- 05 Jun 19
On tour with his new band The Puta Madres, Pete Doherty sits down with Stuart Clark.
"I felt a right prick. In fact, I felt two right pricks."
Pete Doherty has unwound the bloodied bandage on his right-hand to show me the chunk the size of a €2 coin that was taken out of it a few days ago by a pugilistic hedgehog. While not as terminal as the bizarre gardening accident that did for one of Spinal Tap's drummers, it meant that Pete was a no show at the gig last night in Belfast that his new band, the Puta Madres, had soundchecked for only to discover that their leader was still in Margate...
"It was the first fucking night of the tour, so I was heartbroken having to cancel," he says with a rueful shake of his head. "I'm sure people thought, 'Yeah, right, he got spiked by a hedgehog,' but it was only this morning that I was able to fully clench my fist again. It'll be tough enough playing guitar tonight but, 24 hours ago, forget it. I really thought we'd have to pull the tour."
Asked precisely what happened, Pete closes his eyes, grimaces and explains that, "I was walking my two dogs, Zeus and Narco, when they started tossing around what I thought was a ball. When it shapeshifted, I realised the ball was actually an animal. I didn't want them killing it, so I stuck my hand in and got spiked twice by this royally fucked off hedgehog. Which, given the situation he or she was in, is fair enough. One of them is a straightforward puncture mark that's just gone a bit red, but this got so badly infected that I had to go to hospital to get it cleaned up."
Bizarrely, all of this has happened on the eve of National Hedgehog Awareness Week.
"You're making that up... Really? And the new Sonic The Hedgehog film came out this week. That's fucking mad. They've obviously evolved and are taking over the world. Forget the apes, it's the Planet of the Hedgehogs!"
In case you're wondering, yes, this is one of the most surreal conversations I've ever had with a rock star...
The first the outside world knew of his plight was when Pete got one of his people to message - he doesn't do Twitter himself - a picture of "me in a hospital bed with an infected hedgehog spike. Thank you to the wonderful men and women who work within the NHS. What absolute angels. A million times they deserve our respect and thanks."
"Badly paid and badly treated but, yeah, angels the lot of them," he reasserts over a bottle of the strawberry cider that one of the Dublin Academy crew has had to dash to Marks & Sparks to get for Pete who's turned his back on all other forms of alcohol. Before being ushered into the tiny dressing-room that contains him, his battered acoustic and the Puta Madres' equally battered Catalunyan drummer, Rafa, his tour manager had told me of his mad dash back from Belfast to Margate via-Heathrow to collect Mr. D and escort him over to Dublin. An hour-long delay to their teatime flight means they've arrived at the venue with just enough time to talk to Hot Press before hitting the stage.
Pete doesn't do much media these days, but is up for this because of, one, the review our man Wayne Byrne gave his new record and, two, the fact that it was yours truly who conducted the public interview in February 2009 when he was made an Honorary Patron of the Trinity Student Philosophical Society.
"Did we sing a song together at that?" he enquires.
Yeah, 'Ticket To Ride' Pete got me to do the falsetto 'My baby don't care' bits, badly, during his warm-up."
"It was incredible being in the same room that Oscar Wilde held court in," he resumes. "What I love about Wayne is that he reviewed the music rather than me and my reputation. That's my fault, I know, but it's nice to get some of the love we put into the record back from a journalist. That doesn't happen very often."
This is said with such sweet sincerity that I feel myself welling up. While in great form, I'd be lying if I said Pete looks the picture of health or doesn't occasionally wander off into a different headspace. For the most part, though, he's fully tuned-in and eager to talk new beginnings with the Anglo-Franco-Spanish Puta Madres with whom he's formed a very obvious and close bond.
Here's how the rest of the conversation went down...
STUART: Tell us about the recording of the album, which was done over four days in Normandy.
PETE: Yeah, it was really, really relaxed. It was in a family house. The mother of our keyboard-player, Katia, grew up in it. It used to be divided into flats and all different families lived there during the war. Jewish people were hidden in it; it's very historical and right on a cliff-edge so all you could see out the window was the sea. I think that's why it sounds relaxed too. It's one of the mellowest records I've done. Normally there's a heavier edge to it, but this one doesn't have any heavy songs. (Looks at Rafa) You didn't even hardly use sticks, did you? It was brushes, right? The village it's in, Étretat, has been visited by everyone from Maupassant to Manet, so it has a very artistic feel.
