On The Edge

By Pete Doherty

Reviewed by James Murray

Most of the British public have mixed views about the erstwhile Peter Doherty. Some good, some bad, some don’t really give a f*ck, or don’t know who he is. (the b*st*rds!) The man who has lived such a rock n roll lifestyle, you are truly spell bound by his every word, every actions and or deed. He has been seen as an icon of our generation. With The Libertines he co-created one of THE bands of all time. The scuzzy, scummy, gutter rock aura, which as long as I live,  will never be bettered. His relationship, friendship call it what you will with Carl Barât was compelling and absorbing as anything that has gone before. His working life with Carl, the song writing ability, has been compared with Lennon/McCarthy. A truly high acclaim. One which has been truly justified. The Libertines were labeled as the British Strokes, something that deeply annoyed Pete, he wanted the Libertines to be unique. That is, as history has shown us, what happened.

From an indifferent background, Pete was deeply involved in literature. His one true passion was poetry, he loved to read and write poems. His love for the written word was immense. He breezed through school and college acquiring many qualifications. He was the apple of his parents eye. His Father Peter Snr was heavy involved with the Army, his mother also involved with the army, came from different parts of the country. His father was from West London and his mother came from Liverpool. Due to his father’s occupation, Peter Snr was constantly being posted all over the Europe. Pete never had a stable place that he could truly call home. The family had to move wherever his father was going to be stationed Despite all this interruption,  Pete excelled at the academic level. His work at college sent him to University, and it was here that the Pete Doherty of today that we know appeared. During fresher week, Pete meet a student called Carl Barat. They form an immediate friendship and bond. It was Carl who taught Pete to play the guitar. The bed rock, the foundations of the Libertines were firmly in place. Pete abandon University in search of Arcadia. Pete’s love of literature was to lead him to develop an image of a beauty, tranquil, lush image of England, known as Albion. Here Pete could feel at home. He yearned to be in Albion permanently. His dream was to escape to this paradise of his desire and live the life he wanted. Arcadia was the holy land that he wanted to realize once he reached Albion. Arcadia was an arena of colour and light where the seemingly life-draining qualities of addiction were transformed.  With his new found friend Carl Barat, who believed in the same ideas as Pete, the two left there old life to begin a new journey which would incorporate so many new ventures and changes. The Libertines juggernaut was starting to take off.

From now on Doherty was living the life he wanted, the life he dreamt of.  The life of a Libertine: “an individual unimpeded by moral constraints“. Pete was determined that his music, starting with The Libertines, and lifestyle would reflect such a philosophy, whatever the cost. One of the many by-products of this lifestyle was drugs. In particular Heroin. Pete claimed that his use of Heroin was to fuel his remarkable creativity. As a consequence his health was suffering, though his pursuit of his goals drove him on. His first taste of drugs was cannabis. With his main friends that he found alone the path of his life, he would visit main pubs, squats, gig venues where drugs were common place. The most highly sort after of these was Cannabis. Pete started to regularly smoke this and it was soon to escalade into something which he either didn’t want control or couldn’t control. With The Libertines project well underway, he started to writing lyrics for future songs. Both Carl and Pete had a telepathy which served them well. They both had great ideas which were to form the basis of the soon to become debut album Up The Bracket. The band was still in its infancy and the pair were on the look out for new members. Through a friends of friend they acquired drummer Gary Powell. Powell had been well recommended and instantly gave the Libs a solid backbone. The band started to play impromptu gigs where and when they could. The songwriting ability was never going to be an issue. Idea upon idea was being created. The band soon added a fourth member into the Libertines equation. John Hassell was the new guy in the libertines world. John played the bass guitar. The Libertines lineup was complete. By playing a number of gigs at pubs, clubs, house parties, news was starting to spread of this raw new band who had a fresh punk(y) sound to them. The more people that got into the Libs, the more friends Pete made. Some of these were low key drug dealers. Pete found a way to sustain his drug habit. He would play the gigs get the money for the performance and use all the profit to buy drugs. He was still into Cannabis, until one dealer gave him some heroin. He immediate took to it. And from then on his preferred choice of drug was to be heroin. The Libertines soon had enough material to create an album. The band who had been writing material in and amongst gigs, wrote and recorded debut album Up The Bracket. This was the big break through that Pete had been hoping for. The Libertines were an instant hit. The music industry headed main by NME went for the Libs in a big way. Songs such as Time For Heroes, Boys In The Band, Up The Bracket and the manic I Get Along were to propelled The Libertines into the stratosphere.

The friendship between Pete and Carl was at an all time high, but the storm clouds were gathering. Carl knew of Pete’s drug habit and was always keeping an eye on Pete’s dealing. He on numerous occasion was warning Pete of the devastating side effects of heroin addiction. Carl was acting in the way any person would do in that situation. Looking out for his friend. Pete’s drug habit though was getting worse, much to Carl’s dismay. As the band hurtled towards fame and fortune, the rock n roll lifestyle with which this now converted Libertine had been accomplished. The debut album sold thousands and suddenly the band were an over night success. A success which they for the immediate future would sustain. 2002 was the year for The Libertines. The release of the album, the numerous gigs across, not just the UK, but around the global, had fired the imagination of anyone and everyone who had heard of the Libs. The fans who had been their from the start, those first few un-orthodox shows were fiercely loyal and as every gig passed more and more fans jumped onto the bandwagon. It was in the follow year that the first major cracks in the relationship of Pete and Carl started to show. Pete’s every increasing drug habit had gotten to a stage where he was finding new ways in which to gain money to pay for more drugs. The summer of 2003 was the first major turning point. One night in August Pete broke into Carl’s flat and stolen a number of goods which he then redeemed for their cash value. The money was then spend on drugs.  Pete was subsequently arrested and imprisoned. This would turn out to be the first in a long line of visits to prison. The initial prison sentence was reduced to just a single month. Word spread of Pete’s release and when he was eventually let free, a huge crowd had gathered to greet him. They include numerous fans and Carl Barat. Both he and Carl embraced when they saw each other! The fans went wild. Soon after a gig was promptly arranged and the band got back together to play. The freedom gig as it was dubbed went down a storm.

