Stage Times: Peter Doherty

The Libertines frontman and subject of new film, Stranger In My Own Skin, runs us through his best, worst and (very) weirdest gigs

Peter Doherty is one of Britain’s most accomplished living songwriters – and what a joy it is to be able to still say those words. For there was a spell in his career when his life off-stage, and his well-documented addictions, led to something of a tabloid circus. This journey saw the gifted yet troubled artist strive to stay on the creative path in the midst of this seedy spectacle, and it has all been captured in documentary Peter Doherty: Stranger In My Own Skin, by filmmaker Katia de Vidas, who is now the wife to her one-time subject, and mother of their child. 

“It’s a portrait of a really chaotic active addiction, really,” Doherty says of the movie, as he sits leant back in an armchair, dressed well in a suit and tie, and of course, wearing one of his distinctive trilby hats. “It’s a strange story, and it’s a sad film in many ways. There are some humorous moments – I did laugh out loud a few times – but I cried watching it as well. I feel for him, for me. I just want to reach out and give him a hug, really.”

Peter Doherty: Stranger In My Own Skin | Official Trailer

This “story” is his life, and it’s a candid exploration into it. For a man who performs with so much ferver, albeit grounded with a sense of sensitivity, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking he’d love to watch his own world played back to him on screen – but you’d be wrong. 

“I wasn’t that comfortable, to be honest. I don’t know many people who would be? Maybe an ultimate narcissist like Donald Trump, maybe he could watch himself for an hour and a half. I did that thing kids do and go ‘aaaaaa’ and pretend they’re not hearing it – I did that a few times.”

That’s not a surprise, for the film has some uncomfortable moments. As much about addiction as it is about his music, the film finds staggering, intimate access to Doherty across a ten-year period. But when it does focus on the artistry, there’s still so much to love. From the raw, frenetic, sweaty mic-sharing days with Carl Barat and The Libertines, to the chaos that ensued with punk-poetry outfit Babyshambles, with a brief stint in prison sandwiched somewhere in between. All the while, Doherty always maintained an ability to craft indelible pieces of music, equipped with a vulnerability which allowed for a real affinity with his fans. 

He now cuts a happy figure: he’s healthy, hungry and that playful, childlike glint in his eye remains – with a droll sense of humour that even Morrissey would be proud of. “Oooh you traitor” he says in a way comparable to Poirot, when we tell him we once saw Barat’s band Dirty Pretty Things (and that we caught drummer Gary Powell’s shoe from the crowd). To which Doherty sits up and asks seriously, “what shoe was it?”.

On Barat, Doherty admits that his new zest for life has enriched his relationship with his Libertines co-frontman, and not only that, but their music too. 

“These days are special with Carl. The way he looks at me. He used to slap me on the shoulder and see how I was doing, he’d mutter it out the corner of his mouth. But I feel that it’s easier for him with me like this, and that gives me strength. It’s a bit like starting over.”

After a brief rendition of ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ by John Lennon, Doherty looks ahead to the Libertines next album. 

“We recorded the new Libertines album in May, and that’s now mastered. It’s signed, sealed and delivered – so that’s good to go, and it’s one of the only things I’ve made that I can listen to again, and again.”

“There has been a burst recently,” he adds. “Mostly acoustic songs. I’ll probably let Carl have a crack at them and add or take away bits that could be Libertines songs. But there’s been a rich harvest recently, which is the best feeling. It’s the best time.”

As for whether he looks ahead or has any sort of game plan for his future, Doherty remains reserved; perhaps with past afflictions, the future was always somewhat too uncertain. 

“I never look ahead, no. I don’t really think linear, I never really know what day it is. I just go from one song to the next really,” he smiles.

But never-mind the future, we also wanted to carry on looking back – specifically at his life on stage, as we ran through some of his gigging highlights.

The gig that made you want to play music

I saw Morrissey at Battersea Power Station in 1996, but I knew already that I wanted to play music, so that just sort of sealed the deal. There was a moment when I got up on stage and went for his leg. I almost reached the hem of his jeans, but I got put in a headlock by security and I thought, yeah, I love this. I could do this every day. 

The First

It was a working men’s club in Bedworth, near Coventry. It was part of a school band, end of year dance. I got off with a girl – she was a Pulp fan so I really liked her. The guy who put the band together wanted me to do covers of Blues Brothers songs… I only got the job as I’d pretended that I’d seen the film. I had to quickly watch it three times to learn all the songs. 

The Smallest

There’s a place in the village I live in, and I had lunch there one day and I didn’t have any money, so I said I’d do a gig to cancel the bill, which was about 40 euros. I came back with my guitar half an hour later and it was pissing down with rain, so it was just me the bloke who owned the café.

Babyshambles at the Southampton Joiners Arms in May 2005
Photo credit: Andy Willsher/Redferns/Getty

The Biggest

Babyshambles played the French Communist Party youth rally. I think there were 250,000 people there. Well, at the event. It counts because they were within earshot. It was a voluntary gig; we might’ve gotten some T-shirts. 

The Weirdest

There was a strange one with a Ukrainian oligarch… It was his daughter’s birthday, and for one of her presents she wanted Pete Doherty to sing. But she had a design of what I was supposed to wear, what I was supposed to sing, and how I was going to stand. We had to have a run-through. It was all brown paper envelopes, so I didn’t say no. Someone was even telling me which moments to look at the daughter. We had to wear blindfolds to get to the place. We had sacks on our head and were taken out into… it wasn’t exactly a dungeon, but it was very dark. There were all these very serious Russian people and a gang of birthday girls. There was an ice sculpture there. A splendid time was had by all, I suppose is the conclusion.

Pete Doherty and Carl Barat backstage on tour in Manchester in 2004
Photo credit: Andy Willsher/Redferns/Getty

The Worst

There was a gig in Aberdeen where I stage dived and I got wedgied when I was crowd-surfing. Someone f*cking wedgied me and I just remember the words “cop yer whack for this Doherty”. It stung. I was very disorientated. I was staggering – I managed to crawl out between people’s legs and out of the venue. I was on the street outside and then I got nicked as well. The police were like “what’s going on with you?” and they helped me up when drugs fell out of my pocket. Wedgied and nicked within the same ten minutes.

The Best

There was a show I did at a festival once, and it was just me and a guitar. I was supposed to be headlining, and I’d never really done anything like that before. I think it was Belgium. The Manic Street Preachers were on before me, and they were a full, loud band, and I wasn’t sure how I’d follow it. But it just went f*cking well. People were listening, the crowd were right behind me, they were singing along. Just with a little acoustic, nylon string guitar that was plugged in. Before the gig a festival organiser gave me an early, vintage 70s QPR shirt, before sponsorship – just the blue and white hoops and the badge. So I went on with a little guitar, a hat and a QPR shirt, and played to about 40,000 people. Everything went right that night.

The Libertines are playing UK dates from July 28. Find tickets here.

Peter Doherty: Stranger In My Own Skin is in cinemas now.