Socialist Worker

Peter Doherty: ‘You’ve got to dig capitalism up and replace it’

Singer-songwriter Peter Doherty made his name with rock band The Libertines, and now sings with Babyshambles, who gave an electrifying performance at the Love Music Hate Racism gig at the Coronet on Friday. He talked to Alison Philcock about his music

Issue No. 1923c

Peter Doherty (Pic: Angela Stapleford)

Peter Doherty (Pic: Angela Stapleford)


Why have you agreed to play the gig in Trafalgar Square at the end of the European Social Forum?

There’s few enough people doing things for the right reasons. Bringing people together to fight capitalism – I’m into that. But I’m into learning as well. I need to know more of what it’s about, and shape my own beliefs.

A lot of the issues surrounding Third World debt and loans to countries involves keeping things as they are, rather than completely dismantling a system a majority of people find horrific. We need radical change. That’s what I’m into and I think that’s the only solution.

So how do you think radical change can come about and what kind of change do you think we need?

You have to replace capitalism because that’s the only thing it understands. It’s like a disease or a fungus. You can’t tidy up the flower bed and restrain it a bit – you’ve got to dig it out from the roots and replace it, otherwise it will keep growing. That’s the nature of capitalism.

As far fetched as it seems, it can happen the way it’s always happened in history, and that’s through a radical turnaround.

Who really would have thought in Russia in 1917 that that would happen? They were coffee shop philosophers who ended up in charge of the most incredible revolution human history has seen.

It’s just when people really have had enough. And that’s what the song “Time For Heroes” is about. I wrote it after the May Day riots in 2002 when I was just glad to be coming home after what happened.

How did you end up on the May Day demonstrations and what did you think about them?

Partly it was because where I had been hanging round in east London there had been talk of riots, people going to try and get involved in that. I just wanted to see it.

There were running battles with the police and I was part of that. I ended up with a scarf wrapped round my head and I did get hit. I think the policeman thought I was taking the piss – I was doing my hair by looking in his riot shield and he clumped me round the side of the head.

When the demonstrations really kicked off I remember feeling that they were the most important days of my life. I felt like I’d never felt before, about London and about people in London – contrasting the absolute belief, the absolute willingness to fight, protest and make a change, to absolute stagnant apathy.

It was like using parts of your brain that had never been used or seeing things that you’d never seen before.

It was a huge awakening. I remember waking up the day afterwards with a renewed sense of purpose, and I really wanted to sing about it and go and do it again. It makes you aware that things can happen. All you need is the numbers and the belief.

The companies that control the music industry are some of the biggest names in global capitalism. How do you feel that you fit into that?

You always see lists and polls about the 50 most influential people in music, and it’s always quite hip artists or talented rappers, but they’re not the most important people in the music industry. They might be in terms of the music itself, but unfortunately the music is often dictated by who owns it, which isn’t the artist. It’s the boss of Time Warner, it’s the boss of Dreamworks. It’s not the kids – they’re just pennies for the slot machine.

I think I belong to a community, which I’m pretty sure the boss of Time Warner isn’t in. It’s about kids who are devoted to music – fans, like I am, who form bands, start fanzines and help each other as much as they can. What it all boils down to is those sacred moments – new singles or gigs, anything that contributes to our culture, our world.

Tell us about your new band, Babyshambles

I’ve been in a band with Patrick before. So I’ve known him for a long time. I always knew he was a brilliant guitarist. He’s got so many ideas and a real talent. I think he’s a genius actually. In a way there are similarities to when I met Carl from The Libertines, in that there is this huge untapped resource of creativity that’s never been given the opportunity because he’s quite shy.

I’ve known Gemma about four or five years. She used to work at her dad’s rehearsal studio where we rehearsed years ago. And Pat said, “What about Gemma?” Drew, who plays bass, was a friend of theirs who they suggested. I feel like for the first time I’m facing up to everything in my life, like drugs. People say I look happy. But traditionally The Libertines in its public form, doing gigs, going on tour, was never a particularly happy place.

