The Libertines

TrackAlbum / Single
What A WasterRough Trade RTRADES054
Up The BracketUp The Bracket
Time For HeroesUp The Bracket
Horror ShowUp The Bracket
The Good Old DaysUp The Bracket
Don't Look Back Into The SunRough Trade RTRADES119
What Katie DidThe Libertines
You're My WaterlooAnthems For Doomed Youth
Heart Of The MatterAnthems For Doomed Youth
Love On The DoleAnthems For Doomed Youth

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The Libertiness photo

The Libertines (l to r): John Hassall (bass), Carl Barât (vocals/guitar), Gary Powell (drums), Pete Doherty (vocals/guitar)

 

Contributor: Ant Meads

The first time I wrote something for Toppermost, it was about my first love as a teenager, No, not Becky Carter, although as I now recall we did have a lot of fun, until she stopped returning my calls and claimed to have left the country! Instead, I opted to write up my Blur Top 10 and I went into it filled with confidence. Six weeks later I was in my own personal hell. The problem, I discovered, is that just finding a Top 10 is easy enough; it’s pretty subjective anyway. The real difficulty came as I tried to justify my selections because the more songs I wrote about, the more I realised I felt utterly unable to explain why I loved them so much. After six weeks, maybe seven, it was finally finished.

At the start of the project I had declared it to be my Everest, I soon realised it was my Vietnam. ‘You weren’t there man,’ sobs, ‘you weren’t there.’ Just like Vietnam, I went into it all guns blazing and with confidence high. I write articles every week, albeit predominantly about mental health but occasionally about music, and I knew that my love of Blur was only going to make this easier. As I settled down, preparing to declare ‘Mission Accomplished’ in a week at most, the gravity of the situation hit me. Loving Blur wasn’t a strength in this exercise; it was to prove my biggest weakness. I forgot songs that I loved and then tried to squeeze them in. Then I started feeling sad for the songs I’d cut and so tried to find a way to accommodate them as well! In the end I had about twenty-five songs and no clue what to say about any of them. As I say, this was my Vietnam. I went in casual and obnoxious, realised I was hellishly unprepared and at the eventual end, five weeks after my planned exit strategy, I declared a victory that could only be claimed as such if no one actually investigated what I’d written!

As soon as I’d finished, I sent the piece to Toppermost and celebrated my freedom from a task that surely only the devil would set from Hell. Then about twenty minutes later I emailed over to begin my second one. It’s like I didn’t learn anything from the previous exercise.

So, if Blur were my first love, who was my second? They were a band formed in the late 90s, usually comprising Pete Doherty, Carl Barat and a variety of stand in drummers and additional folk who turned up for a gig when it suited. I am of course talking about The Libertines. I tried to write my Top 10 based on songs Pete, Carl, Gary and John were all directly involved in. With so much Libertines music floating about from gigs, solo demos and sessions without Pete, to lineups that would eventually just become Babyshambles variants, it seemed easier to try and be strict about my choices. Sadly, it did mean missing out on the band’s version of Lazy Sunday which was recorded for the Blackball soundtrack, without Peter.

What qualifies me to write about The Libertines? Absolutely nothing! To be honest I was a little late to the party, albeit still earlier than 99% of the fanbase now. That’s not a criticism, you find music when you find it. With Britpop I was a teenager looking for something to belong to that didn’t make me feel totally alien. By the time The Libertines got their definitive lineup together and burst onto the scene, I had just heard What A Waster and I was already certain this band were worthy of my love. It was the most intense, punk like rush, I’d heard in an age. Post Britpop things fell apart and our days of storming the charts with decent indie bands seemed to be drawing to a close. I hadn’t been to a gig in a couple of years and when I saw this band they just blew me away. They had it all, style (they were still wearing the Coldstream Guards jackets around then) intensity, every song felt it was being played as fast as they possibly could, in order to beat a curfew I wasn’t aware of.

I had an amazing time following the Libs about at various London gigs and the odd special show that would be put on and advertised last minute on the Libertines message board, usually by Pete under his username ‘heavyhorse’. Sometimes you’d get a pub address, other times someone’s flat nearby. The general rule of thumb was that there’d be a whip round afterwards to give Pete enough cash to get a few beers and whatever else he may or may not have been up to!

