This Charming Man: An Interview with Pete Doherty

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Phil Whaite spoke to Pete Doherty of The Libertines after a Love Music Hate Racism gig that filled the London Astoria.

Why did you feel it was important to do this gig?

There's a point you reach before you're perverted and tainted by all the things that drag you into the music business, like avarice or a lust for fame. The original reason why I started was some feeling of community, equality, wanting to fight for things you believe in. Any kid who's gone to a state school knows what it's all about - bullying, racism. And you've just got to make a stand.

Rock Against Racism in the 1970s had the effect of bringing a whole new generation of young people into anti-racist politics, and into radical politics. What do you think the Love Music Hate Racism campaign can achieve today?

I think it's woken me up to a few things, and you do become complacent. As well as being anti something, you've got to be pro something. So you're anti racism, so what are you pro? You're pro community. I would put my hand on my heart and I'd attach myself to socialist ideas. Because I believe in society. And it's bollocks that black people have any less worth in society than white people, which is basically what people like the BNP say.

What does socialism mean to you?

I do have utopian fantasies. A lot of them are more - I wouldn't say spiritual, but they relate more to the imagination and the individual. But for me socialism is a way of trying to put far-fetched ideas into everyday use, trying to find a way to bridge the gap between that fantasy and reality, and reaching out across that gap to the people who can actually do something to make the change.

What music did you listen to growing up? What do you feel has influenced the music you make today?

I was a bit of a late starter with bands. It just passed me by, even though when I was at school bands like Nirvana and Oasis were around. Looking back, I remember people being into them, but at the time I was in another world. And then, at 16, 17, I heard The Smiths and a whole new world opened up. I suppose obsessed would be the right word - not in a morbid way. It broke my heart when I realised they had split up 12 years previously. After discovering The Smiths, I followed the trail back to The Buzzcocks and I was well into The Only Ones - melodic bands who had a bit of a dirty sound. And then New York Dolls - I fell in love with them - and The Stooges. The driving aggressive stuff that I like is the English punk and the New York era. Carl's [Carl Barat, The Libertines' other singer] more the metal side of it - he was into Rage Against the Machine and Iron Maiden when he was a kid.

The Libertines seem to have become popular in a different way to other bands. There's a kind of a punk ethic - you play secret gigs in pubs and flats, with people finding out where you're playing at the last minute - and it doesn't seem to be like what anybody else who has risen to the prominence that you have is doing at the moment. Where did that idea come from?

The secret gigs aren't really secret. It's just that the only way of communicating with people is through the internet, and it's normally a last minute decision to play. I'll have a new song, and I'll think, 'I want to play it,' so I whack it on the internet. But generally I'll just do it in a local pub or my front room or something, because I know it's going to be a last minute terrorist gig. There's never any hassle, the neighbours are normally alright, and the police have got better things to do, I'm sure. But Gary, John and Carl, they're not really into that so much. It's not normally a Libertines thing. It's normally working with other musicians that I've written songs with, or playing on my own. And similarly with the punk ethic - if we've got one - when we went into the studio with Mick Jones, I was the only one who knew who he was.

You went to prison last year for burgling Carl's flat after you'd been thrown out of the band. Did prison change the way you look at the world?

It opened my eyes to things. I think I lived a little bit blinkered. It made me want to sharpen myself up a bit. It wasn't a fun place to be. You're sat in a cell for 23 hours. Supposedly there's education and facilities, but in reality there's overcrowding and understaffing. You're sat in a cell and it's as boring as fuck. But alliances were forged, new worlds opened up, I did a lot of writing. There's a lot of unhappiness in prison, and I had some really unhappy moments. But there were people who reached out to me and helped me, and hopefully I helped a few people as well, in simple ways, like friendship.

I think I'll be really unlucky if I go back to prison, or stupid, but there are a lot of people who are in and out, in and out. Prison can make people hopeless, make them lose any sense of self value.

Many of your songs refer to a notion of 'Englishness'. What does 'Englishness' mean to you?

It's always a contradiction. I don't feel myself to be representative of a general feeling of Englishness. I'm interested in William Blake, but there are less spiritual, more practical people like Galton and Simpson, and Joe Orton, who were interested in the fineries of everyday dialogue and puns. In the same way that I immersed myself in The Smiths, I did the same with a lot of aspects of English culture. I was obsessed with certain writers, certain styles of film. Those kitchen sink films, like Billy Liar, hit me right in the heart. I suppose I did live inside those films for want of a better place to be. The films I watched were about a pride, a dignity and a respect for people who you feel you belong with - a community and a mutual respect.

The cover of the album Up The Bracket has lines of riot police, and 'Time for Heroes' talks about 'the stylish kids in the riot' and 'truncheons and shields'. Where did those ideas come from?

I wrote 'Time for Heroes' after May Day in 2001. At the time it was one of the most exciting days of my life. Everyone said, 'Oh, it was rubbish, we got penned in at Oxford Circus,' but we didn't. Quite a lot of people got penned in, but some of us made a break for it, and that was a great feeling. It was quite a peaceful protest up until the police attacked. But I like the fact that when the police kicked off, and it wasn't justified, a lot of people stood their ground. And it felt quite good to be fighting for a cause. I felt like there were so many things wrong, and I didn't know where to channel it, and for that moment it felt like I was with a lot of people who believed in the same thing, and we were all channelling it together. If there had been more, we'd have gone to parliament - that was the dream.

You can have people who disagree on things, but they can unite for the important things. It's like, if we were to go on stage as a band and not have a name, it would be very difficult to organise gigs, to release records - it would be chaos. But we have a name, The Libertines, and it makes things a lot easier. What I'm trying to say is that you've got this unrest, this general feeling that things are wrong. But you call it anti-capitalism - and you can pick that apart bit by bit, and show where that's wrong and doesn't make sense - but basically you've got a heading for it, and you can channel it there. It's a direction, and it's the right direction, and people notice - anti capitalism, pro society, pro equality, anti inequality. That's the way I see it. Capitalism breeds inequality everywhere in the world. There isn't a case where it doesn't. The gaps are bigger. The rich are richer than ever.


Pete Doherty has a single out on 12 April with Wolfman, 'For Lovers'. As part of a national programme of gigs, Love Music Hate Racism has organised weekly gigs of up and coming acts at London's Borderline club. For more information go to http://lovemusichateracism.com