The Libertines: Bound Together is the bestselling story of the most exciting band of their generation, from the writer and photographer who witnessed it all at first hand. Out now as a stunning ebook for iPad, Kindle, Kobo and other devices.
In 2007, BBC Two broadcast a landmark music TV Series, The Seven Ages Of Rock. It largely eschewed the traditional chronological approach to music history, instead focusing on broad themes: Blues rock, art rock, punk, heavy metal, stadium rock, alternative rock and indie rock.
The final show featured a full ten minutes on the impact of The Libertines including their use of the internet and guerilla gigging. It featured interviews with Pete and Carl, Noel Gallagher and myself (Anthony Thornton). Perhaps most exciting of all was that it contained footage of the Albion Rooms gig where they invited fans into their home to watch them perform, before it was broken up by police.
Carl Barat: We used to go to Blur’s record label every day with a new demo tape. We were the laughing stock of the office. And we’d get “Don’t push it. I’ll get back to you”. That kind of reaction, we had it for a long time, really. And it was almost enough to lose faith. And then, the old band fell apart, and then me and Pete put a new band together. And then we just decided it was the death or glory.
Narrator:The Libertines: a gang of renegades led by Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, would be the first British group to bring Indie music back down to earth.
Noel Gallagher: There’s great bands, and then there’s fucking great bands that change the way people wear clothes and talk and speak. And they affect things. That’s why the Libertines connected to people, man. You know what I mean? Because there was a void after Oasis. The Oasis generation kind of moved on and the new one popped up. And they were even more fucking mental than we were. You know what I mean? Our kind of going out, cigarettes and alcohol, bit of fucking coke, bit of some some pills and fucking habits at 7 o’clock in the morning turned into heroine, and crack and self-harm.
Pete Doherty: It’s the sound of a council estate singing its heart out, and it literally is the sound of someone who had just been put in the bin chute down the back of the estate. Trying to work out what day it was.
John Harris, music journalist: And they were great to watch; they used to have all these little fist fights on stage, bang into each other. They could barely hold it together, the music, it was great but at the same token cause it was kind of unhinged.
Carl: Well, everyone in the band was singing and playing like it was the last hour of their lives. And that’s how it felt for me to be in the band doing that. And I think that definitely rubbed off, and was felt by the fans and personally that’s what made this group special.
Narrator: Like the Smiths before them, Libertine’s concerts were based around a sweaty, direct interaction between band and audience.
Conor McNicholas, NME Editor: They completely broke down the barriers between a band and fans. The thing with them, with The Libertines, from day one it was a communal thing. And they had this thing where everybody can be libertines. Doesn’t matter if you’re in the band or not, if you want to be a libertine all you had to do was declare it, and you could be part of this thing that’s going on.
Narrator: The intimacy that the band offered did have a cost. The Libertines had a unique method of testing the loyalty of fans.
Pete Doherty: We used to line them up and take them down to the tattoo parlor and brand them. You know what I mean? Just in case they were fickle. So, there’s a few of them knocking about, and there’s a few of them knocking about.
Narrator: The band’s connection with their growing fan base didn’t just take place at their concerts; it also happened online.
Carl: After a while, it turned out that people would go into the internet, at midnight, and people were talking. And essentially, they talked about us. So from my point of view, I thought that was something which we loved the most to milk. And we used to just go on there and say, “Hey, it’s me.”
Narrator: The Libertines pioneered new ways for bands to use the Internet. Not least when they did invites to last minute sing a longs on their website. Such gigs would take place in pub back rooms or at the houses of fans, or even more extraordinary locations.
Anthony Thornton, author The Libertines, Bound Together: They played a gig in their own house. They advertised it on the Internet and said come tomorrow, we’re playing a gig at our house. This was actually after they played Astoria. Two thousand people at Astoria, they came and advertised it. Nobody believed them. Why would anybody play a gig at their own house? That’s insane.
Pete: You get short a few quids so you just get down into the caf , rack it up. Tenners at the door tonight. And so, last minute gigging, work out half an hour set, clear the flat and then you can pay your rent and your grocery bills and shit. I’d pay a tenner to go to Noel Gallagher’s house and see him play, but apparently he’s a bit moody.
Narrator: Not everyone thought the guerilla gigs were a good idea.
Woman: I’m not one of them girls. I’m your neighbour and I’m sick of your bloody noise, just like all the other neighbours right now.
Anthony: Of course, the cops rolled in and broke it up. But, you know what, even that was turned into a magnificent gesture. Because as the police are running up the stairs, Pete looks at Carl, Carl looks at Pete, and they start singing “Guns of Brixton” by The Clash. This was not about marketing. This wasn’t about the Britpops style of you pose, you get up on stage, you sneer a bit and then you’re done. This was genuine.
Narrator: The group were happy to play up to their lawless image. But when Doherty’s rock n’roll lifestyle started to spin out of control, it led to tensions within the band.