In those early days I saw some of the best gigs I’ve ever been to in my life. I also saw some shambolic ones which to be honest were equally good fun. Even the no-shows from Pete usually turned into great nights and the reality was, whether Peter turned up or not, it wasn’t the end of the world for the pub paying and promoting him. An 8pm start time would see people arriving from all over the country in the early hours of the afternoon. They’d drink until 8, then until 9, and then until 10 before finally starting to lose hope. Off to the message board to complain but a sweet apology from Peter and a gig announcement for the following night, soon pacified everyone.

The people I met on those nights were exactly the kind of people you’d expect to turn up for nonsense like this and as a result I found them all to be fantastically interesting. I made friends for life from that crowd, not least a wonderful character called ‘Fragile’ who took me under his wing early on despite him being the coolest person there by a country mile. He would later go on to help put on the Libertines reunion gig at The Tap n Tin in Kent and also the first ever Babyshambles gig. Let me tell you, Libertines fans were cool as fuck and I was just about hanging in on the outskirts and witnessing something special.

The band released their debut album, Up The Bracket, on 14th October 2002 and it was every bit as special as I’d hoped. The priority for me had been that they would capture their live sound, which can sometimes be lost on a studio effort. I needn’t have worried, with Mick Jones, formally of The Clash, producing, it felt like the band had the exact right helping hand to capture the sound that had made them so popular in our small corner of London.

There is little I can tell you about what happened next that hasn’t been in every newspaper. Pete’s addiction battle became worse; after a recording session in New York, he went online and leaked a load of demos that the band had been working on that would likely make up the bulk of the second album. Pete always wanted the fans to have something special from the Libertines experience and that was as special as it could get. Obviously, the record label went crazy, his bandmates asked him to take some time away from the band and everything looked on the brink of falling apart. Oh, did I mention that Pete got arrested for breaking into Carl’s place and ended up spending some time in Wandsworth Prison. And so the papers had more to write about again.

When Pete left prison, he hugged a waiting Carl Barat and the two made their way to play a full reunion gig at the Tap n Tin. Arguably one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to because of the sheer insanity of it. It would provide the NME with a decade worth of stories and the fans a lifetime of special memories.

Anyway, on 30th April, The Libertines brought out their eponymous second album. It was ok. Songs like Can’t Stand Me Now captured the tension and infighting as well as the lack of trust each member had for each other. Ultimately though, not much on the album sounded as great as the potential we’d heard on those demo versions online a few months before.

Then it all went quiet, the band worked on solo projects until a couple of Hyde Park gigs saw them reform. Even better news followed with a new album on the way and Peter was finally clean, hopefully for good this time. Anthems For Doomed Youth was released 11th September 2015 and, do you know what, it isn’t half bad.

Here’s my Top 10.

What A Waster was the song that kicked off a love affair that shows no sign of ending any time soon. It’s angry, it’s shouty and for the longest time it was so applicable to my life.

Oh I really wanna know, so tell me, where does all the money go, where does all the money go? Straight, straight up her nose

I was not only a waster, I was proud of it. I’ve always been fond of songs you can shout back at singers with that fiery passion that can only come from shared experiences. What A Waster made complete sense to me, It labelled my behaviour at the time in a way that I was quite happy to adopt as a positive. It’s an incredible debut single and it really announced the band’s arrival on the scene.

Up The Bracket is a tale of nighttime London where trouble inevitably followed the likes of Pete and Carl around everywhere. It’s another wonderful song to shout along to at a gig and ‘you see these two cold fingers’ always provoked a suitably angsty response from the crowd. It was an early anthem and always sounded so good live. As with What A Waster, it captured the essence of the band. It was ramshackle, riotous and just the right amount of chaotic. It was released as the first single from the debut album and it just captured the mood of the band as well as playing into the mythology they were already self penning.

