Back in April 2014, it was announced that The Libertines, one of Britain’s most exciting, chaotic and unpredictable bands, were to headline one of Barclaycard’s British Summer Time gigs in Hyde Park. Complaints from local residents flooded in, worried Pete Doherty’s presence in their neighbourhood would instantly turn it from plush opulence and fine living to crawling with drug dealers and louts. Then came the quotes from Doherty himself, revealing that he was strapped for cash and he and fellow frontman Carl Barat were set to land themselves £500,000 each from the show. It was starting to sound like an opportunistic cash-in.
In the intervening months, the band have tried to play down the huge pay-off, describing it as “in the spirit of The Libertines”. They dropped hints that, this time round, they were back together for the long haul, talking about plans to write new material and confirming more shows for later this year.
Yesterday (Saturday July 4), then, was the chance to prove that they really meant it, that this wasn’t just a soulless rehashing of something that touched so many people in order to make a quick buck. Before the band arrived on stage, the big screens showed a film made up of old photos, clips from the DVD that accompanied the re-release of their eponymous second album and footage of the wall down Bethnal Green’s Hare Row that featured in the video for early single ‘Up The Bracket’, inscribed with messages from fans. It was a brief reminder of the magic and devotion The Libertines sparked first time round and a touching eulogy to the good old days.
As Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’ played out over the PA, Doherty, Barat, drummer Gary Powell and bassist John Hassall strode on stage and set about putting in a performance that should silence the doubters and rekindle the fire in the hearts of all Libertines fans. At first, the momentum was stuttering as security halted the show over concerns for the safety of fans at the front of the crowd. But when things really got going, as with an incredible run of ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’, ‘Tell The King’, ‘Up The Bracket’ and ‘What A Waster’, the energy and emotion pouring from the stage was undeniable.
And then there were the little subtle signs that maybe the fractions that once existed within the band were healed, that this could be the real deal. Signs like Pete and Carl’s matching red, white and blue tape stuck to their right legs. Pete’s “What about Carl Barat?” when relaying a tale about being told he’d got nothing to fly the Union Jack for. The pure joy on the duo’s faces when, as the last notes of ‘I Get Along’ played out, they flung their arms around each other and jumped around until they pulled each other to the ground. A quick burst of the hokey cokey and a spine-tingling recital of Siegfried Sassoon’s Suicide In The Trenches, delivered by Pete and Carl over one mic, faces almost burrowed into each other, capped things off with the feeling that this was just like the peak of The Libertines but on a grander scale.
Cash-in? If it was, it was one that was perfectly disguised and utterly believable. Worth it? Unequivocally so. Let us know your thoughts on The Libertines’ big return in the comments below.
Make sure you pick up next week’s issue of NME, out July 9 on newsstands and available digitally, for an exclusive interview with The Libertines talking about what the future holds for the band, plus the definitive verdict on their comeback shows.