“He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life.”
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce.
This semi autobiographical novel by Joyce tells the story of Stephen Dedalus; a young boy born into a strict Catholic regime imposed by his parents, church and school, in nineteenth century Ireland. The young Dedalus decides to turn his back on his faith and instead devotes his entire life to writing.
For the reader there is a great deal of empathy for Dedalus as he questions his surroundings, upbringing, and religion and bravely decides to fulfil what is to him his true vocation as a writer. And there is certainly a romantic notation about the rebel, who exchanges his family and religion for art.
Doherty similarly was born into a Catholic family, and questioned his path in life from an early age. Due to his father’s occupation as an officer in the British Army, his family moved around the UK as he was growing up. Like Dedalus he was a creative and ambitious spirit, penning poems in his early teens, and longing to be a great artist. Soon he was to move in with his grandmother in London and after a few spells in higher education, and a variety of mundane jobs, Doherty unlocked his artistic spirit when he formed a band called The Libertines with Carl Barât in 1997. The Libertines quickly found tremendous success in the charts and with regular tours from 2002.
Yet throughout this successful period it was marred by Doherty’s obvious struggle with drug abuse, which eventually led to the band’s split in 2004; so after a variety of disputes it was time for the co-founders to go their separate ways.
Barât formed the ensemble The Dirty Pretty Things whilst Doherty focused on his other band Babyshambles, originally created as a side project to The Libertines. Despite their obvious clashes in personality The Libertines officially reformed in 2010 for the Reading and Leeds Festivals much to the delight of many of their long-term fans.
The music of The Libertines, Babyshambles and Doherty’s solo work is certainly powerful, emotional, melancholic and mesmerising and it is clear that Doherty is not only a talented musician, but also a great lyricist. Sadly Doherty’s talents have not always been the centre of attention, as the media preferred to write sensational stories connected with his drug addiction, his passionate on/off relationship with Kate Moss and the many court appearances relating to his addiction.
Yet recently we see a new reborn Doherty emerging. In 2010 he launched a jewellery range Albion Trinketry and in 2011 Doherty is set to make his debut as an actor appearing in a film version of Alfred de Musset's autobiographical novel La Confession d'un Enfant du Siècle (The Confession of a Child of The Century) alongside Charlotte Gainsbourg.
ZANI caught up with Pete in a cosy little pub off Camden High Street before his performance at a private gig nearby.
ZANI - As we know you have a current film project in production, Alfred de Musset’s The Confession of a Child of the Century where you play the lead Octavian and you star alongside Charlotte Gainsbourg, I bet that is a pretty cool project.
Pete Doherty – It is really exciting, and a pretty amazing part of my life
ZANI – I understand that you are having waltzing lessons for the part, are you any good at waltzing?
At this point Pete Doherty gets and demonstrates his waltzing to ZANI, then sits down smiling.
Pete Doherty – I am getting better.
ZANI - Nice moves. Even though Charlotte Gainsbourg was born and raised in England, I see her as a French actress because of her father, Serge Gainsbourg the French composer and actor. I have always found French actresses like Bridget Bardot, Catherine Deneuve , Audrey Tautou and Sophie Marceau inspiring, exotic, sexy and intelligent.
Pete Doherty - Yeah, I get on with Charlotte Gainsbourg, there were no airs or graces about her. But I do find it a bit surreal appearing in a French film because I used to go out and rent all the French films like Belle De Jour, Rififi, Bob le Flambeur, Jules and Jim, 400 Blows, and so to be in one is pretty cool.
ZANI – It is pretty cool, I love all the films you mention. I often go to Fopp in Earlham Street and spend a small fortune on world cinema, in particular French and Italian films, and my favourite actress is Monica Bellucci, not just for her beauty, but the depth of emotions and compassion she brings to her roles.
Pete Doherty – I can go along with that.
ZANI - Staying on the French topic, please tell us about Alize Meurisse, novelist and photographer, whose artwork you exhibited in Paris in 2009.
Pete Doherty – She has an unbelievable talent that girl, it’s very rare in life to meet someone who puts their money where their mouth is, she is a genuine person. She was living on the sofa, and just throwing herself into her artwork, and when I saw them, it blew me away, so I have supported her in anyway I can.
ZANI – Last year you launched your Jewellery range Albion Trinketry, which is inspired by Moroccan Silver and German Chain Watches, what instigated you to start that?
Pete Doherty – It’s just something I felt the urge to do, I love dapper fashion accessories like jewellery and hats and I always adored those countries’ take on jewellery, I think the whole concept looks quite Mod especially the gold watches.
ZANI - Like Tilbury Hats, I know you are a big fan, and I read that you thought people looked cooler in the forties and the fifties.
Pete Doherty – People seemed to make more effort in those, and even right up to the early seventies.
ZANI - I agree. I mean, look out of this window, all the fellas seem to be in jeans and trainers and the only time most people don a suit is for a wedding, funeral, job interview or a court case.
