Garage rock revival
Dirty Pretty Things
The Libertines were an English rock band. Formed in London in 1997 by frontmen Carl Barât (vocals/lead guitar) and Pete Doherty (vocals/rhythm guitar), the band also included John Hassall (bass) and Gary Powell (drums) for most of its recording career. Part of what was described as the garage rock revival of that time, one of the aptly named 'The' bands and spearheading this movement in the UK, the band was centred on the song-writing partnership of Barât and Doherty.
The band gained some notoriety in the early 2000s. Although their mainstream success was initially limited, their profile soon grew, culminating in a #2 single and #1 album in the UK Charts. In December 2004, their self-titled second album was voted the second best album of the year by NME magazine. Both of their full-length LPs were produced by Mick Jones, of the British punk band The Clash.
In spite of their critical success, the band's music was often eclipsed by its internal conflicts, often stemming from Doherty's addictions to crack cocaine and heroin, which eventually lead to the breakup of the band. Doherty has since claimed that the breakup of the band had been due to relationship difficulties between Barât and himself that were not related to his drug addictions. The members of The Libertines have gone on to form new bands with varying degrees of commercial and critical success.
The founding members of The Libertines, Peter Doherty and Carl Barât, met when Barât was studying drama at Brunel University in Uxbridge and sharing a flat in Richmond with Amy-Jo Doherty, Peter's elder sister. This lasted until they realized their collective creative capabilities and forged a bond over their shared passion for writing melodies and Doherty's love of The Smiths. Barât abandoned his drama course two years in; Doherty left his English literature course at Queen Mary, University of London, after only a year, and they moved into a flat together on Camden Road in North London, which they named "The Delaney Mansions."
They formed a band with their neighbour Steve Bedlow, commonly referred to as Scarborough Steve, and named themselves The Strand, later discarded for The Libertines after the Marquis de Sade's Lusts of the Libertines ("The Albions" was also considered, but rejected. This is because of their what could be called an obsession with their country, and Albion is an archaic name for Britain). They later met John Hassall and Johnny Borrell, who played bass with the Libertines for one rehearsal. After arranging another rehearsal which Borrell did not attend, they telephoned him to discover he was on tour "living the high life." Thus Hassall joined the band as bassist. At this stage, they had no consistent drummer. They began playing gigs, many taking place in the flat shared by Doherty and Barât.
Within a few weeks, they had booked themselves into the Odessa studios to record 3 songs, assisted by Gwyn Mathias, who had previously worked with the Sex Pistols. However, they were disappointed by their scheduled drummer, so at short notice Mathias enlisted the help of Paul Dufour, who agreed to record with the band for £50. At 54, Dufour was considerably older than the others. Despite this age difference, he was impressed enough by the band to become a member. The Libertines started recording more sessions and playing gigs at venues further afield. Roger Morton, a journalist from the NME who went to see them play at Filthy Macnasty's Whiskey Cafe in Islington where Pete was working as a barman, thought they had potential offered with a friend to manage The Libertines. Despite a separate offer from an experienced member of the music industry, John Waller, the band accepted Morton's services as manager. However, Morton would eventually give up the job after an unsuccessful six months.
In March 2000, The Libertines met Banny Poostchi, a lawyer for Warner Chappell Music Publishing. Recognizing their potential, she took on an active role in managing them. They recorded "Legs XI", a set of their best 8 tracks at the time (and later a popular bootleg recording among fans). However, by December 2000, they had still not been signed and this caused Dufour, Hassall and Pootschi to part ways with The Libertines.
The subsequent success of The Strokes, a band with a similar style, caused Pootschi to reconsider her position. She formed a plan (dubbed "Plan A") to get the Libertines signed to Rough Trade Records within 6 months. In this period, Barât and Doherty wrote many of the songs which ended up on their first album. Gary Powell was recruited to play drums, as Paul Dufour was deemed by Pootschi to be 'too old'. On 1 October 2001, Barât and Doherty played a showcase for James Endeacott from Rough Trade. His support led to them playing for the heads of Rough Trade, Geoff Travis and Jeanette Lee, on 11 December that year. They were told they would be signed, and the official deal took place on 21 December.
