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Pete Doherty: A Life of Strife

Peter at Heathrow with his QPR-autographed football

This article by Sam Peters appeared this morning on Times-on-line. It's not too bad, albeit a little "deja-vued":

For a man who’s done three gigs in three countries in three days, seems to have slept for barely none of those 72 hours, and recently had an anti-heroin implant fitted in his stomach (again) pending an appearance (another one) before m’learned friends, Peter Doherty is in good form. “It’s lovely here,” he says, smiling and casting an appreciative eye around the artists’ compound at T in the Park a few weeks ago. The erstwhile member of the Libertines, occasional leader of Babyshambles and, in 2009, 30-year-old solo artist is hot (and damp) from his performance in the festival’s 10,000-capacity King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut tent, and rather in need of a wash and a change of clothes. Not that his “tourbus” offers such provision. Doherty appears to have driven all the way here from yesterday’s show — in Ireland — in his manager’s Jaguar.
It’s been a good summer for Pete Doherty. And a bad one. On the plus side: a successful if brief reunion gig at the Rhythm Factory in East London with his former Libertines compadre Carl Barât, their first Libertines-type show since 2004, when Barât kicked Doherty from the band they had co-founded. More positivity: an ear-tickling duet and a co-write with the Scots singer Dot Allison on her imminent solo album, a return of the favours she did him in contributing woozy vocal warmth to Doherty’s first solo album, Grace/Wastelands. A run of mostly well-received festival appearances here and in Europe.
Grace/Wastelands was shepherded into coherence by its watchful producer Stephen Street — he had bitter experience of working on both Babyshambles albums, which were mired in the chaos surrounding Doherty’s drug use and his relationship with Kate Moss, which ended in 2007. Street hired the Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, a man who had had his own battles with booze and depression (and overcame them), to help to flesh out Doherty’s songwriting and musicianship, and to provide a good role model. And it worked, to beautiful, tuneful and winningly simple effect. The album’s title, Doherty explains, came from a song he wrote, “which was kinda nicked off Good Morning Heartache by Billie Holiday. The lyric is ‘grace and waseteland, and wasting Graceland.’” He wanted to conjure images, he says, “of Elvis, wasting on the bog”.
The songs are, in every sense, his most intriguing since the glory days of the Libertines’ 2002 debut Up The Bracket. A Little Death Around the Eyes, like the Libertines anthem Don’t Look Back Into the Sun and the Babyshambles tune Killamangiro, was “born in Paris. That was in 2004, it was me and Carl, and we didn’t really have much money so we checked into a room together, much to his annoyance. It was around when Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! came out and he was determined to go and see the Moulin Rouge show, which was just across the way from our hotel. I think he thought it was gonna be just like he’d imagined it to be from the film. But it was lots of Japanese businessmen.”