I once had the pleasure of seeing The Libertines bring on Mick Jones to play Time For Heroes with them. That’s not my primary reason for selecting it but, come on, Time For Heroes indeed. Anyway, this song was the second release from Up The Bracket and came out in January of 2003. It’s one of those perfect Libertines songs that captures the shambolic nature of their performance and fuels it with witty, satirical lyrics that are the essence of the band, in particular Pete Doherty’s writing style. Lyrics like:

Did you see the stylish kids in the riot?
Shovelled up like muck and set the night on fire
Wombles bleed, truncheons and shields, you know I cherish you my love

The wombles referenced were rioters involved in the May Day riots of 2000 who dressed as their TV namesakes with tin foil shields and batons to mimic the police. And that’s kind of the beauty of so much of the band’s work; the ability to glamourise and add a sense of poetry to the mundanity and in some cases downright nastiness of British life. It’s also famed for one of the most perfect lyrics on the album: ‘there are few more distressing sights than that of an Englishman in a baseball cap.’ As The Libertines became bigger and started to appeal to a wider audience, it was odd to see so many baseball caps in the crowd. Sure, there were still a smattering of Coldstream Guards tunics but they certainly started hitting new demographics by the second album. Oh and it was covered by Graham Coxon which just ties in my earlier Blur love quite nicely.

I fear I may be repeating myself but Horror Show is always a song I associate with the live performances, especially in those early days. And again, I’m reluctant to use the word shambolic as a positive yet again, but screw it. I’d love to have picked vastly different songs from Up The Bracket but the reality is, the theme that runs through it is one of reckless abandon and occasionally of drugs; in this case heroin is mentioned, well at least alluded to, in the line ‘the horse is brown’.

When Pete Doherty was sixteen he went on a British Council sponsored trip to Russia to read poetry. The line about ‘leaving something in Moscow’ apparently refers to his dignity. It’s nonsense like this that has always made The Libertines so appealing to me. I mean, who at sixteen goes to read poetry in Russia, but then is equally at home making references to riots and substance abuse. If Up The Bracket and Time For Heroes were the first two singles from this album, Horror Show should have been the third and to my mind it sits nicely alongside those two as the standout tracks from the debut record.

I have lyrics from The Good Old Days tattooed on me. Of course, the beauty of a site like Toppermost is the subjective nature of it all and while the song is incredibly popular with fans, I’m not sure how many people would have this in their Top 10. After me banging on about the raucous nature of the band, this is a departure and, lyrically, is another standout track on Up The Bracket. The lines I have tattooed? ‘If you’ve lost your faith in love and music, oh the end won’t be long.’ In my previous Toppermost piece about Blur, I talked about how ‘holding on for tomorrow’ became something of a mantra to a depressed teenager. This is another song that just gives you that glimmer of hope. And there is truth to it, I mean you have to have faith in love and music right? One may let you down but rarely both at the same time. It’s also a nice song to include in what is clearly a very nostalgic run through of the band’s past:

And it chars my heart to always hear you calling
calling for the good old days
Because there were no good old days

There is something special about Don’t Look Back Into The Sun. It kind of pinpoints the Libertines peak, just as things were on the verge of collapse. Forget looking back into the sun, there is an Icarus quality of the band flying too close to it that shines through on this record. By now Pete’s addiction problems were tearing the band apart and the recording of this song was done despite him, rather than thanks to him. Bernard Butler produced and ended up playing guitar on the track. He was just filling in for an absent Peter but when it became clear that he wasn’t really coming back to the session, it ended up being used in the final edit. Aside from the fact it’s a damn near perfect pop song, it’s just another beautifully tragic example of what The Libertines were all about. A band that despite their best attempts to self destruct, were still able to make incredible music.

Ok, so this is my solitary selection from the band’s second, eponymously titled album. And even this I include under protest! I was a very big Libertines fan as may well be coming across from this piece! I saw them live a ludicrous amount of times, spent every spare moment on The Libertines forum and as such heard a demo of What Katie Did pretty early on. And God it was perfect, a thing of absolute beauty and Pete sung it with just the right amount of love and fragility in his voice. It turned up on The Sailor Sessions which was a hastily turned out set of demos by an early incarnation of Babyshambles, Pete’s side project while exiled from The Libertines. Incidentally ‘The Sailor Sessions’ were mixed by the aforementioned Dean Fragile. Despite having no experience whatsoever Pete sent him the recordings and asked him to piece it all together. And again, What Katie Did stood out as a real highlight. Then, Babyshambles put out their first single and a slightly more professional version of What Katie Did was recorded as a B-side. So this meandering nostalgia trip is my way of emphasising just how many times we’d heard the song before it was apparently presented to Carl as a gift on Pete’s return to The Libertines. The version we finally hear on The Libertines? Meh, it’s ok. Like everything on the second album it is tarnished by the difficult relationship between Pete and Carl. A relationship that on Up The Bracket was the source of brilliance, had become a hindrance. I include the song as something of a tribute to what might have been. Some of the tracks on that second album are incredible but sung without the same passion and love. Of course, the band have since reformed properly and when they play these songs now they are the things of beauty they should have been on record. So I guess everything works out in the end.

