On the release of his new book, ‘A Likely Lad’ Music Writer, Matt Jacobson interviews singer songwriter, Pete Doherty.
“Walking on stage ….is like skipping to the gallows”
Peter Doherty, to his devoted fans, is a cult hero, a modern-day Rimbaud. Musically, he has defined the past twenty years of indie rock with his sound, lyrics, lifestyle and aesthetic. And yet, he has had times of being seen as the nation’s bad boy and a public enemy.
Since the Libertines rose to international fame, Doherty has proved endlessly fascinating. A whirlwind of controversy and scandal has tailed him ever since the early 2000s, so much so that all too often his talents as a songwriter and performer have been overlooked; for every award and accolade, there is a scathing review. Hard drugs, tiny gigs on the hoof, huge stadium shows, collaborations, obliterations, gangster and groupies – Doherty has led a life of huge highs and incredible lows.
Today, with his wildest days behind him, in his book, Doherty candidly explores some of his greatest and darkest moments, taking us inside the creative process, decadent parties, substance-fuelled nights, his time in prison and tendency for self-destruction. With his trademark wit and humour – and with sober and sometimes painful insight – Doherty also details his childhood years, key influences, pre-fame London shenanigans, and reflects on his era-defining relationships.
I interviewed, Pete to discuss the writing process, playing live and wanting to join Morrissey’s band.
How was the writing process, was it a positive experience or a negative experience?
No, no…it was really difficult. I struggled really, struggled to pick it up and read it. It was a long series of interviews, around 60 hours worth and I was under the impression he would be writing in the third person. But when I saw the draft it was ‘I’’, ‘I’ and ‘I’. So it was strange reading it, – it was definitely my voice, but it was my voice with all this other stuff put in. If I’m gonna write my book – then I wanna write it, that was the kind of deal , but at that time we had already been paid and I’d spent the money so it was too late to pull it.
You have crammed so much into your career and life; how did you select the final ingredients for the book – and do you have lots that didn’t make the final cut?
Yeah, the time came to give the approval, we sat down to edit, – it was too hard to edit because it was too hard to read it, so i couldn’t take stuff out because of that . People who were concerned about the content one by one edited it really – Kate’s lawyer and Kate presumably, Carl, my Mum, and my wife and the publishers’ lawyers. So, when it came back from that, most of the funny stories had gone. I didn’t know what to make of the whole thing. I was so confused about the third person. But I’m not knocking writer Simon Spencer, he’s ace.
Was it a time to reflect or do you reflect all the time?
There was lots of stuff brought up that I’d forgotten all about so lots of reflection. And it was strange having these intimate conversations with him over the phone, so it was odd, but yes, there was so much reflection, so much.
Are you constantly writing songs, or do you stop and think it’s time to write a song?
In terms of lyrics, yes, it’s constant – in an ideal world I’d love to find time and write everyday but with the music it’s very sporadic and sometimes I’ll go a week to two weeks without picking up a guitar.
Playing live, how would you describe the first ten yards of walking on stage?
Well, imagine it’s like walking to the gallows, but skipping. So yes, it’s like skipping to the gallows.
‘Skipping to the Gallows’ sounds like a song title in the making!
(laughs)Yes, I should make a note of that one!
And how would you describe the last ten yards walking off the stage?
The best way to go is head first into the crowd, so at the end sometimes it’s relief, it’s like collapsing onto a water bed …………which I’ve never done but i can imagine what it’s like.
You have mentioned your influences, but what’s it like to be an influence as many bands name check yourself, does it add more pressure when you are seen in such high regard?
In a way it takes pressure off as it’s a feeling or satisfaction you have made a connection with someone, they picked up a pen or guitar – and that’s tangible and real so it satisfactory.
And finally, we are in the British Music Experience, the home of memorabilia. My treasured item is from my hero, Morrissey. It’s his shirt from a gig in Liverpool, what is your treasured item of memorabilia?
You know what Matt, we have a label and we wanted to sign Morrissey as he was moving around labels, that would’ve been ace. The first gig I ever went to was Morrissey at Battersea Power Station and the next day I jumped the train to Chester to see him.
I did the very same journey Pete!
Yes, I slept at Birmingham New Street Station and broke into the vending machine. I’ve still got the Crunchy bar wrapper! (laughs). I got on stage that night too. I thought if I just got hold of Morrissey’s leg, he would let me join the band and we could run away together, but the bouncers got hold of me and kicked me out. But what a gig! I always wanted to be at that historic, Wolverhampton gig, I used to have a VHS tape and the footage of fans queuing up was great – you just needed a T shirt to get in the concert …it looked great.
Peter from the bottom of my heart, thank you for the interview and for exchanging books – it means the world.
Thank you, Matt, my pleasure.
With thanks to Pete and all of the team at the British Music Experience.
Love and Peace