What a waster: out of prison, back on drugs and breaking up Britain's best young band

In times when aspiring pop stars figure that the worst that can happen to them is a mauling from Simon Cowell, Pete Doherty of the Libertines is an example of what can happen when a rock 'n' roll musician really goes off the rails.

In times when aspiring pop stars figure that the worst that can happen to them is a mauling from Simon Cowell, Pete Doherty of the Libertines is an example of what can happen when a rock 'n' roll musician really goes off the rails.

Homeless and seemingly in the grip of a £250-a-day addiction to heroin and crack cocaine, he appears to be on a mission to self-destruct, threatening to quit the band and turning on his closest friends.

And this at a moment when the Libertines stand on the cusp of greatness, their second album in the offing and a string of prestige gigs scheduled through the summer months.

In the view of Conor McNicholas, the editor of NME, the Libertines generate among their fans a level of energy not seen since punk emerged in 1976. "I think they are the most exciting band in Britain by a long way and probably in the world," he said. "They have an ability to inspire and connect with their fans, the like of which this country has not seen in a very long time."

Managed by Alan McGee - the man responsible for the Hives, Primal Scream and Oasis - the Libertines' first album Up The Bracket helped them win the Best British Band award at the NME awards.

Yet Doherty seems prepared to take a lighter to all that and watch it go up in smoke. Having been thrown out of The Priory rehabilitation clinic after a week - and desperately short of ready cash - he offered himself for interview to The Sun.

Yesterday's headline was emphatic: "Libertines Split ... Addict Pete On Why He Quit The Band".

Doherty has already struck out on his own, with a recent hit "For Lovers" with a separate collaborator, Wolfman.

But the Libertines story is probably not over just yet. At the heart of the band is the synergy between Doherty and fellow guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Carl Barat.

The intense friendship between the pair is embodied in the Libertines' stage act, in which Doherty and Barat sing into the same microphone, embrace and kiss.

In his latest outburst, before he allegedly headed off to Paris to "beat crack", Doherty turned once again on his friend.

"It's got to the point where Carl and I don't speak except on stage. It breaks my heart. He treats me badly and every time I come running back like a battered housewife."

Doherty's words are said to have deeply hurt other members of the band and management who have worked hard to help him with his addiction. For, despite his protestations, he has hardly been the victim in the Libertines story, except in respect of his drug habit. Last year, Doherty spent three weeks in prison for burglary. The flat he chose to break into was Barat's. Since his release, he has used his own rented flat in Whitechapel, east London, to perform impromptu gigs for fans at £10 a time.

Since leaving The Priory he is said to have been sleeping rough with friends. And he has many of them, for the intensity of feeling that is generated between members of the Libertines is also extended to their audience.

Gigs regularly conclude with hundreds of fans on stage who are dressed in the same dandyish garb as their heroes.

The Libertines are due to be at a Rock Against Racism revival in London next month. Doherty's health permitting, they will play the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury, T in the Park, Reading and Leeds festivals and have been chosen by Morrissey for the Meltdown festival at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

But the Libertines are also known for performing impromptu gigs at people's houses or in local pubs. Last month, they played for 300 fans at a small bar in east London at 1am. They had been due to play at the Duke of Clarence pub, north London, on Thursday evening but failed to appear.

Meanwhile, the rest of the band - Barat, John Hassall (bass) and Gary Powell (drums) - continue to try to work on the band's second album. Produced by Mick Jones, former guitarist with the Clash, it is due out in August. Hopefully, for his fans and for himself, Doherty will be back in time for its release.

LIFE WITH THE LIBERTINES

April 2002: Four piece - Pete Doherty, Carl Barat, John Hassal and Gary Powell - release debut single "What A Waster".

October: Debut album Up The Bracket released, produced by Mick Jones of The Clash.

May 2003: Doherty sacked on eve of Libertines tour of Japan and America.

July: Doherty breaks into Barat's flat and steals a guitar, video recorder, laptop, mouth organ and CD player.

August: Doherty admits burglary and gets six months in prison, later reduced.

October: On the day of his release, Doherty joins the band onstage in Chatham. 'Freedom' gig is named top live moment of 2003 by the NME.

May 2004: Doherty checks into the Priory for treatment for drug addiction.

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