The Libertines were in need of a bassist, so Hassall eventually rejoined the band at their request, but was informed he would have to stay in the background, as the band would be focused on the partnership of Doherty and Barât. Doherty and Barât rented a flat together at 112a Teesdale Street in Bethnal Green which they named "The Albion Rooms" (a venue that became a location for many of their Guerilla gigs).
Now with a firm line-up, they began to play more gigs alongside The Strokes and The Vines in quick succession. This succeeded in spreading their name around the music press, with the NME taking a particular interest in them (an interest which continued throughout their career).
Their first single was a double A-side of "What a Waster" and "I Get Along", produced by former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler. It was released on 3 June 2002 to a lukewarm media reception and received very little airplay due to its liberal use of profanities. A censored version appeared as BBC Radio 1 DJs Mark and Lard's single of the week. On the week the single came out, The Libertines featured on the cover of the NME for the first time. The single reached #37 in the UK Singles Chart.
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Their first album was recorded and produced by Mick Jones, formerly of The Clash. Entitled Up the Bracket, it was recorded at the RAK studios in St John's Wood and mixed taking place at Whitfield studios. During this time, the band were playing as many gigs as possible (over 100 in 2002 alone) including support acts for the Sex Pistols and Morrissey.
Their second single and title track from the album, "Up the Bracket", was released on 30 September and charted at #29. This was soon followed by the release on the 21 October of the album, which charted at #35. They won Best New Band at the NME Awards for that year and Barât moved out of The Albion Rooms.
During the recording of Up the Bracket and in the subsequent touring, Doherty's drug use had increased greatly (he was using both crack cocaine and heroin by this time) and his relationship with the rest of the band deteriorated. The band had become fractious, and some of this tension was visible in their performances. Doherty expressed himself in the "Books of Albion", his personal collection of notes, thoughts and poems, and also more and more frequently on the libertines.org fan forums using the user name "heavyhorse". His posts and writings at this time were unpredictable: at times, he seemed distressed and angry; at others, he came across as calm and happy.
They went to the U.S. to promote themselves and work on new material. While in New York around May 2003, they recorded the Babyshambles Sessions. As a mark of their commitment to the band, Doherty and Barât both got tattoos of the word "Libertine" on their arms. The prelude to this moment can be heard on "The Good Old Days" from the Babyshambles Sessions, in which, after the lyric, "A list of things we said we'd do tomorrow," Doherty yells 'Get a tattoo!' However, Barât became increasingly exasperated with the people with whom Doherty was associating and the drugs they brought. Barât quit the sessions in disgust and Doherty finished recording alone. The sessions were given to a fan called Helen Hsu who, as Doherty allegedly instructed, put them for free on the Internet.
Back in the UK, tensions continued to grow as Doherty organised and played guerrilla gigs which Barât did not attend. Their new single "Don't Look Back into the Sun" saw the return of Bernard Butler as producer. The lyrical quality of the song was praised, and the single held as a prime example of Doherty and Barât's songwriting talents. However, Doherty did not work well with Butler and was rarely present during the recording process. As a result, the song had to be pieced together from the vocals he provided, with Butler himself recording Doherty's guitar parts.
As Barât's birthday approached, Doherty organised a special celebration gig in an attempt to smooth the tensions between them. Barât, however, was already attending a party organized by some of his friends, and the hosts convinced him not to leave. Doherty was left to play the gig himself. Feeling betrayed, Doherty neglected to take the train to Germany the next day for The Libertines' European tour. The Libertines were forced to play without Doherty: a guitar technician learned his guitar parts and several songs were dropped altogether. Soon, however, positions changed and it was Barât who refused to let Doherty into the band unless he cleaned himself up. Doherty continued to play with separate musical project Babyshambles whilst The Libertines completed tour commitments in Japan without him. Distraught and angry, Doherty burgled Barât's flat and was subsequently arrested. On 11 August, he pleaded guilty at the preliminary hearing to the charge of burglary.
