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The Libertines are an indie rock band hailing from London, England who formed in 1997. They are one of the most acclaimed and influential acts in modern indie rock and have released two studio albums since their debut in 2002.
Every generation has the guitar band that unites them. For those that came of age in the early 2000’s, they had two, the lucky buggers. The Strokes kicked it all off at the turn of the century, and almost directly following in their footsteps were London’s very own The Libertines. A band that basically took the no-nonsense, year zero attitude of the New York City natives and gave it a twist of English romanticism and Dickensian decay. The influence of The Libertines spreads further than practically any of us can comprehend, least of all the band themselves, and it all began with the meeting of the bands frontmen, Pete Doherty and Carl Barât.
Barât was studying for a drama degree at Brunel University, where he was a classmate of one Amy-Jo Doherty. The two became friends and on one fateful occasion that Barât came to Amy-Jo’s flat to visit, Amy-Jo’s little brother, Peter, had come to visit at the same time. The two struck up a friendship based on their shared passion for songwriting, literature and poetry, and soon after they met they both dropped out of their university courses. The duo had become very close very quickly, and they decided to move in together, renting a flat on Camden Road that eventually became known as The Delaney Mansions.
The first line up of The Libertines would be the two of them and their neighbour Steve Bedlow (a man who would later pick up the nickname Scarborough Steve), but later picked up John Hassall to play rhythm guitar and some no-hoper called Johnny Borrell to play bass. The first incarnation of the band were soon playing live anywhere that would have them. In March 2000, they met with Banny Poostchi, a lawyer with Warner Chappell Music Publishing who saw the masses of potential that most people missed in the band, and began to manage them.
Unfortunately, by December of the same year it looked as if the band were going nowhere fast, so Hassall, Pootschi and their drummer John Dufour left the fold, leaving Pete and Carl alone. Fate was on their side though. With the massive hype around The Strokes quickly becoming the music story of the year, Pootschi reconsidered and put a plan in effect to get the band signed to Rough Trade Records in six months flat. She replaced Dufour with Gary Powell, and after it was became clear that Borrell couldn’t be counted on to turn up to rehearsals, John Hassall was convinced back into the fold to play bass instead.
During this time, Pete and Carl were writing feverishly, with the songs that would eventually make up their debut album mainly being written around this time. Pootschi’s plan worked and the band were signed to Rough Trade on December 21st 2001, ringing in the new year playing support slots with the aforementioned Strokes and Australia’s The Vines. The band started to pick up admirers in the music press, especially in the NME, and shortly after the release of their debut single “Up The Bracket”, it was time to record the album. With The Clash’s Mick Jones on production duties, “Up The Bracket” was immediately hailed as a classic by pretty much everyone who heard it, and support slots with the likes of Morrissey and the Sex Pistols soon followed.
By 2003, the band were becoming infamous, known as much for Pete Doherty’s worsening drug addiction and erratic nature than for their actual music. The story of the band becomes a horror show at this point, with Pete and Carl’s relationship being tested to its limits while Doherty refused to stop associating with deeply shady characters and enablers who wanted a slice of the fame and notoriety that followed him around wherever he went. By the time their second album was released, seeing the band live was something of a gamble, as it was just as, if not more likely that the band would play without Doherty than with him. The tabloids had gotten hold of the band at this point, and “Potty Pete” became something of a fixture with them that would continue until way after the decade’s end.
The band were still undeniably special, their UK tours at the end of 2003 and the start of 2004 were heralded as some of the best gigs of the year, and their second, self-titled album was another instant classic. They were finally starting to see some commercial success as well, with their second effort’s lead single “Can’t Stand Me Now” hurtling into the number two spot on the singles charts and its follow up, the prophetically named “What Became Of The Likely Lads” peaking at number nine. By this point however, the band was as good as dead. Doherty was in and out of rehab, missing gigs, promotional duties and recording sessions. Barat couldn’t in good conscience keep going as The Libertines without him, and called time on the band in 2004.
A Libertines reunion was treated as an impossibility for the rest of the decade, until in 2010 when the band were revealed as the sub-headliners of that years Reading And Leeds Festivals. The celebrated show was thought to be a one off until 2014, when the band again announced they were getting back together to headline Hyde Park. This wasn’t to be a one off, and after playing three sold out nights at Alexandra Palace in the following September, the band announced that they’d signed a record deal with Virgin/EMI Records. The band are unquestionably back, and with one of the best British bands of their generation making music again, what comes next is an impossibly exciting prospect. Highly recommended.