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(Credit: Far Out / Press/YouTube / Jazmin Quaynor)

Music

Far Out Meets: Peter Doherty discusses new album, getting clean and prison reform

@josephtaysom

This year marks two full decades since Peter Doherty was anointed as his generation’s poet laureate, a time when The Libertines released their debut album, Up The Bracket. Since then, the musician has been on a rollercoaster journey with Doherty left with the battle scars to show for it, and his new record, The Fantasy Life of Poetry & Crime, proves that his celestial talent is still burning bright.

Doherty is now 43, the days of his misdemeanours being a fixture in the showbiz pages of the red-top newspapers are over. Now, the singer-songwriter is turning over a new leaf and embracing contentment rather than living in the fast lane. Doherty now resides in Normandy, France, with his wife, Katia de Vidas, who he married last year, and the Libertine has also been clean for over two years.

Things are looking up for Doherty, and his debut album with Frédéric Lo is everything that you’d want from one of his records. However, the album was born out of tragedy, and the duo first met following the death of French musician Daniel Darc, who Lo was making a tribute album to honour his legacy.

Doherty tells me over Zoom from backstage at the O2 Academy in Sheffield that he felt Darc “was a kindred spirit”, which encouraged him to participate in the project. During their time working together, Lo played an instrumental that Doherty says sounded like an amalgamation of Neil Young and The Beatles. He then volunteered to add lyrics to the track that later became ‘Yes I Wear A Mask’ and set the blueprint for the album. 

“At the time, I was in a creative doldrums because my fingers were fucked from carpal tunnel syndrome, so I couldn’t play the guitar for like six months. So he was doing all that, and I was just concentrating on the lyrics,” Doherty says before lighting a cigarette.

Work began in the summer of 2020, and the partnership gave him something to focus on during the dark days of lockdown. Doherty found the period testing but a breeze compared to how he thinks the 25-year-old version of himself would have coped. “I’d have gone fucking crazy,” he confesses. “I don’t think I’d have held it together at all being told I couldn’t go to gigs, play gigs, go to bars, save up, and then travel as well. It would have been too much for me, but I was quite happy to put my feet up and walk my dogs.”

All those things that Doherty once believed he couldn’t live without during his youth are no longer at the forefront of his mind, and his French retreat is a far cry from his former hectic life in London during the height of his tabloid notoriety.

(Credit: Press)

Doherty would admit that he has made many mistakes along his journey, some of which led to numerous skirmishes with the law and his subsequent depiction as a two-dimensional villain. The singer-songwriter emotionally concedes he found this period of perennial tabloid placement “really complicated mentally and quite distressing”.

Doherty’s brutal battle with addiction has been the instigator for all the problems in his life, springing up on a regular basis and feeding into this tabloid persona. Talking in reflection, it has still not quite sunk in for Doherty that he’s lasted so long without heroin. “To be honest, I never really thought I’d be able to give up heroin. I got so much from it. Well, I believed I got so much from it. I never thought I’d give it up, and in the grip of addiction, I didn’t want to give it up,” the Libertine says with unflinching honesty.

Doherty notes that his dependency on narcotics did have one upside: it forced him to work, noting the financial demands he needed to meet to fund his activities. He explained: “I don’t want to say anything that could justify the use, but, because I was using so much and so hard, I had to keep writing and doing gigs to keep the pennies coming in. So now, it’s a different kind of urgency because I write to fulfil my need to write, not to justify my use or provide.”

In May, Doherty is returning to the road for a European tour to celebrate the new album with Lo. There’s palpable excitement in his voice when he speaks the run of dates in support of The Fantasy Life of Poetry & Crime, and it’s all for the right reasons. “As soon as we started writing together at my kitchen table, my first thoughts were what will the people who like my music think about it because I believe some of these songs are as good as anything I’ve done before,” he says about the prospect of performing it live.

His project with Lo isn’t the only plate that Doherty is spinning. Next week, he’s flying out to South America with The Libertines for a couple of festival appearances, and they also plan to record material while they are in Colombia.

The group haven’t released any new material since their comeback album, Anthems For Doomed Youth, in 2015, but the wait might almost be over. “We’re still chugging along, so we’ll see. We’re going to Bogota in Colombia at the end of March, and while we’re there, we are supposed to be meeting up with Andrew Loog Oldham, The Rolling Stones producer and songwriter,” Doherty explained.

“So we are going to pop in there on our days off and see if we can put these ideas down. Maybe, we’ll do a single this year, or an EP, but an album, I’m not sure,” Doherty speculates.

(Credit: Alamy)

Additionally, Doherty helps run his record label Strap Originals alongside his manager, Jai Stanley, and he also still has Puta Madres on the go, who released their debut album in 2019. “A lot of the new songs I have, apart from the ones with Fred, are Puta Madres songs but are just demos on Katie’s phone, and since I’ve been on the road with the Libertines, we’ve got two or three really good songs as well,” he reveals.

The news of possible new material from The Libertines is much-welcomed and would be a fitting way to mark 20-years since Up The Bracket. “It’s kind of incomprehensible, to be honest. It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know where the time has gone,” Doherty reflects.

It’s almost a decade since they buried the hatchet in 2014 for a sold-out show at Hyde Park in front of 60,000 people, and having the band permanently back in his life is a source of gratuity for him. “It’s kind of an anchor for me in a lot of ways,” he says about his relationship with his bandmates. “It’s a family thing. The boys are like my brothers, and (touring) it’s the only time we really get together. Although, they came to my wedding, which made me so happy, and we got up to do some songs too”.

While The Libertines will always be his family, Doherty isn’t ruling out reviving Babyshambles, an outfit that has been on hiatus since 2014. “If I felt there was a real need for it, if people need to hear those songs live again, it would probably happen,” he explained.

When he’s not working on his various musical projects, Doherty is also invested in a social cause close to his heart and helping reform prisoners through creativity. He’s been to jail three times, most recently in 2011, and his experience is why he’s begun a partnership with Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison in the hope of rescuing lives. “I know when I was locked up, it would have been amazing to have had an instrument to play or an art class to go to. People think that prison is a holiday camp, but it’s not,” he passionately says. “Very few prisons provide a creative outlet for people. I think it’s hard being locked up for anyone but for someone who needs to create, it’s even worse.”

Doherty also laments the drug laws in Britain and believes “decriminalising” is the way forward. He earnestly continues: “They need to start treating it as an illness rather than a crime, there are arguments on both sides, but as someone who has been an addict, I think I’m in a good place to be involved in a discussion.”

As Doherty admitted, for many years, he didn’t even want to imagine a life without heroin. However, it’s no coincidence since he’s rowed safely back to shore that everything has seemingly fallen into place for a rock ‘n’ roll survivor who has an inability to stay down. 

The Fantasy Life Of Poetry & Crime is out now on Strap Originals. Visit here to buy the album.