Pete Doherty – Well if you work in the courts, you can wear a suit all day…
ZANI – True. Like you, I am a massive fan of Tony Hancock, the pioneer of modern day rebellion, the beautiful outsider. Of course Hancock was a brilliant comic but a lot of his heyday was due to the writing talents of Galton and Simpson, the Lennon & McCartney of comedy maybe?
Pete Doherty – Like Lennon & McCartney, who never put out a bad album, Galton and Simpson never put a foot wrong. And when Hancock left them, they carried on and produced Steptoe and Son. So like The Beatles, Galton and Simpson weren’t into flogging dead horses. Both Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son, are classic and timeless pieces of British comedy, still relevant now as they were back in the day.
ZANI – Yeah I’ve got both box sets, a little Christmas present to myself. With regard to Tony Hancock, it’s a shame that he is remembered for his suicide and his final years, such as his failure to make a success in the US - and his alcohol problem. I think if he had just hung in there, got himself sober it could have been different. Or if he had not gone to Australia, and maybe if there hadn’t been a postal strike he might have got the letter from the UK from his lover Joan Le Mesurier and decided not to end his life.
Pete Doherty – There are a lot of ifs there, but you could be right, he might have got back with Galton and Simpson.
ZANI – Imagine a guest appearance in Steptoe and Son, and vice versa, they would have been the ultimate in the British sit com, unbeatable in fact.
Pete Doherty – True, but Hancock never played second fiddle to anybody, he needed to be the star. I know everyone quotes one of his suicide notes: "Things just seemed to go too wrong too many times" But the one that gets me is: “Nobody will ever know I existed. Nothing to leave behind me. Nothing to pass on. Nobody to mourn me. That’s the bitterest blow of all.”
ZANI – Hearing that, makes it even sadder, because he was so wrong. He has left behind a legacy of comedy, and inspired so many people, like I said he was a rebel and more outspoken than The Sex Pistols.
Pete Doherty – He was out there. Have you seen the ATV series that he did after he left the BBC and Galton and Simpson?
ZANI – No, I haven’t. I am not sure I want to, because from what I have read, the ATV shows are a sad reflection of the great former Tony Hancock.
Pete Doherty – You can see them on YouTube; I might be able to get you a copy. They were poor, and Hancock knew that, he was so wrapped up in himself, and he couldn’t handle the fact that he had produced a shit show. But he did set the world alight.
ZANI – You have even written a song called Lady Don’t Fall Backwards based on the classic The Missing Page episode, where Hancock and his co-star Sid James try to solve a “whodunnit?” book, because the last page is missing. I love your song and to this day, no one knows whodunnit.
Pete Doherty – Please don’t start that, because I spent hours one night, trying to work out who done it.
ZANI – So have I. When I was watching the box set again over Christmas, I noticed that when Hancock got in with the rebellious aspect of London society, ‘Angry Young Men’ I suppose that’s what they were called in the late fifties, they were all wearing Duffle Coats, (I own one by the way), and to me, these must have been the predecessors to the parkas that became in vogue with the original Mods of the sixties.
I reckon there is certainly a connection between Angry Young men, and original Mods. Both were into black music, wearing their own uniform, inspired by overseas culture and so on and so forth. There is even a Hancock press shoot from 1958 with Bill Kerr, his radio co-star in a parka, not a duffle coat.
Pete Doherty – That is interesting theory, and I like it. You can see a lot of Hancock in Jimmy the Mod from Quadrophenia.
ZANI – And I can imagine that the young Pete Townsend, and The Who’s first manager Pete Meaden, were likely massive Hancock fans.
Pete Doherty - You are probably right, it’s like Marc Bolan at the age of 14, going to East London and buying all those Italian shirts and suits, and becoming a Mod face. Not intentionally, he was just absorbed with what was going on in London, which was the same with Hancock and Galton and Simpson. Bolan was just a creative genius, and another person like Hancock who died too early.
ZANI – Sadly just before his death in that road accident, he was pushing new music especially Punk on his new TV Show ‘Marc’ and he even gave The Jam one of their early TV appearances.
Talking of Galton and Simpson’s other work Steptoe and Son which spans over two decades, the sixties Steptoe and Son, shot in black and white, is more sombre and sometimes is like a play by Henrik Ibsen, while the seventies episodes shot in colour are more saucy, full of double entendres, which seem to have been the comedy norm of the early seventies. Do you have any preferences to which Steptoe and Son era you like?
Pete Doherty - First of all, I had trouble watching the black and white Steptoe and Son but now it is the other way round. I love the one where Harold and Albert go to see Fellini’s 8 ½, the whole idea of two rag and bone men from Shepherd's Bush, going out to see Fellini’s 8 ½ is unreal.