Work on the song stalled but Doherty persevered. “Carl’s sister had written a novel called A Little Death Around the Eyes, and I loved that title. Carl point-blank refused to be involved in a song called that but it was too good a title to go unnoticed by the world. So I took it for myself.”
Then there’s Sheepskin Tearaway (“She opened her heart to a tearaway . . .”) — is that about Moss? “No!” he exclaims, smiling. “No,” he repeats more softly. He clearly still thinks a great deal of his ex and struggles not to discuss her. “Inevitably there are certain lines in certain songs that when I’m singing them I´ll tend to think of her. But no songs particularly about her, no.” Nor, for that matter, is the new single Broken Love Song (out now on Parlophone).
Doherty was sentenced to 14 weeks in jail last year for breaching a probation order handed down after a mind-boggling run of drugs-related incidents. “I was getting arrested daily almost,” he says. “At one point I was arrested three times in 24 hours. Yeah, so I was a persistent offender.”
The previous year he’d spent time in the Clouds residential rehab centre. His memories of the unsuccessful stay are fractured. “I was allowed a guitar once a week. Everyone was banging on all the time about how Robbie Williams had written a song downstairs ... I found a bit of graffiti that Aleister Crowley had scrawled under one of the paving slabs, ‘cause it had been his gaff before being a rehab ... The whole place is kinda strange. But yeah, I just felt blessed really that I wasn’t inside.”
But the following year, he was. Doherty served 29 days of his sentence and spent much of his time at Wormwood Scrubs in solitary confinement. Why? “There was this trail of havoc round the prison wherever they put me. Then there was pictures taken, they got the pictures out and in the papers ... There was all kinds of things going on, people were on me all the time.”
Does he mean threats? “Not so much to my face. But I was hearing things like: ‘That fellow you were talking to there, you wanna watch him, he’s been saying he’s gonna do you . . .’ But you don’t know who to believe. People talk so much shit.”
Was Doherty in fear of his life? “Not so much, no. Because I was on the detox wing it was clear I didn’t have anything on me, so I was in the same boat as everyone else. When you’re coming off gear the last thing on your mind is the celebrity rock star in the next cell, ‘cause he’s clucking just the same as you. You’re all waiting for the little pill twice a day that’s gonna make things a little bit better.”
One of the terms of his release was that Doherty wasn’t allowed to be in London between the hours of midnight and 9am and had to have a “non-London postcode”, which is why he’s been living in Wiltshire for the past year. But that enforced rural exile has meant a lot more driving back and forth to shows.
Which is where the negative side of Doherty’s summer 2009 comes in. In June he was arrested in Gloucestershire on drug and driving offences. Just before that he had been taken into custody in Geneva after a British Airways flight from the UK. He was reportedly found slumped in the aircraft toilets by attendants and was duly fined for heroin possession. At the end of last month there was further airborne trouble: after easyJet decided he was too drunk to board a flight he was reportedly forced to hire a private jet at a cost of £10,000.
However it’s the Gloucestershire incident that’s the most ominous. It won’t have helped his relationship with his parents any: his mother’s frustration with her son’s behaviour is well-known, via the book she published in 2006. His father, an ex-army major, has said that he won’t have any dealings with his son until he’s straight. The situation with his family breaks Doherty up and, as with Moss, he has to force himself not to discuss the situation for fear of exacerbating an already tricky situation. He clearly idolises his father, after whom he was named, and for a long time followed his advice closely. “I wanted to be a footballer — aged 9 to 14 it was football football football. Then when I reached the age where you’re either gonna make it or you aren’t he was quite clear that I wasn’t — ‘You lack a yard of pace, you haven’t got the aggression . . .’”
His father advised him to seek a career in the City. And Doherty did sign up for Economics A level, “with the idea of maybe becoming an economist — or the Chancellor of the Exchequer! But its f***ing difficult, Economics A level. I think I got a D.”
Pending his appearance in court he has had another curfew imposed. He’s allowed to meet any pre-existing concert bookings, but he can’t undertake any new gigs, and he had to secure dispensation to attend his sister’s graduation last month. He has also had the implant fitted, as he did in 2007, in an attempt to keep him off heroin. If he is found guilty at his trial he could be sent back to prison. Despite this cloud, Doherty is upbeat about the musical future. “I just see Grace/Wastelands 2,” he says. “I think I’ve got a Harvest in there,” referring to Neil Young’s classic. “I keep getting flashes of it, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes.”
And then there’s his relationship with Carl Barât. Rumours persist of million-pound offers for the Libertines to get back together. To many observers they’re one of our great lost bands, But for all the thrills of their rough-around-the-edges rock’n’roll, and for all of Doherty’s undoubted artistry and intelligence, they’re a wasted opportunity squandered by drug abuse and ego. Doherty burgling Barât’s flat, as he did while the Libertines were away on tour without him, didn’t help either.
Doherty admits he’s still upset by the Libertines appearances Barât did without him. “My heart caved in. I was destroyed. Not by the fall-out, but by seeing him on Top of the Pops doing Don’t Look Back Into the Sun without me. The very idea of them doing a gig without me was just, like . . .” He stops. “Whatever happened, whatever he did, I would never, ever do a gig without him and call myself the Libertines.
There’s less and less bitterness on my part. But it rears up, like the time I took acid watching football at Loftus Road and the whole pitch just went whoosh, like a tsunami. The bitterness inside me comes up like that, swelling . . .”
Still, he raves about their Rhythm Factory set. Did they — the former Libertines drummer Gary Powell was also there — all slot back into playing together easily? “Well, yeah, you say easy, it was f***ing breakneck speed. I’d forgotten how fast we used to play. The place kicked off.”
He is unwilling to go into much details of his and Barât’s conversation that night. “Basically we had a good couple of hours. We were up all night together. Yeah, it was amazing really. “Eventually he admits that they did discuss putting the band back together. “I think we’re gonna make a record, and tour. Get the Libertines to take it to the next step, next stage. Next year.”
He thinks “presumably” Barât wants to record some solo material. “I think he’s got a few things to prove, mostly to himself.” And does Pete Doherty have things to prove musically too? “I don’t think I’ve got anything to prove to anyone.”
Peter Doherty plays the V festival at Chelmsford on Aug 22 and Stafford on Aug 23
A life of strife
1979: Born in Hexham, Northumberland to a nurse and an army major, grew up in different bases around the UK.
1997: Forms the Libertines with Carl Barât.
2001: The Libertines sign a record deal with Rough Trade and released their debut album, Up the Bracket.
2003: Doherty’s increasing drug problems cause tension within the band, and he served two months in jail for burgling Barât’s flat. Has a son, Astile, with the singer Lisa Moorish. Forms Babyshambles.
2004: After a second successful Libertines album, Doherty is sacked for further drug abuse.
2005: Begins an on-off relationship with Kate Moss; disowned by his father until he kicks drugs
2006: Babyshambles signed by Parlophone. Doherty’s mother, Jackie, publishes a memoir detailing the family’s struggle with Doherty’s addiction
2007: Rumoured to have married Kate Moss in Thailand. They break up later that year. First exhibition of his paintings, followed by a further exhibition of work made with his own blood.
2008: Serves a month at Wormwood Scrubs for breaking the terms of his probation order, imposed after repeated arrests. Relocates to Wiltshire when his terms of release deny him access to London between midnight and 9am
2009: Releases solo album, Grace/Wastelands; expresses interest in Libertines reunion, but Barât has so far ruled this out.

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