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Music

Pete Doherty remembers hearing The Strokes for the first time

Amid the cultural transformation that ushered in the 2000s, two bands rose to prominence: The Libertines and The Strokes. Both captured the sound of the modern city in a swirl of garage rock that came to typify what it meant to be young and free in the early years of the 21st century. In his new book, A Likely Lad, Libertines frontman Pete Doherty recalls the first time he listened to Julian Casablancas and the band.

Although The Libertines’ first album came as a surprise to many, the reality was that Pete Doherty and the more business-minded Carl Barât had been looking to secure a record deal for years. In fact, according to A Likely Lad, they were willing to do anything to get what they wanted, including changing their sound and clothes to conform to the tastes of Rough Trade. “It became known as plan A,” Doherty recalls “Get the best looking people and be as much like The Strokes as possible. That’s how it was.” This was definitely not the way Doherty had envisioned getting into the music industry, but it had pretty much been his plan all along.

The frontman came across The Strokes before either they or The Libertines had managed to break through. “I was still working on a building site when I first saw a picture of them – there was a little article in Dazed & Confused. All I could see was me, Carl, Steve and John – one of them was even wearing the same T-shirt Steve had been wearing for years. I was thinking, ‘How dare they?’ Then Francesca bought back one of those Rough Trade triple A-side CDs, The Modern Age EP that came out in early 2001.” On listening to the EP, Doherty was blown away. “I’d never heard anything like it – it sounded like the better quality rehearsals that we’d had when Steve was on the drums. It sounded like a band having a good time in a room, and the lyrics were amazing.”

The Strokes made a huge impression on Doherty and, judging from an interview with Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi, it wasn’t long before Doherty made an impression on them. In Lizzy Goodman’s book Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City, 2001–2011, Valensi remembers meeting a pre-fame Doherty in a club shortly before The Libertines made it big. “We were in the loudest club in the world, and there was this guy sitting in the corner of the club, surrounded by kind of slutty-looking girls, and he was playing the acoustic guitar in this super-loud club.”

Valensi continued: “He wanted to talk to me, show me songs he had written, telling me he’s starting a band. He was with this Italian girl, and the whole thing felt like there was sexual undertones. They were obviously together, but there was kind of insinuations of ‘Well, maybe we’ll all get together tonight,’ that kind of thing. He wanted to come back to my hotel with me, and I was like, ‘No man, I’m sorry, I have to go.’ I remember leaving, thinking, ‘That guy was fucking crazy.’” The guitarist then added: “We get to the venue, the first gig of the tour, and who’s fucking singing in the band but that crazy guy with the acoustic guitar from the night at that club. It was Pete Doherty! He remembered me very clearly. He knew who I was the first time I met him.”

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