2004 was to begin with a bang. The annual NME Awards hailed The Libertines as Best British Band. The perfect way to start the year! The success of this was to bring out both extremes for both Pete n Carl. Work had already begun on the second album! But tension amongst the ranks was fraught with bitterness. Over the years the band had acquired three NME awards. 02′ Best new band, 03′ Best British Band and again the same award in 04′! One song which both Pete n Carl had penned, which was to be very autobiographical and very poignant for both parties, was Can’t Stand Me Now. The lyrics in the song tell all and sundry of the breakdown of their friendship. This would serve notice that things were in a very bad shape for band and its future. All through the latter months of 2003 and the early stages of 2004 Pete’s drugs problem was continuing to worsen. Tension between Pete and Carl had now developed into full blooded hatred of one another. When the band meet for recording session for the second album, personal bouncers were hired to keep the two apart, so was often the case the two would have a squabble about a innocuous argument then in would turn violent, punches were thrown and blood was spilt. One of the most miraculous events ever to occur from this was that the second album was recorded and released. The reception The Libertines received was overwhelming, but the mental and physically damaged sustain by both parties was irreparable. When the band should have been celebrating success, the inevitable news was broke! Carl, after having suffered from Pete’s mental attitude, his drug taking shenanigans and his physically encounters, issued a statement to the press that he was letting Pete go from the band. No longer would Pete Doherty play in The Libertines. When Pete heard the news he was devastated; the band was his life, it meant everything to him. Many Lib’s fans to this days still blame Carl for the break up of The Libertines, though Carl is resolute that he acted in the best interests of everyone involved.

Once all the dust had settled and Pete was able to gather his thoughts, he, still under the influence of Heroin and Crack, pushed forward with his side project – Babyshambles. This was his one escape, his one release from reality. The drugs continued but so did the music. Babyshambles were a growing menace inside Doherty’s head. With the help of newly found band members, Patrick Walden (Guitar), Drew McConnell (Bass) and Gemma Clarke (drums) Babyshambles set out on the road. Many people saw the band as a joke, a waste of time. One of those people was Carl. He branded the name of the band as the worst name for a rock band ever. Pete was defiant in his defence of the band. The name was derive from the fact that all the band members were very young and that they didn’t have a true leader. So all of there adventures and journeys were Shambolic [as well as the name of one of the Libertines’ bootleg sessions]. The band persisted and started work on new material. A large fan base suddenly grew and ‘Shambles gigs were springing up all over the place. Even before a single had been released Babyshambles were an instant hit. Finally in December 2004 ‘Killamangiro’ was released and shot straight into the top ten. The lyrics of this piece of work were very poignant ones: /Why would you pay/To see me in a cage/….That some men call a stage/. In the start to 2005 Pete’s perpetual drugs habit had carried over, so much to the extend that his behavior was started to ruffle feathers amongst the band. So much so that in January 05′ drummer Gemma Clarke left Babyshambles. The band needed to get a replace and fast. Gemma’s exit was hard to take for the band, she was a vital cog in a very unstable machine. During the early part of 05′ Babyshambles were a band that really didn’t seem to be going any where. Mainly due to the fact that Pete would constantly fail to show up for any gigs. He’s brushes with the law were becoming more and more frequent. By the time the festival season of June – August had arrived, many believed that Babyshambles were finished. But somehow the band and Pete in particular proved all wrong. The most noticeable moment was the Band’s appearance at the Carling Weekend:- Reading and Leeds Festival, where Babyshambles played a poignant and well structured set. The crowd where totally enthralled and things were started to look up. A few months later another stroke of genius occurred. The debut album of Babyshambles – Down In Albion was released and snapped up by thousands. Finally situations started to look up. But yet again Pete was the master in his own down fall. In the winter months of 2005 Pete was arrested for carrying two small transparent packets. One contained a small amount of Crack Cocaine, the other was Heroin. He was also detained at the time of the arrest for being under the influence of a substance. It has yet to be establish what substance this was. During the December 05′ and January 06′ Pete was constantly on the wrong side of the law. He has been arrested and detained in police cells on numerous occasion. It seems that he simply doesn’t care what happens to him. Either the law will destroy him or most likely is that he will destroy himself. Only time will tell.

It is difficult to see a change in Doherty’s behaviour. Any sort of change would be a sign that he is considering moving on. Though as history has shown us, Pete will soon change his mind and go back to his old ways. He turns 27 in March and the main worry from family and friends and fans of Pete Doherty is that he will not carry on. He will stop what he is doing and give up completely. Three musicians in the 20th century who were drug addicts died from drug overdoses when they were 27 – Joplin, Hendrix and Cobain. Is Doherty going to be the fourth? I hope not. I truly want to see Pete turn his life around and start afresh. But only Pete can changes his destiny. And time is running out.


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