Amidst the internal turmoil, "Don't Look Back into the Sun" was released on 18 August and charted at #11, the highest position they had managed at that point. The Libertines played the Carling Weekend with replacement guitarist Anthony Rossomando (who later joined Dirty Pretty Things). On 7 September, Judge Roger Davies sentenced Doherty to 6 months in prison. He served his sentence in Wandsworth prison. This sentence was later reduced on appeal by Judge Derek Inman to two months.
Barât was waiting for Doherty outside the prison when he was released in October 2003. After an emotional reunion they played a gig the same day at the Tap'n'Tin pub, in Chatham, Kent  - with both Hassall and Powell, who had not been expected to come. The show became NME's Gig Of The Year. The Libertines went on to play three consecutive sold-out dates at the London Forum in mid-December 2003, ending in stage invasions by the fans. These gigs would be named amongst the top 100 gigs of all time by Q Magazine. The Libertines also went on a widely-acclaimed UK tour in March 2004 that included three more consecutive sold-out dates in London, this time at Brixton Academy.
Banny Pootschi resigned and was replaced as manager by Alan McGee, previously the founder and MD of Creation Records (most famous for signing Oasis) and later to become manager of Dirty Pretty Things. They continued to play gigs and commenced recording their second album with Bernard Butler. However, the relationship between Doherty and Butler was as unsuccessful as before and the attempts were soon abandoned. In early 2004, The Libertines won Best Band at the NME Awards, despite the fact that "Don't Look Back Into The Sun" was their only official release during the preceding year.
Mick Jones returned as producer for the second attempt to record the second album. Doherty had returned to his drug habit and so relationships were strained. Security hired for the protection of Doherty and Barât had to be used to keep them from fighting. As an aside from The Libertines, Doherty had recorded the vocals for "For Lovers", a song written by his friend and local poet Peter "Wolfman" Wolfe. "For Lovers" was released on 13 April 2004 and reached #7 in the charts, eclipsing The Libertines' highest charting single to that date. Despite Barât's intolerance of Wolfe and the associated drugs, he recorded guitar for the B-side to the single, "Back From the Dead". The album was finished and Doherty left the mixing and dubbing to the others; he would never return to the studios with The Libertines. On 14 May 2004, he was admitted to The Priory, a high-profile retreat, in an attempt to overcome his addictions. He left early, then returned, only to leave again a week later on 7 June.
During this time, Barât had been setting up a weekly club night called Dirty Pretty Things (a later dispute forced it to be renamed Bright Young Things) at the Infinity Club in the West End. The day Doherty left the Priory for the second time, he went to the club and spoke with Barât, with Hassall and Powell present as well. Doherty told him that he was going to Wat Tham Krabok in Thailand to get clean. The Libertines performed a short set that night: it was the last time they would all play together, and the last time Doherty would speak to Barât for more than 9 months.
Doherty's rehab was, once again, unsuccessful. He abandoned the monastery and went to Bangkok to find drugs. The rest of The Libertines, with Rossomando stepping-in once more as replacement guitarist, played gigs to promote the album and fulfill commitments (having already cancelled some gigs once, to do again would have been too expensive). On 17 June, back in England, Doherty was arrested for possession of an offensive weapon - an engraved flick knife purchased in Thailand as a birthday gift for Barât. He pleaded not guilty and was sentenced on 1 September to 4 months in prison, but the sentence was suspended for 12 months. The Libertines did not let Doherty play with them but promised that "when he cleans up his addictions he will be immediately welcomed back into the band." However, Doherty had managed to achieve growing success and fame with his new venture, Babyshambles, which further reduced the likelihood of reconciliation.
