [in Wiltshire]. I felt bad because he'd been evicted, so he came to stay, but it got too much so I said "Look, you'll have to go cos... I'm, er, leaving the country tomorrow!" He said, "I'll look after your house then," and I said "No, you can't... you're not allowed." And I just stayed. I love Paris. I walk around pretty much unmolested.
NME: How is your French coming along?
P: Badly (Leaning over to the next table) Une cigarette, s'il vous plait? Merci!
NME: Why have you done a solo album now, rather than another Babyshambles one?
P: Really? Because my Parlophone deal said I had to do a record as Pete Doherty and two records with Babyshambles.
NME: How do the rest of the band feel?
P: Bitter and malcontent. No, they're fine. They're all doing solo albums.
NME: Yeah, Drew's got Mongrel and Helsinki, Adam's doing solo stuff. Do you worry it's all falling apart?
P: No, they'll all be back. They can fly the nest, but they always come back to the mother when they're hungry.
NME: There are some old songs on the album......
P: There are quite a lot of old ideas, but if you trace them back they were always all unfinished. They're things that have mutated over the years. I don't think there's anything wrong with doing that. Some of them have just been titles for years. Like 'Sweet By and By', I got that from Quentin Crisp's The Naked Civil Servant...... he was like (camp voice) 'yes and this young painter came by in the sweet by and by' but really it was just a title. When people say "What have you been doing, got any new songs?" If you say no it makes you sound like an uncreative lump, so I'd say "Yeah, I've got this new song Sweet By and By".
NME: How did Graham Coxon get so involved with the record?
P: (Makes excitable noise) Stephen Street wanted someone I could bounce off of.......without bouncing off the walls simultaneously [Street} had seen me in action before and, I shouldn't really say this, but maybe he was worried about some of the likemindedness that was going on in the studio and he knew that Graham was quite straight-edged in that sense. Although he's had a few wobbly moments in the past.
NME: Yeah, he was an alcoholic through much of the mid and late 90's. Did he talk about his past or give you any advice about your present?
P: Yeah, but I don't think Graham saw any evidence of any - y'know..... Although, you say that, but you don't always know what people see.
NME: Have you seen the blog he wrote about you after the album session where he called you a scumbag magnet?
P: Really? This is the thing, someone else told me about that too, but Graham didn't see any of those things. Y'know, I think he was actually talking about the Primrose Hill set. I think he was talking about Kate Moss and Sadie Frost and people like that, not about Hackney drug cats or crackheads.
NME: Why would he be calling the Primrose Hill set scumbags?
P: Because they're the only people he came into contact with that I know. So I think that's quite offensive really, to be, y'know........(he completes his sentence with a cheeky grin) talking about that lot like that.
P: I'm not offended! I think it's great, you know, that obviously he doesn't mind incurring the wrath of Primrose Hill's billionaire-esses.
NME: Do you ever miss that side of life?
P: No! Of course not. It was just like lots of broken guitars and scratches and ........ accusations. 'I'm a good girl I am'.
NME: Do you think you can hear much of Graham's influence on the album?
P: Yeah, a lot if you know what you're listening for. A lot of the chunky, slashing dirty guitar parts........ pretty much all the electric guitar parts that you hear on there is Graham.
NME: Did he teach you any good new guitar tricks?
P: He's a really lovely man y'know. He taught me humility and strength in adversity. March 12. It's coming up soon, I'm going to be 28.
NME: No you're not.
P: What? How dare you?
NME: It's a widely known fact that you're going to be 30.
NME: How do you feel about turning 30?
P: I'm a bit pissed off to be honest. Why? Why do you think? Thirty. It's a terrible state of affairs.
NME: Are you scared of getting old?
P: Yeah.......... yeah.... No. I don't know. It's just a running joke isn't it? And there has to be something behind it. There's no smoke without fire. Why is it funny that I'm turning 30. Why do my friends think it's funny I'm turning 30? Why do I keep pretending I'm 28? There must be something behind it, y'know, if you look at the causes.
NME: Are you pleased with what you've achieved in your 30 years?
P: Well, I didn't do too much in the first couple of years, y'know, learnt to walk, learnt to talk. And it's true that I have spent a lot of time lying on my back gargling. But I think I've got everything in that I needed to get in before they close the book.
NME: You certainly seem to be doing alright at the moment. I mean, it wasn't long ago that there were all those pictures of you living under the Westway in a caravan...........
P: That was alright living there! It wasn't me who was the problem, it was all the 12 year old pikeys trying to sell me guns and stuff that was the problem. There was a workspace there available, somewhere to set up a little studio where I could park my cars. OK, I was living on a kind of shelf, but I had my desk there, and a sofa and light.
NME: Running water?
P: Well, cold water and a kettle. Yeah, nothing wrong with that place. It was a little unusual.
NME: Was it scarier than being in prison?
P: Well, the thing is, I was off drugs in prison, whereas there were times in that lock-up when I got into some real paranoid states and thought I was under siege. I thought the IRA were outside and the police. The IRA had teamed up with the police and they were all trying to get me and the cats! I was in a really bad way, crawling around, trying not to make a noise. Then my phone would ring and I'd pounce on it and be, 'Shhhhh! Don't call me here! Don't call me here!"