Were all the songs written before you got to Étretat or did you do some furious scribbling in the studio?
One or two were done on the hoof, yeah, and then in the case of 'Narcissistic Teen Makes The First XI' we had a verse from an old song that we added to. It's got that (makes screeching noise at increasingly higher pitches and hums melody) introduction, which I love. We wrote all the changes and structure for it as we recorded. If you listen to the "making of..." bonus CD, you can hear how we put it together as we went along. We did live take after live take, adding and subtracting all the time.
'Paradise Under Your Nose', with its "Stay right where you are/ The joy is wherever you go" refrain, is one of the most life-affirming songs I've heard in years.
Sweet of you to say so. Jack, our guitarist who's also in a really great band called Trampoline, wrote most of it. It's been difficult to get into that song, somehow. So I've been endeavouring to get it right. When it comes together it sounds fucking amazing.
Am I right in thinking that 'Who's Been Having You Over?' sample verses: - 'It's more or less that time is it?/ To revisit the how, the why, the what, where and when/ And if you're still inclined to give it/ Credence or jib it on as conspiracy then' - is you settling a few old scores.
I'm quite proud of them knowing lines. Unfortunately, the sort of people I'm looking to direct them at have about as much interest in music as they do in other positive things like love. Those fucking toothless arsehole scumbags who extort and abuse people, you know?
Who are we talking about?
The drug dealers in Margate... sharks are lovely compared to them!
Margate being the Kent seaside town where The Libertines have set up their HQ. What's it like?
It's, er, a quagmire of cultural dissolution. It's very quickly gone from trying to regenerate through art to, "LetÕs knock all the fucking cheap buildings down and build a five star hotel."
So it's getting too gentrified.
Thing is though, there's this smell you get from the sea twice a day. You'll never gentrify Margate with that smell, trust me. Like Poseidon's got acid reflux or something. Where are you living in Dublin?
Right on the Liffey, across from U2's Clarence Hotel.
My word, flying into Dublin today, the view of the bay was absolutely stunning. Do you have a dog?
Yeah, a little bichon frisé called Lola. Don't blame me for the daft name, she's a rescue hound.
Oh, no man, Ray Davies would be proud of you. Take your dog down to the sand; the beach I saw from the air seemed to go way out. When the sea's rough, (starts barking like a dog) ruff, ruff. Do you like the sea?
I actually used to work at sea with Radio Caroline.
Get out, you never were? That must have been at the end of Caroline. Wow, the boat that rocks. What an adventure.
It was. Do you still have your place in Paris?
No, I haven't lived in France for quite a few years. I drove round Europe in my campervan for a while. I'm not homeless, but just drifting about, really, working a lot. I've kind of put some roots down in Margate where the Libertines studio is supposed to be. My stuff's all over the place. You're English, aren't you?
Correct, I'm from Sevenoaks in Kent.
Oh, yeah? You a Man of Kent or a Kentish Man?
I'm from west of the River Medway, so a Kentish Man.
The most important thing is you're not a Cuntish Man. There are a lot of cuntish men around...
Where did you and Rafa meet?
On the street in Barcelona. I was living in my campervan in this neighborhood called La Floresta where every Sunday people take instruments down to the square and play and sing. You'd be like, What is that? Am I imagining it?" And it was, you know, the sound of a flute or a fiddle and a girl's voice. There's a bit of a Celtic thing going on like there is in Ireland. Anyway, one of those people was Rafa. We just clicked. It was him and me at the start. If this tour had been cancelled, I'd have gone back to La Floresta and just hung out.
Having picked up other members of the Puta Madres in France, Germany and England, Pete decamped to Argentina where they lived and rehearsed for six months. Was that in order to escape the tabloid glare?
I think they've lost interest in me and moved on to, well, I'm not sure who they've moved onto but I don't have people camped outside my house anymore. Mainly because I don't have a house! We were in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and... did we go to Bolivia, Rafa? Not Bolivia, Santiago in Chile. There's a bit of a cult of Pete thing in those countries, which I'm trying to break down. Good luck with that! I've always hesitated to call myself a musician but, fuck it, we're musicians, you know?
Do you know how much time you're going to be spending with the Puta Madres before, presumably, reuniting with The Libertines?
I've no idea, really, what's going on. I fell in love with South America, so I'll go back there definitely. No plans. We'll just see where the record takes us.