And so we’re on to the third album. The comeback no one really ever expected, saw a new album, Anthems For Doomed Youth, released in late 2015, over ten years after the second album. And one of the standout tracks? You’re My Waterloo is something that predates even that second album. It was a demo that again found its way onto the internet and is perhaps the antithesis of What Katie Did. It was far from perfect but there was a beauty to it. We’d hear the occasional verse played between songs on Pete’s solo shows but nothing ever really developed beyond that original demo. Then, when recording for Anthems For Doomed Youth, the song came back into play and they only went and bloody finished it! Truthfully, it feels like a song that spans their entire career; it brings together the old, the new and everything in between and it’s beautiful. They took something imperfect and made it perfect which is why for me the song sums up the whole comeback and third album. There’s a wonderful sense of completion about it, of everything coming full circle.

My penultimate selection, Heart Of The Matter, is again from the third album and again I guess it’s steeped in nostalgia. At the risk of sounding like a massive Libertines snob, which of course I clearly am, this is the song that people think What Became Of The Likely Lads? is. This is the true story of Pete and Carl’s relationship, both with each other and with themselves. And when you think it can’t get any more poignant, they go and release a video for it that really drills home the point. Set up as something of a Victorian Peep Show, you see people dropping money into the slot to witness the band’s self destruction. Pete torments ‘someone’ with a crack pipe and the people keep dropping money in to watch more. Then the viewing public laugh as Pete gets nastier and nastier. Next up is Carl, swigging from a bottle and wearing a jacket lightly dusted with just a smattering of coke! He forces the booze on the person in the chair and again people pay to watch the show unfold. I won’t spoil the end of the video (see above), although to be honest you’ve probably already worked out the ‘twist’. There are lovely touches in the video; in amongst the laughing public we get shots of John and Gary from the band looking on, at first passively and then with increasing anxiety and torment. This song, in conjunction with the video, may be the best thing the band have ever done. This simply is the story of The Libertines and the visual accompaniment now brings us, the fans, into the story. It makes me cry and smile and marvel at its brilliance.

If I’ve made some controversial choices in this piece then I suspect there will be none more so than Love On The Dole. It’s probably not the best song on the album. Technically, it’s not even on the third album, it’s just a bonus track on the extended edition. But once again, it’s a song that completes The Libertines legacy. Another early demo that the band never properly recorded. As with previous choices here it would surface at solo shows as little more than filler material but what the band did with Anthems For Doomed Youth is finally do justice to some of those early demos. Honestly, I could easily have picked one of the other bonus tracks like Bucket Shop or Seven Deadly Sins. They all represent the same thing for me; a band making amends for parts of the past they perhaps came to regret. I adore Pete and Carl, they will forever be incredible inspirations in my life but I can be honest and say I felt a little let down by the second album. And as a fan I felt a little let down by the way it all crumbled. These recordings of some of the early demos being performed by a reunited, happy and drug free band represent the arcadian dream being rebuilt and the Albion sailing back on course.

‘Dedicated to ‘K’ My fellow Libertine’

 

 

 

The Libertines facebook

Pete Doherty official website

Peter Doherty, Carl Barat, Babyshambles, The Libertines news etc

Carl Barat and the Jackals official website

Babyshambles official website

UptheAlbion.com: The Libertines & Babyshambles encyclopedia

Albion Rooms

The Libs Daily

BBC Arena: Peter Doherty documentary (2006) directed by Ashtar Alkhirsan

Who The Hell Is Pete Doherty (2005) a film by Roger Pomphrey

The Libertines biography (iTunes)

Ant Meads suffers from Depression, Anxiety and OCD. Music offers him a wonderful escape from the seemingly never ending battle with his own brain! Ant writes about mental health issues for a variety of charities but, ever so occasionally, tries to put into words his love of music. He grew up on Ska, matured through Britpop and fell off the edge of the earth following bands like the Libertines around for a few years. Writing and music are the two constant pleasures in Ant’s life, combining them is a delight.

TopperPost #544

1 Comment

  1. John Hartley
    Aug 18, 2016

    Excellent writing again!

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