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The Libertines

Hyped to the hilt, and stealing headlines and column inches from OASIS et al, The LIBERTINES had only three years together as a band, but in that time they drew in disaffected youth like there was tomorrow; on some sort of death-wish, troubled bad-boy Pete Doherty was the feisty focal point, a young man at odds with establishment, the tabloids, class A drugs and himself. Oh, and they released a couple of cracking albums and several seminal singles – if that mattered a jot.
Formed 1997, originally while studying at Brunel University in Uxbridge, and again professionally in March 2000 while living in London. Not much was known of the band’s early escapades until later, but it was clear that uni drop-outs Doherty and the equally ambitious Carl Barat (also singer, songwriter and guitarist), led out the combo in several bar-type gigs. Drummer John Hassall was lured into the fray, as was a young Johnny Borrell on bass (later frontman for RAZORLIGHT), but they fell by the wayside when things looked to be going belly-up; replacement Paul Dufour also parted company. Up stepped female lawyer Banny Poostchi (then working with Warner Chappell Music Publishing), and it was she who took over the management, with a plan to have them signed by the end of 2001. With a deadline approaching, a showcase for A&R man James Endeacott resulted in Barat and Doherty inking a deal with Rough Trade Records (run by Geoff Travis and Jeanette Lee); making them roster rivals with American indie cousins, The STROKES. Drummer Gary Powell and the reinstated Hassall were in place by the time ad hoc venue (their “Albion Rooms” pad at 112a Teesdale Street, Bethnal Green), summoned all-comers for the odd guerrilla gig.
Proper concert-styled gigs supporting The VINES and the aforementioned STROKES caught the attention of the NME, while ex-SUEDE man BERNARD BUTLER worked on both sides of the debut double-header, `What A Waster’ (b/w `I Get Along’). Top 40 gate-crashers and NME cover boys, while instantly being pigeonholed with other breakthrough combos such as The STROKES, The WHITE STRIPES, The HIVES et al, Doherty, Barat and Co were seen as fellow frontrunners in an emerging neo-garage rock scene.
A second and positively classy Top 30 hit single was also the title of The LIBERTINES debut album, UP THE BRACKET (2002) {*8}. A blend of angst-y, catchy melodies that The JAM, or even Brit-poppers SUPERGRASS, would’ve been proud of, and a scuzzy guitar sound too boot (not unlike The STOOGES), former The CLASH/BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE man Mick Jones had mustered a bit of snarl, slur and attitude in his production techniques. The entire album brimmed with cool and confidence, tempting teenagers and ye olde punks respectively with unhinged anthems such as `Boys In The Band’ (the double-A to their previous effort) and Top 20 breaker, `Time For Heroes’.
Summer 2003 saw some weird goings-on in The LIBERTINES camp, as according to the tabloids, Pete and Carl split the band into two factions. It was later revealed that Pete had actually been charged with burglary and that his victim was none other than bandmate Carl! Confessed drug addict Pete pled guilty and was subsequently sentenced to six months in Wandsworth prison, although this was reduced to two after an appeal that led to him being released that October. Both parties put the past behind them and reunited the band; in the meantime, the boys in the band had already chalked up another major hit via `Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’.
Making up for lost time, DOHERTY directed his surplus creativity into a couple of spring 2004 side-projects: a Top 10 single, `For Lovers’ (with poet friend, Wolfman), and a limited-edition eponymous 7″ under the banner of BABYSHAMBLES, an outfit which was to become his future full-time concern.
Later that summer, as Pete dropped in and out of court and rehab clinics (including a botched stint at Thailand’s famous Thamkrabok monastery), the likely lads released what was to be the group’s swansong, and what a swansong it was. Eponymously titled THE LIBERTINES (2004) {*7}, the record was an iconic trawl through the crumbling Barat-Doherty dynamic, buoyed by the huge success of the candid `Can’t Stand Me Now’. While the strength of its generation-defining songwriting might’ve gotten it there anyway, the album’s chart-topping achievements weren’t exactly hindered by the tabloid-feeding frenzy. A precursor to ARCTIC MONKEYS and their ilk, “brothers in arms” Barat and Doherty (both had personally-scribed “Libertine” tattoos on their biceps as depicted on the cover shoot) teetered on the verge of meltdown as they shuffled nonchalantly through the sprawling and chaotic bad-boy anthems, `The Man Who Would Be King’, `Campaign Of Hate’ and final(e) Top 10 dirge, `What Became Of The Likely Lads’.
Carl had already tired of Pete’s unreliability however, recruiting Anthony Rossomando as a tour/festival fill-in; Pete for his part, couldn’t even regularly turn up for his BABYSHAMBLES engagements. The latter outfit had become his principle day/night-time job, scoring their first Top 10 with the twisted post-millennial wordplay of `Killamangiro’. A year or two down the line, Carl, Anthony, a few others in tow, formed DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (for two sets), while both DOHERTY and BARAT delivered a solo album each before a brief LIBERTINES reunion in 2010, er… petered out.
The will-they-won’t-they reformation speculation was over bar the shouting when – after BABYSHAMBLES (for 2013’s `Sequel To The Prequel’) and CARL BARAT AND THE JACKALS (on 2015’s `Let It Reign’) proved decidedly redundant and passe – Doherty, Barat, Powell and Hassall duly popped up on the festival circuit under The LIBERTINES banner. Unexpected, but well worth the decade-long wait, ANTHEMS FOR DOOMED YOUTH (2015) {*7} cracked the Top 3. A nod and a wink to a “London Calling” CLASH beat on lead single, `Gunga Din’ (a wry and witty punky reggae party), the Jake Gosling production proved a gelling application to their fading star. Looking for a LIBERTINES classic? well `Fame And Fortune’ resoundingly fitted the bill, while opener `Barbarians’ and `Heart Of The Matter’ both had slurring eloquence – as only the pistol-packing, pop-eyed Pete could provide.
© MC Strong 2004-2006/AS // rev-up MCS Aug2013-Sep2015

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