Simple answer: Sod all. But what it means for Doherty, on the other hand, is freedom creatively, and a sense of freedom that The Libertines perhaps might not be best placed to provide now they’re an all-conquering arena band.
This isn’t me knocking them, by the way. To witness those four guys play to 20,000 people at the O2 the other day, 14 years after I saw them alongside about 40 other people in a drama theatre at Liverpool University was kind of mind-blowing. But as Doherty himself says in his latest interview, given to a student journalist from Bournemouth called Ruby Munslow: “When you’re playing arenas, there is a lot of money involved, there is a huge crew, all these buses.”
Even he admits there’s a sense all this grandiosity might “dull the edges” for the band in future, as it has for so many others in the past.
Only time will tell if that will happen, but for Doherty, a guy who’s always been happiest in private with a guitar in his hand and pen on the desk, the prospect of a new solo album in the midst of all those big money Libertines deals must have been oddly appealing. I’d wager it was similar to what it was like recording B-sides back when The Libs first signed, launching themselves unceremoniously on the music industry treadmill (something he’s insinuated he now regrets). It’s a chance to let your hair down, to go places your fair-weather fans wouldn’t ever expect, and to experiment without having to worry what your record label, management or marketing team might say. He and Carl Barat came up with some of their best and most far-out material then, from the jazzy ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ to the minute-long screamer ‘Mayday’ (aka the most punk rock they or anyone else from the so-called “new rock revolution” ever sounded).
Called Flags Of The Old Regime (after Doherty’s low-key 2015 “>single in memory of Amy Winehouse), Doherty’s choice of producer for the new solo album, Johann Scheerer, suggests he was after something new for it too. Scheerer’s past credits include Faust, one-time Bad Seed and Gallon Drunk man James Johnston, and Omar Rodríguez-López’ experimental post-Mars Volta act Bosnian Rainbows.
The duo recorded the album at Doherty’s home-from-home Clouds Hill studios in Hamburg, right on the banks of the river Elbe, with sessions starting as far back as early 2014. Clouds Hill is the place Doherty has lived and recorded at over the past few years. It’s in a “huge subsiding building”, he says, and it’s also the place where he took the other three Libertines for their first full band meet-up after tentatively deciding to reunite at the start of 2014.
Around that time, I interviewed Doherty and he mentioned the solo album. “You’re not gonna believe some of the things Johann’s done to some of my songs,” he told me back then. “There’s that song ‘Down For The Outing’, which I’ve had for a while now, but it’s incredible, how it sounds. I was worried about the songs like that – the ones people know – but Johann’s made it sound like a brand new song.”
Doherty explained that he moved to the German city from his adopted home of Paris following advice from fashion designer Angelo Genson, who in turn put him in contact with producer Scheerer.
Other songs vying for inclusion at that point included his folky pre-Rough Trade Libertines track ‘She Is Far’, while in the past few months Libs messageboard fans have speculated that other tracks recorded might be ‘Dust On the Road’, ‘I Don’t Love Anyone’, ‘Oily Boker’, ‘Kolly Kibber’, ‘I Could Use A Steady Hand’ and ‘Cheapshot’, many of which have appeared online as demos, as well as an old Wolfman track called ‘Siberian Fur’ (Doherty has attempted to record this several times in the past), and his fiery Saint Etienne-influenced collaboration with Camden artist Suzie Martin, ‘Birdcage’.
In total, Doherty told me back in 2014 that he’d earmarked ten songs for the record, recorded with a band of “kids from around the studio” backing him. He had wanted to get his Babyshambles bandmantes to play on it too, as they did for his first solo album Grace/Wastelands (2009), he said, “but there just seems to be a blockade against it, which I don’t understand – it’s like George Michael all over again”.
It’s unclear whether that situation has changed since 2014, although bassist Babyshambles Drew McConnell has been spotted at several Libertines gigs of late.
Back then, Pete also said that he wasn’t sure who would be funding the record, commenting: “I don’t know what the deal is with EMI publishing – I don’t know what’s going on. I’ve been told not to tell anyone about the album but I’m supposed to be someone who writes songs and makes records.”
Rumours now suggest Flags Of The Old Regime will be issued on Clouds Hill’s own label later this year. The first track you’ll get the chance to hear will be another Doherty oldie, ‘The Whole World Is Our Playground’, due for release on Record Store Day (April 16) on limited edition vinyl, backed by a live version of the track and two songs by fellow Clouds Hill artist James Johnston. I got sent a preview of it the other day and it didn’t disappoint. It features banjos, and in sound it’s not a million miles away from recent records by Bill Baird and Tobias Jesso Jr.
It all bodes well for the rest of the album.