The Libertines singer talks to Guru about life, happiness and mango sticky rice.
Was it real? An event poster appeared on social media last Saturday promising a free Bangkok show by Libertines’ frontman Pete Doherty in just two days’ time. Curious fans followed the link to Ticketmelon, and the fastest managed to register for the show in the matter of minutes it took to sell out.
Doherty did indeed play an under-the-radar show at short notice on Monday night. Some 250 lucky punters were treated to around an hour of Libertines hits and new solo songs at Decommune, a venue near Khao San Road.
Before the show Doherty explained that he came to Thailand for a holiday, with no plans to play a show. “It was strictly feet up, beach, sunshine, mango sticky rice. No running around and no knees-ups,” Doherty said of his brief visit with his wife Katia de Vidas and baby Billie-May. “But then I ran into the Irishman at the swimming pool in Hua Hin.”
The Irishman is an acquaintance of Doherty and the team at Chon Buri’s Karma Sound Studios, where Doherty and writing partner Carl Barât holed up to write and record the Libertines’ 2015 album Anthems for Doomed Youth. The Irishman’s son is emerging Thai-Irish artist Harry Sparo, who makes music under the name Sparo. Listening to Sparo’s music on his father’s phone, Doherty, on the lookout for acts to sign to his fledging record label Strap Originals, decided he wanted to see him play live. A gig at Decommune was hastily arranged, with Doherty, or rather Katia deciding he would play an acoustic set. “It’s the last night of our little 10-day stay so she’s given me permission to play an acoustic show, then we’ll catch a plane straight back to Normandy,” Doherty said.
Sparo, who only played his first show last year, was still processing his sudden stroke of luck after opening for Doherty at Decommune. “It’s absolutely insane,” he said. “When I posted the poster on my Instagram story everyone was confused.” While Doherty is known for his indie rock anthems, Sparo’s take on modern club pop is slippery and difficult to categorise. “It’s just a lot of stuff mixed in. Some is drum and bass, some is indie pop or psychedelic rap. I don’t want my music to be defined by the name of the genre,” Sparo said.
His short, confident set was well received and it’s not surprising that he has already been courted by major Thai labels. “A couple of labels have hit me up but I didn’t want to join them because they’re gonna write the music for you and they want you to look a certain way. I’ll just keep going, keep connecting with people and see where it takes me.”
During his headline set, Doherty was effusive in his praise for Sparo, who joined him on drums for ramshackle set closers Don’t Look Back Into the Sun and Can’t Stand Me Now.
Doherty is a regular visitor to Thailand, but when asked why he's so fond of the country he grew pensive and was conscious not to, in his words, be overly emotional or sound like a travel brochure. “Some of the recommendations or suggestions I’ve made in my life have been negative maybe, but suggesting someone visit Thailand would be a positive thing if you’re looking for adventure, but really peace and warmth. And mango sticky rice. And monkey gods. What’s not to like?”
Given Doherty’s history as a seeker of chemically-assisted chaos, Thailand must feel different now he’s off the hard drugs and travelling with his wife and child. Has his relationship with the country changed? “My relationship with everywhere has changed,” he said. He was honest about his battles with addiction on a recent Louis Theroux documentary for the BBC, in which he sometimes appeared ill-at-ease, but backstage at Decommune with his family, Doherty was warm and charming. Is he mentally in a good place now? “Yeah, as much as humanity is in a good place. Maybe not for prolonged periods of time but I do have my moments of Arcadian bliss. I don’t really search for happiness, but if happiness wants to find you it will find a way, which is nice when it pops around to say hello. Sit yourself down and have a little natter.”
Fans have made do with a couple of sporadic acoustic sets from Doherty in Bangkok over the years, whereas the Libertines have yet to play a concert in the country. Well, not officially. “When we were recording here we used to go out on the scooters and stop at roadside places that had half a drum kit,” Doherty recalled. “We’d just pull up [and play] and there’d be one bloke with his fingers in his ears saying ‘You’re no good. Don’t you know any Rolling Stones?’ And we’re like…if only you knew.”
Pete Doherty onstage at De Commune, January 15, 2024. Photo by Tar Paisarnthanachok
Emerging artist Sparo supported Doherty at the show. Photo by Tar Paisarnthanachok