There was more than one errant prince returning to a regal setting in London this weekend. Pete Doherty, co-frontman of The Libertines and wild child of the Noughties, played a solo acoustic concert at the Royal Albert Hall. When Doherty performed a similar gig here in 2008, the stage was stormed by hundreds of rowdy fans. And guess what? On Friday night it happened again, forcing the concert to be curtailed. Off with his head? I’m sure the venue’s security detail would say so. But I’d plead for clemency. It was strangely thrilling and showed that Doherty remains a magnet for chaos even in his mid-forties.
This odd event was billed as an intimate “songbook” show, taking in the troubadour’s songs from The Libertines, his follow-up band Babyshambles and his solo work. The stage was set with a leather sofa, a pot plant and a hatstand bearing a scarf of his beloved QPR. We were effectively around at Doherty’s gaff. He wandered on in a blue suit and trilby, and apologised to the three-quarters full room for being a bit croaky: this was the last night of a long tour. Two dogs ran around the stage. I presume they were invited. His mum certainly was. She was here too.
“This is the Royal Albert Hall, ladies and gentlemen. It was nice of Charlie to let us have it for the evening,” he said between songs that included Tell the King and From Bollywood to Battersea. His guitar playing was solid and displayed his knack for a melody – but his voice, never that strong anyway, was as watery as he’d intimated.
Doherty will forever be associated with the British indie revival that kicked off in the wake of New York’s The Strokes releasing their debut album in 2001. The Libertines were our answer to that, but they injected their shambolic indie rock with a very English sensibility: a love of Tony Hancock, cockney polari and a veneration of a mythical idyll called Albion, where people drank gin from teacups and read yellowing novels. Doherty dated Kate Moss and made skinny jeans and leather jackets High Street staples. But there was a dark side. Drugs (endless drugs), fights, jail and a grubby entourage made Doherty a tragic figure.
But he’s now 44, an age many people didn’t expect him to make. Physically, he has relaxed into early middle-age with aplomb. He has been clean since 2019. And it was clear that he remains poet laureate to a cohort of millennials who – judging by the crowd – are now entering the tail end of their busy wedding summers but still love belting out indie hits.
At one point Doherty donned a plastic Union Jack bowler hat and removed his jacket to reveal trouser braces. Singing about “merry old England”, he reminded me of one of those saucy old postcards extolling the virtues of seaside towns. But then it struck me that The Libertines were also from a bygone era. They reigned in a pre-smartphone, pre-streaming, pre-social media world. The nostalgic pull for the audience, the almost touching naivety, made sense.
It was when Doherty played Time for Heroes that things got messy. He muttered something about the stage invasion last time – claiming not to remember details – and made a slight hand gesture for a re-run. The crowd needed no encouragement. Hundreds clambered up, amateur singers grabbed the microphone, the house lights went up and – 80 minutes in – the gig was called off. When the mob was eventually cleared, the sofa was trashed, the hatstand bare, the floor wet with beer and the pot plant under someone’s arm. Doherty made a slicing gesture across his neck to tell us it was all over. It was pandemonium. And it felt royally apt.