It’s always been a war with people that you’re under the same banner with, but you’re not really united with, apart from on stage. So even though Babyshambles are singing quite a lot of sad songs, it’s positive – we’ve got a group mentality. There’s a lot more openness and trust.

It’s pretty unusual, though. Babyshambles have only released one single, and you’ve just done a tour and filled big venues.

I belonged to a band that was just starting to achieve success really. Since I’ve left the band, the press attention over drugs and various shenanigans has helped to make The Libertines a public band – probably even helped sales of a record that people wouldn’t normally buy. You can’t knock it in a way, because there seem to be a lot of genuine music fans at Babyshambles gigs. But with songs like “What Katy Did”, which Babyshambles do but which is on The Libertines album, you notice the difference in their reception because everyone knows the words.

I wasn’t going to put “What Katy Did” on The Libertines, or “Tomblands”, or “The Man Who Would Be King”, or “The Ha Ha Wall”. But we were a band – that’s the way I looked at it. It was important to feel that we were making a record – not like I was giving them my songs. I said to Carl, “You sing them well – we’ll do them together. They’re ours.”

And I remember telling Carl that I wanted him to sing “What Katy Did”, and he thought I was winding him up. I said, “I don’t want to end up out the band again, with you going round the country and on TV doing these songs and I can’t play them,” and he said, “No, we are in it together – you’ve got to believe.”

So I did, and it was great and I threw myself into it. We had our fallouts, but we made the record. I feel a little bit duped because I want to do those songs. They’re not anti-Libertines songs, but they were never written for The Libertines to sing because the words, the things we’re singing about, they were feelings that had been stifled by The Libertines, and those songs were a way out.

What is the plan with Babyshambles?

To carry on the pace, using a much neglected part of Patrick’s talent. There’s so many beautiful riffs waiting to have lyrics put to them. I think “Fuck Forever” is one of the best songs I’ve ever written. I was singing it last night over and over again – trying to work out if I really like it or if it was just signifying something – but I really do like it. I’m extremely impatient to get our album done.

Dot Allison has an established musical background with One Dove, Death in Vegas and Massive Attack. How did you come to work with her?

It happened through her brother, who does a magazine I write for called Full Moon Empty Sportsbag.

He said he had a sister who could sing. I hadn’t really heard of Dot Allison, but it rang a bell and I knew she was somebody cool. When we first met and sat down together working on stuff we just started being able to write together. And it’s really rare that happens.

There’s only a few people in my life that I have been able to write a song with. We clicked straight away and started writing songs, and that’s the most important thing.

So other than music, what are you interested in doing?

I’m interested in setting up some sort of group, going into schools and doing silly songs about issues, things that kids wouldn’t normally be spoken to about – like anti-capitalism, what’s happening in their society: “Does your daddy work, where’s your daddy from, is your daddy even allowed in the country, is your daddy in jail, is he in jail because he couldn’t afford a decent solicitor?” I’d like to talk to them about racism, things that ruin lives because people aren’t prepared for them – they’re hoodwinked.

I’d like to get poetry and music workshops going. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s not a guilt thing and it’s not a publicity thing.

As a kid in school I was a bit of a blank canvas on certain issues. I was completely ignorant about drugs because it was such a taboo at home, and there was no education – you learnt things on the street or through experience.

People came into school and started singing and talking to us, and did little plays. I used to really enjoy that. When I was eight that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up – go round schools doing silly plays. I want to do it as a long term thing. Not just doing something positive for the community but for myself as well.

Peter Doherty and Dot Allison will be playing at the end of today’s demonstration in Trafalgar Square.

Babyshambles’s new single, “Killamangiro”, is out on 29 November. For more information go to www.babyshambles.net


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Features
Sun 17 Oct 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1923c
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