Meanwhile, The Libertines were still releasing fresh material. The new single "Can't Stand Me Now", which detailed the breakdown of the ailing frontmen's once seemingly cast iron friendship while illustrating the love-hate relationship between Doherty and Barât, was released on 9 August and charted at #2. The song included Doherty asking the question: 'Have we enough to keep it together?' Their eponymous second album, The Libertines was released in late August and topped the albums chart. Their final single "What Became of the Likely Lads" reached #9.
The Libertines played their final show in Paris on 17 December 2004, still without Doherty. Barât chose to then dissolve The Libertines as he was no longer willing to tour and record under the name without Doherty.
Doherty and Barât remained out of contact for several months after The Libertines had ended. However, on 18 April 2005, at around 11:30pm, Pete Doherty and Carl Barât reunited at the Boogaloo Bar in Highgate, North London. This was said to be a friendly meeting and was the first time the pair had met since 8 June 2004, just before Doherty went to Thailand. The reunion took place when Barât arrived at the bar at 10pm and was told there was a strong possibility that his former bandmate would also be visiting the pub that evening. Upon learning a reunion was possible, Barât told journalist Anthony Thornton that "it might as well happen now, because it’s going to happen sometime". The pair were said to have seemed nervous at first, but greeted each other with a hug, before talking together. Barât has also said that The Libertines are only "on ice" and that he is in "intermittent contact" with Doherty.
The next sighted meeting of the pair was on 18 July 2006, at the Dublin Castle pub in Camden, London. They also talked to the Los Angeles band The Tender Box who were playing the venue that night. They said in the NME "Who knows if they will reform? It seemed like there was a lot of chemistry between them." Barât said in a later interview that it was "all a bit public for my liking. I was blind drunk that night."
The pair were temporarily re-united at the 2007 NME Awards. After being guided over to Doherty's table by his entourage, Barât and Doherty talked for a while at the table, before going off to the bar. According to the NME, they seemed to be really getting on well, even though they had not met since the Dublin Castle meeting of 2006.
On 12 April 2007 at the Hackney Empire, London, Barât joined Doherty on stage to play through some old Libertines songs together, their first live performance since the pair originally split. The reunited duo played: "What a Waster", "Death on the Stairs", "The Good Old Days", "What Katie Did", "Dilly Boys", "Seven Deadly Sins", "France", "Tell the King", "Don't Look Back Into the Sun", "Dream a Little Dream of Me", "Time for Heroes", "Albion", and "The Delaney".
However, both Doherty and Barât have remarked that this was a one-off. Quelling the rumours of more shows together, Barât said: "We're both doing different things and I'm really into Dirty Pretty Things... I'm focused on Dirty Pretty Things' new album." Meanwhile Doherty revealed that in addition to a solo acoustic album, he and Babyshambles were going into the studio to work on their new album with Stephen Street.
BBC Radio 2 rerecorded the entire Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for the 40th Anniversary of the album in June 2007, and Doherty and Barât covered the track "A Day in the Life" for the project. It was the first time they recorded a song together since April 2004.
On 29 June, Doherty was a guest on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, where, when prompted, he hinted at a possible reunion of the band. Doherty joked that Barât was down on money and could do with the revenue of a reunion tour. Later that year, it was announced that a new 'best of album', entitled Time for Heroes - The Best of The Libertines would be released on 29 October 2007. Its tracklisting contains no unreleased songs.
Although other ex-members of The Libertines are not reportedly involved, Pete Doherty and Carl Barât will collaborate on a "rock'n'roll" musical for the Donmar Warehouse in London, currently without an estimated completion date. However, Barât has recently rubbished rumours that the pair are recording new material, saying that he has not seen Doherty 'for donkey's' and the musical 'is off'.
In May 2008, Barât said that he would reunite with Doherty only to make a new album, but also said that he wanted to 'let it be for a while' as he was busy with his new band. Despite referring to his relationship with Doherty as 'a friendship I cherish' and stating that a reunion would not be difficult, they currently do not have any firm plans to record together again.