NME: Have you had any paranoid episodes recently?
P: Not so much, no. Not on that level where I really thought I was under siege. When I'd wait til nightfall to crawl across the roof, scale the turrets and get on to the Westway to flag down a post van.
NME: What did the postie say?
P: He drove off.
NME: Every time I read a Pete Doherty interview you're always a reformed character, 'in a much better place' than they were. Is this going to be one of those interviews?
P: Errrrr...... I always say that because generally being in a sober, coherent state [for interviews] I am. So it's never a lie.
NME: Last time NME saw you, you were proudly showing off your prison certificate that said you had a clean bill of health - the operative word being 'clean'. Dare we ask if this is still the case?
P: I've got a clean bill of health, I think. Yeah, the thing is, some people would say 'Oh, if he's just having a drink and the odd line then he's clean', but I'm not really a drink and an odd line person, y'know? I'm not really a big drinker. So it's either all or nothing really.
NME: Wasn't one of the songs on the album, '1939 Returning,' initially supposed to be a duet with Amy Winehouse?
P: There is a version with Amy Winehouse duetting on this. She sounds amazing on it. She's got a really weird way of moulding melodies y'know? Like Roger Daltrey on 'My Generation,' she sort of stutters and does all that - holds back and then spits out and it's a completely different song. But Stephen Street didn't really want to go ahead with it, which is a shame. But he just said that it would have made it a completely different song. I have the recording on a phone somewhere and she was up for [re-recording] it but............. yeah, probably couldn't afford it anyway. [And there are also some Carl moments:]‘A Little Death Around the Eyes’…… it’s the title of a novel his sister wrote and he hated me writing a song called that. The line ‘her boyfriend’s name was Dave’, that was Carl’s too.
NME: The start of ‘Sweet By and By’ sounds like you are very nostalgic for The Libertines…
P: ‘(Sings) Was it so long ago? When we first hit the road?’. That’s Wolfman anyway! Because whenever I get together with Wolfman he’s very nostalgic, we always end up talking about the first ever Libertines tour where we went out of London and it was just a complete tale of destruction. So it is kind of about that tour, yeah. But also there’s a little bit about ‘It wasn’t so long ago, when you said you loved me so/Where did you go? You didn’t even say goodbye,’ which is kind of true. It was a bit rude. Kate, she didn’t even say goodbye. I did finish with her, but she didn’t even say goodbye. So it’s quite a sad song really.
NME: Have you spoken to Carl since he’s become a free agent again?
P: Um, well yeah, because we had some ridiculous offers to headline Reading and stuff. Like £2 million to headline this festival, £1 million to headline that festival and I said ‘Why don’t we just to it? Let’s get the old band back together’. And he said, ‘yeah, but we can’t travel in separate cars.’ ‘Well, why would we?’ and he said, ‘We have to be friends, we can’t just do it for the money’. I said ‘OK, well let’s be friends! Friends who go and make lots of money together’ y’know, because I haven’t got any money and I know he’s skint. And then he said……… I shouldn’t tell you this……… he said I had to go and see an energy consultant, like some new-age guru who is going to measure my energy levels and see if I’m still surrounded by darkness and if I am then I’m not allowed to go near Carl because I’ll tap into his good energy and as usual I’ll sap all the good energy and bring nothing but darkness into his life and all this…..
NME: So have conversations faltered?
P: Well now I have to go through a third party because obviously until my energy levels are sorted I’m not allowed near him! My energy levels are fine. I’m doing really well. No, you’ll see, I’ve just got to show him that I’m together……. He’s very wary. He doesn’t want to have to go through it all a third time and just have the same result.
NME: It will be Valentine’s Day during the week that this issue comes out. How will you be spending it?
P: I don’t know……. Alone. Probably in Paris. Actually, there is someone I’d like to ask, she’s in Paris at the moment. But I invited her out to dinner once and I was really late, even though it wasn’t my fault, and I think I might have blown it.
As Peter’s eyes dip forlornly, the waitress arrives with our bill and impeccable timing. “Excuuuz moi, are you the man of television? What is your name?” she asks. “Pete……. Peter Doherty” the smile and glint return. Hold on, that reminds us, what exactly are you doing on TV with Keane later? “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Yes you do, spill it. “Well,” sighs Peter, “ages ago we were going to do ‘Karma Chameleon’ for the War Child album and it didn’t happen, so when this TV show asked if I’d do a song with Keane I said, ‘Alright, we’ll do ‘Karma Chameleon’ then……’ You don’t have to write about that though.” Why? Are you embarrassed? “Yeah, Noel Gallagher might laugh at me. Nah, I’m not embarrassed, he’s alright Tom [Chaplin], I met him in rehab. We’ve got a lot in common really. Both like Blackadder.” And here Peter lets out a nostalgic “Hmmmmmmm”. Christ, maybe he’s more ready for his thirties than he knows.