ZANI – Yeah, it’s a brilliant insight into the psychology of human relationships. Harold wanting to better himself, and yet he keeps saying he wants to leave, but Albert, his father ,is clearly in his comfort zone. Harold had plenty of opportunities to leave, but he never does, as it seems they both needed each other’s company after all.
Pete Doherty - Definitely, there were rare moments, where they even showed each other genuine affection, but as we know they were few and far between.
ZANI – And sadly that is pretty much the same of all human nature. When Harold scrubbed up, he was a bit of a dapper dresser, and had no trouble in meeting women, his problem was that he couldn’t keep hold of any of them.
Pete Doherty – Yeah, there was a bit of Mod in Harold. He wore nice jackets, with Italian shirts, and he did meet some girls.
ZANI – Yeah and very curvy they were too. It is clear that you are a creative person, am I right in assuming that your creative inspiration came from being read to as a child?
Pete Doherty - I have never really thought of my inspiration like that before. But a child that reads, or is read to at an early age, develops a good imagination as they are taken into another world before bedtime. Be it Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in The Willows, The Magic Faraway Tree. You feed the mind, and you create a fantasy world, that helps you escape the rut that you live in.
ZANI – I gather you have a vast book collection
Pete Doherty – I love to go into charity shops and buy books.
ZANI - As well as collecting books, vintage clothes and jewellery, it is also well documented that you have a vast collection of guitars.
Pete Doherty – I just love old classic and vintage guitars, be it Gibson or Epiphones, even old Yamahas, I’ve just got a thing for the six string.
ZANI – Do you always have a guitar close at hand?
Pete Doherty – I sure do.
ZANI – It is a bit of a cliché, but is your guitar your best friend?
Pete Doherty – When she is in a good mood she can be.
ZANI – As a life long QPR fan, I bet you are pleased with the promotion to the premiership.
Pete Doherty – Of course I am, it was nice for the FA not to deduct the points, next season will be a good season.
ZANI – Do you think they will keep Neil Warnock, I even read that QPR might go after Lippi, the ex Italian manager.
Pete Doherty – That’s just hearsay, and that will always be about in football, we will just have to wait and see with regard to Warnock.
ZANI - Love your new website, The Albion Rooms, the images are good, and it’s like entering a secret world, away from the mundane humdrum of every day life, and your blogs to your fans are good, and well written
Pete Doherty – Cheers.
ZANI - I understand that another hero of yours is Charles Baudelaire, the French poet and your favourite poem by him is The Flowers of Evil?
Pete Doherty – Yes he is , but I have seen there are three different translated versions of The Flowers of Evil. Unless you are going to read it in French, you lose a lot of the meaning, so you have to read the poem in its native language.
ZANI – Is your French good?
Pete Doherty – It’s OK, but I am not fluent.
ZANI – Was it the NME who started calling you Pete, and at the time you wanted to be called Peter?
Pete Doherty – At the time it annoyed me, but now I don’t care.
ZANI - Your closest friend, at one point was Carl Barât, you shared a dream that came true. I bet it was nice to play again together at the festivals last year. I know you have both played a few times since the demise of The Libertines, but this was the big one. Did the experience help to get rid of the demons?
Pete Doherty – It was a mass of emotion really; it took me about two months to get over it after all those years of not being in The Libertines. The demons were back and forth in abundance.
ZANI – Listening to your acoustic playing, I take it that Neil Young is a huge influence and you described your album Grace/Wastelands like Neil Young’s Harvest
Pete Doherty – Not so much of a Neil Young fan but I love his album Harvest.
ZANI – As Stephen Street produced Grace/Wastelands, and you have worked with him before with Babyshambles it must have been a great honour as I understand you are a big fan of Morrissey?
Pete Doherty – Morrissey was a big hero of mine, until he said unkind words about me. He said that Pete Docherty is just trying to be like Sid Vicious and it has all been done before. That kind of hit me, but I do like working with Stephen Street, who co-wrote some of Morrissey’s earlier stuff, like The Last of the Famous International Playboys and Everyday is like a Sunday. International Playboys was a corker of a tune.
ZANI – Yeah one of my favourite Morrissey tracks. Going back to creative imagination, you have created a character Lonely Villain, is that something you are going to develop more?
Pete Doherty - I am working on it, it will develop further
ZANI – Look forward to it. So finally what would you say you have learnt from life?
Pete Doherty –The alphabet.
Indeed he has, as his words have entertained us from his first commercial break way back in 2002. From speaking to Doherty, you get the sense you are speaking to someone like the great Romantic poet Shelley, a man who turned his back on his heritage to pursue his dream of being a poet, and protester. For sure there is something similarly magical when the debonair Doherty speaks. While all great artists and writers have their darker side, Pete’s struggle with drug addiction does not seem to have overshadowed his incredible talent as a poet. You still get the sense that he will just weather such storms, and simply move on to another creative aspect of his life.
He will always be near to the wild heart of life.
© Words – Matteo Sedazzari/ ZANI Media