In a July 2008 interview, Barât said that The Libertines had "unfinished business" and that he missed performing with Doherty, which he was particularly reminded of at their Hackney Empire gig. At the question of a Libertines reformation, he stated that it is "a big maybe".
On 17 September 2008, Doherty was playing a private gig at the Prince of Wales pub in Camden as part of London Fashion Week. Towards the end of the 45 minute set Barât was led onstage by security to join his former bandmate. The reunion appeared to be unplanned; Doherty greeted Barât with the exclamation, "Stone me, Carl!" With trademark chemistry, the pair played a variety of Libertines songs including "Time for Heroes", "Don't Look Back into the Sun", "Horrorshow", "France", and "Death on the Stairs", as well as a cover of Oasis' "Don't Look Back in Anger". This is the first time Barât and Doherty have played together publicly since April 2007. Though they appeared close in an interview following the show, their intentions regarding future collaborations remain cryptic. Barât also stated he had a new tattoo, with the words 'let's put our futures behind us', which could indicate a possible forgiveness and reunion with Doherty.
On 1 October 2008, it was announced that Barât's band, Dirty Pretty Things would split after a month long UK tour. In a statement, the band said it was time for them "to try new things" but added that these would not involve The Libertines.
In February 2009, Doherty revealed that he and Barât had been offered millions to reform and headline the Reading and Leeds Festivals, but although he had been keen, Barât had turned the offer down. In response to this, Barât stated "I’ve just freed myself up so the last thing I wanna do is completely burden my mind [with a reunion]. No, not right now."
At the Shockwave NME Awards on 25 February 2009, Barât stated that the pair were still The Libertines, while Doherty admitted that he had tried to "twist [Barât's] arm" about a reformation, before saying "2010" for a possible date. When questioned about a possible reunion in the NME, Doherty stated "I need my Biggles". Barât also hinted at releasing a solo album.
On 15 May 2009, Doherty, Barât and drummer Gary Powell reunited at the London Rhythm Factory, at a tribute gig to the late Johnny Sedassy, who used to put on gigs by the band plus those by Doherty's current band Babyshambles and his solo shows. John Hassall was absent, but Babyshambles bassist Drew McConnell filled in. The band played songs including "What A Waster", "Up The Bracket", "Can't Stand Me Now", and "Time For Heroes". It was the first time the band had played live together since their split in 2004.
On 23 October 2009, Daily Star's blogger Kim Dawson revealed in her music blog "Playlist" that Pete, Carl, Gary and John will sign a management deal for a full reunion as The Libertines in 2010.
The Libertines musical style is often characterized as a mix between indie rock and 1977 style punk rock. Lead singers and guitarists Doherty and Barât had different influences musically. Doherty was inspired by bands such as (principally) The Jam, Sex Pistols, Oasis, The Smiths, Suede and Chas & Dave. Doherty has expressed "Still Ill" by The Smiths as a song that means a lot to him, in an interview. Barât admired The Velvet Underground, The Clash, The Doors and Django Reinhardt. Doherty liked the written works of William Blake, Emily Dickinson and Thomas Chatterton, whereas Barât preferred Saki and the Edwardian idea of wit.
On their collective sound, Doherty commented that "if Oasis is the sound of a council estate singing its heart out, then the Libertines sounded like someone just put in the rubbish chute at the back of the estate, trying to work out what day it is".
Doherty and Barât followed one common dream whilst in The Libertines: "It's either to the top of the world, or the bottom of a canal" Barât once said this phrase to Doherty in the early days of their friendship.
The Libertines' lyrics occasionally reference their idea of sailing on "the good ship Albion to Arcadia". This idea was especially important to Doherty who has continued the theme when writing for Babyshambles. He thinks of Arcadia as a utopia without any rules or authority.
Their recordings were fairly lo-fi. Mick Jones' recording method was hands-off: he allowed the band to perform one song several times through and would then choose the best take. He performed minimal audio mixing and dubbing. Bernard Butler was less strict with this, however the final sound still came across as raw and unpolished.
