The Libertines :: My Favorite Artists/Bands

The early aughts brought on a shift in my style of music that I found myself getting into, all starting with a mix CD that introduced me to a number of new bands, including one that stood out from the rest, and through me into a tailspin of love/obsession, The Libertines. Everything about their music turned me on big time; the intelligent and clever lyrics, the punk-infused/garage-rock sensibilities, the addictive melodies and guitar riffs, and the chemistry that all four of the band members had with each other, most especially co-frontmen, Carl Barât and Pete Doherty.

Relationships were forged through a shared love of their music, as well as the rebirth of enthusiasm for music that had quelled some since my younger years. Their songs ignited my passions, fueled my dreams, and lit a fire in my own writing. Of course, there were emotional consequences to loving this band, as they were fraught with troubles which led to a split after only two albums. Sometimes it was heartbreaking to love this band, but that is the price of love at times, and in the end it was best to keep holding on, as new music is on the horizon, a fantastic single is already out there, and a new album is just around the bend. As the band is known to say, the Albion sales on.

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The Libertines were formed in London in 1997 by frontmen Carl Barât (vocals/guitar) and Pete Doherty (vocals/guitar). The band, centred on the songwriting partnership of Barât and Doherty, also included John Hassall (bass) and Gary Powell (drums) for most of its recording career. The band was part of the garage rock revival and spearheaded the movement in the UK.

The band gained some notoriety in the early 2000’s. Although their mainstream success was initially limited, their profile soon grew, culminating in a # 2 single and # 1 album on 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 Clash.

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In spite of their success, the band’s music was often eclipsed by its internal conflicts, which eventually led to the breakup of the band. Though addiction has been pointed to for the collapse of the band, it was also contingent on issues between the frontmen unrelated to addictions. The Libertines members went on to form new bands with varying degrees of commercial and critical success.

In August 2010, the four members of The Libertines reunited to play a series of shows, including slots at the 2010 Reading and Leeds Festivals. The reunion shows received a highly positive response from the press and fans.

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In April 2014, The Libertines announced they would again reform for a show at London’s Barclay card presents British Summertime Hyde Park. In November 2014 the band signed a record deal with Virgin EMI Records and have a new album, Anthems For Doomed Youth, due to be released September 4, 2015.

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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 songwriting. 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; Albion is an archaic name for Britain). They later met John Hassall and Johnny Borrell, who played bass with the Libertines for a short period. Many of their early gigs took place in the flat shared by Doherty and Barât.

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They had booked themselves into the Odessa studiosan play at Filthy Macnasty’s Whiskey Cafe in Islington where Pete was working as a barman. Roger Morton thought they had potential and 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.

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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. After Borrell failed to attend this important rehearsal, they telephoned him to discover he was on tour with a different band. Endeacott’s support led to them playing for the heads of Rough Trade, Geoff Travis and Jeanette Lee, on December 11 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 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. After signing with Rough Trade, Doherty and Barât rented a flat together in Bethnal Green which they named “The Albion Rooms” (a venue that became a location for many of their Guerilla gigs).

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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 June 3, 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 DJ’s 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 ended up reaching # 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, with mixing 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.

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Their second single and title track from the album, Up the Bracket, was released on  September 30 and charted at # 29. This was soon followed by the release on October 21 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.

They went on to make their second album, self-titled, in 2004.

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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, The Smiths, 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, Django Reinhardt and Nirvana. 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, “It’s like they say: Oasis is the sound of a council estate singing its heart out, and the Libertines is the sound of someone just put in the rubbish chute at the back of the estate, trying to work out what day it was”.

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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. While Bernard Butler was less strict with this, 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 British. 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.[

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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“.

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My Top 10 songs from The Libertines

1. Time For Heroes
from the album, Up the Bracket (2002)

“Did you see the stylish kids in the riot?
We were shovelled up like muck,
set the night on fire.
Wombles bleed truncheons and shields,
you know I cherish you my love.”

2. Death on the Stairs
from the album, Up the Bracket (2002)

“With a pale young Anglican,
who said he’d help her all he can,
showed her Jesus and his little unholy friend.
She had no mind to please him,
just say ‘ta-ra’,
and leave him behind.”

3. You’re My Waterloo
Non-album (though is said to be on upcoming release)

“Cos you’re my Waterloo,
I’ll be your Gypsy Lane.
I’m so glad we know just what to do,
And exactly who’s to blame.”

4. Music When the Lights Go Out
from the album, The Libertines (2004)

“Is it cruel to be kind not to speak my mind,
and to lie to you,
rather than hurt you.
well I’ll confess all of my sins after several large gins,
but still ill hide from you,
hide what’s inside from you.”

5. I Get Along
from the album, Up the Bracket (2002)

“I get along singing my song,
people tell me I’m wrong..
Fuck ’em!”

6. The Good Old Days
from the album, Up the Bracket (2002)

“If you’ve lost your faith in love and music,
oh the end won’t be long.”

7. Radio America
from the album, Up the Bracket (2002)

“And they said it was a transmission,
to take my love,
my love to you.”

8. Don’t Look Back Into the Sun
from the album, Time For Heroes (2007)

“And they’ll never forgive you,
but they wont let you go, oh no.
She’ll never forgive you,
but she wont let you go, oh no.”

9. Gunga Din
from the upcoming album, Anthems For Doomed Youth

“Woke up again,
to my evil twin,
the mirror is fucking ugly,
and I’m sick and tired of looking at him.
Been up all night,
I’ll probably pick a fight,
‘coz I can’t help it,
I’m bastard in the morning.”

10. What Became of the Likely Lads
from the album, The Libertines (2004)

“The blood runs thicker,oh,
we’re thick as thieves,
you know.”

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