Carl: The band became difficult. Pete was into the drugs, and that’s common knowledge. His emotions were always up and down, and I was starting to get worried for his health as well, like anything else. And then he started telling me that he was doing crazier and crazier things, which are dangerous, dangerous things.
Pete: It’s not like I don’t know how to enjoy myself, but that’s the way I am, and I’ve become immune to everything else. I can’t afford to worry if about other people too much..
Narrator: The Libertines’ second album would be their last. The opening song was an explicit portrait of the band in the process of splitting up, and possibly their finest moment.
Carl: I fucking can’t remember it. Sorry about that.
Pete: It’s basically like a piece of dialogue. Like this grand, dramatic statement of intent on both mine and Carl’s part, but, really, it was just like a little pay for today.
Conor: Remember exactly where I was in the NME office when we got the cd in, and we had to listen to it. And me and everyone else who was listening couldn’t believe that they’d laid bare this tension that everybody knew was going on.
Carl: I didn’t like the internet. It didn’t feel like there was anybody who didn’t know that that’s how things were all along. I felt like it was everyone else’s business as well, since that’s what everyone was talking about anyway. But if you’re not going to put truth in song, then what’s the point anyway? What are you going to put in there?
Pete: Sometimes, you realize you’re singing some of the saddest things you’ll ever be able to sing. You strive for it so hard, and it’s literally like a knife. You know what I mean? It’s already come out of your heart and now you’re going to stick it in someone else’s. Pull it all out. It’s bound to fuck your head up.
Carl: It was a very awkward song to sing. I know once, Pete thought I looked at him funny during that song. And he put down his guitar, kicked the lamp over and ran down high street, out the backdoor. So, it did kind of get to a fever pitch.
Narrator: The Libertines finally imploded in 2004, but not before they paved the way for a new generation of young British rock fans starting to break through.
John Harris: Well, like most influential bands, The Libertines started off as a solitary voice. So, yes, quite rightly everybody said, “Lets all run that way,” and they did.
Alex Turner: We’re Arctic Monkeys. This is “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor”. Don’t believe the hype.
John Harris: I mean, you can clearly draw a line from the Libertines to the Arctic Monkeys. They sound quite alike. The Arctic Monkeys sing in a colloquial voice of the north of England, but to some extent, it’s the same kind of idea.
Dave Haslem: Now, we seem a long, long way away from Brit pop. And bands are coming through now, but, looking back at the time when Indie music and rock music didn’t expect to sell out stadiums. Just expected to make a statement and to reflect life and to be oppositional.
Dave: Groups like Arctic Monkeys, that’s what they’re about. They’re about starting all over again.
Narrator: By the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, a new age of rock was getting underway. Guitar sales and concert attendance were up, and key bands, such as Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand, could be found on the same independent record label.
Alex: Independent labels give the bands space to be as weird and freakish as they naturally would be. That’s the case with us; we were a bunch of freaks and that’s why we wound the way we do. And really glad to be, as well. I’d hate to be bland.
Narrator: This was a diverse scene, one that happily drew from the best of art rock, punk and indie. For those in the thick of it, British rock could still be sharp and dynamic.
Ricky Wilson: It’s hard to really see it when you’re involved in it because it isn’t a great state, but it comes natural to us.
"Bound Together is a good account of the artistic project of Messrs Barat and Doherty, and an insight into the wider movement of disaffected youth of which they were a part"A Hot Book For The Summer, The Independent On Sunday ∞
We are pleased to announce that The Libertines: Bound Together has arrived, at last, on Google+. We are joining Facebook, Twitter and GoodReads. Obviously it’s another social network to keep an eye on but it seems pretty good and, I think, complements the other three. But we shall see. The Google+ page is here
In 2002, NME recorded, this. the first Libertines interview on video. It captures Pete, Carl, John and Gary in jubilant mood with the debut single ‘What A Waster’ about to be released. As it’s their first interview, their interviews are quite the full Albion collision of ideas, wit, hilarity and confusion they would soon be; but there’s plenty of clues here already.
They even perform an a cappella version of ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’, a song dating from their years with drummer Mr Razzcocks. The wouldn’t record it until the second self-titled album.
Later the same night – as detailed in The Libertines: Bound Together - they would play a magnificent gig as part of the Bring It On gig supporting 80s Matchbox B-Line Disaster. Both Bernard Butler and Tim Burgess were in the audience. NME reviewed the gig
Full Interview Transcript
Pete Doherty: We should’ve brought the guitar, and then I could sing you some songs.
