The Libertines

by Shawn Despres


Early last summer a young quartet emerged from London, England and began putting out singles from their soon-to-be-released debut album. Oozing with rock n’ roll attitude and anchored by what could easily be considered the modern day toxic twins, they called themselves the Libertines.

According to, a libertine is someone “who acts without moral restraint”. In order to live up to the name, the group have tried their best to emulate the definition by basically doing whatever the fuck they want. They have gained a notoriety of sorts for their often chaotic, substance-fueled live performances. Several writers have written about how they were supposed to meet with frontmen Pete Doherty and Carl Barat for an interview but ended up meeting with only half of the duo as the other had meetings with various female fans to attend to. Much has also been written about the constant bickering and fighting between the two, as several gigs have ended abruptly in fisticuffs.

And then there’s the music itself: gutsy, rambunctious and sounding like it could all fall apart at any given moment. The group, which also includes John Entwistle-like bassist John Hassall and hyperactive drummer Gary Powell, put their collective hearts on display and play their brash brand of rock n’ roll without a care in the world for what anyone else thinks. Teetering on the edge of insanity, but usually coming off as being brilliant, the Libertines are going to be a band to watch in the coming years. Provided they can hold things together, they may become the biggest band to emerge from England since a quintet, which also features two members who are constantly at each other’s throats (why can’t the Brits all just get along), called Oasis.

According to Powell, things started simply enough. “Pete [Doherty] and Carl [Barat] have been together for about five years. Their relationship started kind of fragile as both of them wanted to shag one another’s sisters.” Such a possible tradeoff sounds as good a reason as any for the basis for a friendship. Both had an interest in playing guitar and eventually began writing music together. They recruited a lead singer who went by the name of Scarborough Steve. Scarborough Steve knew a bass player named John Hassall who was an extremely talented musician and had tons of equipment, so as Powell says, “they coerced him into joining the band as well.” Eventually Steve moved away and Hassall departed to return to school. Doherty and Barat decided to share singing responsibilities and hooked up with Powell to handle drumming duties.

About a year and a half ago the band, still a three-piece, played a show for Rough Trade Records and were signed on the basis of that one gig. The gig in question was definitely one of the group’s more memorable shows. However, it stands out more for the countless problems the guys faced than for the performance itself. With their nerves already on edge playing an industry showcase, the numerous obstacles they faced would have crushed many a young band, but not the Libertines. Treating the show just like everything else in life, the boys just played on, not letting anything get to them as they made their way through the disastrous set.

“I didn’t have a drum kit at that point in time so we borrowed this horrible gold, well I shouldn’t say horrible, so umm, this unique gold kit. All the toms were put together with bits of string and there was a big metal clamp with cymbals hanging from ropes. It was the worst kit ever,” recounts Powell. “As soon as I started playing I broke one of the heads and couldn’t play anymore. Carl and Pete started breaking strings and didn’t have any replacements. We did two or three songs and I had to go into the audience to start asking people if they had guitar strings on them. Afterwards, James Endeacott from Rough Trade came up to us and told us he liked us. We just kind of scratched our heads and said ‘Um, ok.’”

Hassall rejoined the band, and with a newly signed deal in place they hit the studio with Mick Jones (of the Clash) handling production duties. Powell is quick acclaim the legendary guitarist for his abilities behind the board and the inspiration he provided while recording the album. Dealing with some extremely, *cough*, strenuous working conditions, the guys and the legendary guitarist were able to somehow record an astounding 23 songs in three days. Powell says that the group would jump at the opportunity to work with him again.

“Mick Jones was absolutely fantastic to work with. He just had this really cool manner about him. He’d turn up to the studio late everyday. We’d start playing and he’d have a can of beer in one hand and a spliff in the other and would just dance around saying ‘That was great. Do it again.’ When it came time to mixing the tracks he was an absolute fucking demon though. For someone who had been drinking and smoking weed all day it was amazing. The only thing I would do is put my head down and go to sleep.”

After sorting through the material and picking the 12 songs that would comprise their debut, Up the Bracket was finally released last October. Instantly catching the ears of critics and the music buying public, the album has since spawned three singles and helped the band become one of NME‘s favorite acts. The popular UK magazine has bestowed an immense amount of praise upon the group and awarded them with the “Carling Best New Band Award” at their annual awards show this past February.

As the record made its rounds to various media outlets, the group was quickly thrown into the group of new “The” bands that have risen to the top of many playlists over the last year and a half. Some critics were more than happy to label the group as garage rock and namedrop them along with artists such as the Strokes, the White Stripes, the Hives, and “second generation” acts such as the Datsuns. Powell grimaces and then laughs when shown an article in a Tokyo weekly that featured the band and talks about the resurgence of garage rock.

His reaction to the piece is not unwarranted. Dismissing the fantastic music on Up the Bracket as mere garage rock would be to ignore so many of the influences presented on the record. Bursting with raw punk energy, the Libertines’ sound also encompasses many other styles of music such as blues, rock, Britpop, funk, and even a bit of folk on the ballad “Radio America”. Mixing sounds from the past, it somehow all manages to sound refreshingly new. Although they aren’t the world’s best musicians, the four of them have a definite knack for creating extremely contagious songs. One listen to the group’s sing-a-long choruses and jangly rhythms will have you instantly hooked needing another fix to help you get through the day. This has been their strongest asset so far as it has driven those who are currently battling addiction to tell others about their favorite new band. This word of mouth campaign coupled with the all the press the group has been getting is helping to slowly turn the Libertines into a household name.

Looking to capitalize on their rise in popularity, the group is looking to record their sophomore release this coming September, according to Powell. They may possibly hit the studio before then to try and record another single. Having already released three tracks off of Up the Bracket, the bands feels that it’s a bit much to ask fans to shell out the cash for a fourth single and therefore is contemplating recording something new.

“We were going to release something off the album, but that’s kind of cheap as we’ve already released three singles. It’s kind of a bit much to expect people who have already bought the album and the singles previously to buy something that they’ve already got anyways. So we may do something else, but who fucking knows we may get lazy and say fuck it.”

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