Pete, you're a very good chronicler...
... of the English condition. What's your take on Brexit Britain? Does it feel really divided?
It's always been divided. The exploiters and the exploited, isn't it? The exact same applies to the people who control information - your Facebooks and Twitters and the like - and the people who consume it. They're bombarded all the time and don't really have filters, they want more and more. With the internet, it's like gluttony. There's no more sifting through back alleys looking for that seven inch. It's pressing a button and hearing whatever song you want instantly. Be wary, man, Wikipedia says my middle name is Daniel. I've never had a middle name (opens his passport up to the photo page) - look, look, look! I've nothing against Daniel, it's a biblical name, but it's not my name. There's a moral in this, but I can't quite recall what it is. Brrrrrrrrrrexit, though. If it were called Britain's exit from the European Union rather than Brexit, people would've turned off long ago. The vote wouldn't even have happened. They made it so simple, "Brexit - Yes or No?" People got into it without really having to think about what it means. You're right claiming asylum in Ireland. I might join you.
The last time we met we talked books. What are you reading at the moment?
I'm not reading the Revenge Of Sherlock Holmes audiobook at the moment. I like talking books. I am reading a bit of Edgar Allen Poe and Jean Genet's lost play about these bank robbers who kill a girl and the police surround the hotel they're in. These are really fit young bank robbers that Genet's got dancing with corpses and fighting over the leadership. I think you're meant to read it in French, but I'm actually reading it in English. This translated edition's got a skull 'n' crossbones on the front. I'm not that into homoeroticism per se, whatever per se means. Its Latin. But, umm, it's a great read. Genet's hilarious; he's dangerous. I mean, he was fuming when they had that whip round and the petition, which got him out of prison. Fuming. He was happy in prison with his boys and his writing.
Now I know why he inspired David Bowie to write "Jean Genie".
Absolutely, Bowie knew the score. Someone threw the book on stage the other day.
No, it happened all the time in the early days of The Libertines. I used to get Catcher In The Rye a lot with notes saying, "We know this is your favourite book." It wasn't my favourite book. I hadn't read the fucker but after the first Libertines tour I had ten copies of it.
Do you have all your books in the one place or are they scattered all over?
Yeah, there are a few places where they're stacked. I've got a lock-up in Ramsgate - my campervan's parked up there too - and then there's the Libertines hotel that's opening in Margate. I'm supposed to be in charge of décor for the rooms, which involves each of them having a record player. Not a television and a phone, fuck that. But records and books from my own collection...
Cool, so you get to decorate!
No, no, no, that was the plan. The powers of darkness - i.e. Carl's management Ð have put a stop to that. They've put in tellies. Capitalist scum!
We were hoping that you'd make it over last year for Shane McGowan's sixtieth birthday bash, which was a great night.
Yeah, I was going to do that. I dunno what happened. Carl - he was there, right? - was kind of putting me up. I was supposed to be going but it all went tits up. Story of my life! I hear Johnny Depp is making a documentary about Shane.
It's nice paying tribute to people when they're still alive rather than when they're dead and don't know you love them.
Absolutely, you've made a very good point there. Robbie Burns could've done with a bit of that, you know what I mean?
Honestly, no, but I'll look it up! I want to know the fuckers who are going to miss me before I die.
Awwwww! The dog will miss you? You got a girlfriend?
Yeah, we got engaged recently.
Great, congratulations! She'll miss you too. When you think about it, having anybody at the graveside is an achievement.
They might just be there to make sure you're six fucking feet under.
Another good point!
Before I let you polish off that bottle of cider in peace, what have been the highlights of the last year or two for you?
Putting this band together, travelling to South America and then coming back and making this album. We're really proud of it. I love it as much as any other record I've ever made. That's a nice thing to be able to say after all these years. Revisiting things can be fun, but I always like to have something 'now' in my life. Hope you enjoy, the show mate!
Footnote: I do enjoy the show. Very much. Pete gigs have been hit and miss affairs in the past but tonight, flanked by a band who provide both musical and emotional support, he conjures up moments of almost impossible beauty. Despite the vociferous disapproval of a few pissed up dunderheads to my left, they're all 'now' songs, which prove that he's perfectly capable of life outside of The Libertines if he so chooses. This really does feel like a new beginning...
The Pete Doherty & The Puta Madres album is out now. Check out Hot Press's photo gallery of their performance at The Academy here.