The band has been compared to many classic British rock bands, as their angle on rock is uniquely English. The resemblance to The Beatles, both in their mop-top appearance and their wild yet melodic music, is striking. Their sound is often likened to that of The Jam and The Kinks' early records as well as The Clash's first album and early singles. They are perhaps most similar to pioneer rockers, Buzzcocks. Morrissey is another strong influence cited by the band members. Many of their lyrics refer to elements of British life, use English/cockney slang and are sung in a near-drunken sounding slur. In their attitude they are sometimes compared to the Sex Pistols due to their chaotic and energetic live performances.
The Libertines were praised for forming a very close relationship with fans. The band befriended several of their fans, and their Guerrilla gigs allowed devoted supporters to see them in close proximity. The film Fuck the Police shot in 2003 by Anne McCloy captured one such gig at The Albion Rooms when the police raided and closed down an impromptu gig after complaints by irate neighbours. Doherty published the "Books of Albion" online, sharing his personal thoughts and feelings freely. He also frequently posted on the fan forums. This allowed fans a deep insight into his life and helped cement the relationship between the band and the public. They were also very free with their recordings, releasing songs free onto the internet and via word-of-mouth giveaways. This allowed their fan base to hear unfinished songs or ideas, some of which would grow into finished versions on the albums, some of which would be discarded.
The Libertines have had two biographies written about them, both written after the band split. The first was Kids in the Riot: High and Low with The Libertines written by Peter Welsh, a friend. The second was The Libertines Bound Together: The Story of Peter Doherty and Carl Barât and How They Changed British Music written by Anthony Thornton and Roger Sargent, an NME journalist and photographer respectively who had followed the band from an early stage.
The Libertines have had a lasting effect on the British music scene. The image of Doherty and Barât entwined, Barât looking up protectively as his friend leans into his shoulder, on the front of their second album, has been called by Anthony Thornton "one of the most iconic rock images of the last decade".
Speaking of Carl Barât and Pete Doherty, Roger Sargent (a close friend and photographer of the band) described their relationship as like "first love, and all the jealousy and obsessiveness that comes with that" - adding "I think there's, y'know, obsession and jealousy on both of their sides. They bitch about each other to each other or to other people. They have a bond, intellectually and spiritually, like nothing I've ever seen ... but sometimes, you know, you just think, God, why don't you just get a room?!" In the same interview, a Radio One documentary, upon being asked just how close their relationship was, Doherty responded "I love him. Wouldn't go, um - certainly not on Radio 1 - go into too much detail, but... we had lots of wonderful times together, yeah." But in contradiction, Barât, when questioned similarly, steadfastly denied that the relationship had involved anything "physical". Carl Barât has insisted that "People are really into conjecture" and has frequently denied having a sexual relationship with Doherty. However, in a 2008 article, Barât described their relationship as "not too different from falling in love."
The volatility and ardency of Barât's relationship with Doherty formed a significant, if not essential, aspect of their music and live performances. Doherty frequently posted passionate declarations addressed to Barât on the Libertines forum; in June 2002 he wrote, "I'm obsessed to the point of needing to know everything. All of you...I quite love you." In another post from 2003, referring to an incident in 1997 in which Barât had wanted to form a suicide pact, Doherty wrote, 'let's keep going i love you i love you so much.' Speaking of his separation from Doherty in 2004, Barât revealed, "There was one point where I very very nearly, just to be close to him, started taking full on heroin."
In a March 2009 interview with NME Radio, when discussing a potential Libertines reunion, Doherty revealed, "He [Carl] was saying, 'Well, look, what if it's all gonna happen again?' and I said, 'One thing: maybe it will, maybe it won't, but one thing that's going to help me not fuck up again is you, and doing all that together.' Because he means a lot..."
The Libertines, clockwise from top left: Carl Barât, Gary Powell, Pete Doherty, John Hassall
|Genres|| Garage rock revival|
|Associated acts|| Babyshambles|
Dirty Pretty Things
| Carl Barât|
| Anthony Rossomando|