Interviewer: You could do it a capella
Carl Barat: It’s going to be painful
[Gary Powell laughs, claps hands, smiles all round]
Pete: It’s a bit Spinal Tap isn’t it? [sings] Is it cruel or kind… [Pete and Carl sing the first verse of Music When The Lights Go Out]
Pete: So the only place you can get off your nut. The only placeyou can really go and get away with it is at a gig or in a riot, just somewhere you can really express it. So, fuck it. It’s best to play to people who don’t know your music. When we do residencies and playing to people who don’t know the music, they just want to dance. That’s the best, for you just to see bodies moving. If there’s no words, that’s grand. Fuck it. Just jump up and down. Stand on someone’s feet.
Caption: The High Point So Far
Pete: Probably getting signed to Rough Trade, really [Inaudible, 1:50], we were both homeless at the time. So you can imagine: “At last!”. You start to think about, “Right. I need a guitar.” Someone’s borrowed or nicked mine. I need an amp. Then, I need somewhere to live. I need to pay off some debt.”
Carl Barat: There was a professional highlight the realization that you can live to do that everyday, what you’ve been doing for years. That, and playing in nursing homes, which is what we used to do… to bring happiness.
Pete: But one of them died. Just wheeled her out.
Carl: The song we were playing was “I No Longer Hear the Music.”
Interviewer: Are you expecting to attract very obsessional fans?
John Hassall: I think we’ve got a few.
Pete: I think they’ll be lucky to be more obsessional than we are. I don’t really expect to, no.
John: There’s a mad bloke from Doncaster keeps on following us about. He’s a bit of a weird one. But.. So, hopefully more the same.
Pete: We’ve got a lot of ex-band members who want to kill us as well, so, that could be problematic.
Caption: Working With Bernard Butler
Pete: One of the things I liked about Carl when I first met him is that he had never even heard a Suede record, and this was 1999. I’d never met him or I was too young to maybe gone and see him, so it was just, “Who is this fella?” So, we met him, he came down and listened to demos, chose a couple songs he liked. Had a jam with him, it was good. He came down to actually play. So, he just took to all the songs and I liked them. And then, we just went and did it.
Gary Powell: We ended up with a product that we were all kind of happy with. It wasn’t so much that we were worried about, “Are people going to dig this?” We were more happy with it as a whole more than anything else. Everything else will just follow suit, hopefully. If not, then we’ve still got something we can listen to on the CD and say, “Yeah, that’s pretty cool.”
Caption: The Debut Single
John: There’s been a generalization, really, saying it’s about drugs.
Pete: It’s as much about drugs as it is about Moses.
Carl: I think it’s all there, really innit?
Interviewer: You’re just living one day to the next, rather than making great plans?.
Pete: One door to the next, isn’t it, really?
Caption: Last Words
Pete: Do us a favour. [winks]
Although The Libertines second self-titled album was less than a year old, it was awarded with the accolade of number 50 the in Channel 4′s Best 100 Albums Of All Time List.
It’s a revealing piece of footage, that’s worth reviewing now as features interesting insight from all involved. In particular there’s an honest assessment from Noel Gallagher who states that The Libertines were the only band since Oasis to generate such a level of devotion. Carl Barat, meanwhile, exposes his deeper feelings around the recording of the key record and the turbulent atmosphere in which it was recorded.
Noel Gallagher: I like The Libertines a lot. They’re the only band that ever, have managed to generate that devotion between a band and audience since Oasis.
Sophie Harris: I guess one of the real big attractions of The Libertines when they first came out was the relationship between Pete and Carl, the two front men. But The Libertines, as a record, is a really sad record because it absolutely documents the falling apart of Pete and Carl’s relationship.
Carl Barat: When you’re recording an album about things that are so close to your heart, then there is an element of catharsism. I think we kind of sung the lyrics, and we both knew what they were about. But, I don’t know if we really admitted it at the time.
Sophie: By the time this album was being made, Pete‘s drug addictions had got really out of hand. He’d been in and out of jail and accused of burgling Carl’s flat and had been in and out of rehab. It was just an absolute mess.
Carl: Although I was always adverse to what heroin and crack do, I kind of turned a blind eye to it…. No, I didn’t turn a blind eye to it. I tried to address it with him. But, I’m sure he convinced me that it was within his stride, that he was using it rather than it taking control of him.
I always said there’s no one on this planet who’s bigger than that drug. That drug is always going to be bigger than…than them. I do believe I tried everything, really, to stop it taking hold. I don’t know. For better or worse, it didn’t work.
Lauren Laverne: I think they must have had mixed feelings when the album became so accessible. I think it went to number one the week after they’d kicked Pete out of the band or something. It was very close together and very mixed up in all that horror that was going on at the time.
Carl: I never said split The Libertines up. I said… “Put it on ice,” is what I said. Yeah, that’s what we needed to do. I don’t believe in breaking up The Libertines. I believe in keeping promises. I’ll always be a Libertine. I have it written on my arms, so I haven’t much choice really. No, I mean, that’s just a reminder.
Originally broadcast. Sunday April 17th 2005.