The Libertines are one of the most exciting, chaotic rock’n’roll groups of the past 20 years and in 2016 they’re still as relevant as ever. Despite only releasing three studio albums, 2002’s debut ‘Up The Bracket’, 2004’s ‘The Libertines’ and 2015’s ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ they have a legacy as one of the most inspiring and influential British bands of the 21st century. They are currently embarking on their first ever arena tour of the UK.
Co-frontmen Pete Doherty and Carl Barat met while both studying in London: Doherty was an English Literature student at Queen Mary’s while Barat was a Drama undergraduate at Brunel. The pair struck up a friendship based on a shared love of old books and music, and quickly developed their shared vision of Albion – a mythological utopia of old Britain based on influences such as Tony Hancock, William Blake and Siegfried Sassoon. They soon recruited John Hassal (bass) and Gary Powell (drums) to join their band and signed a deal with Rough Trade Records in 2001.
Their debut single ‘What A Water’ was produced by Suede bassist Bernard Butler and released in June 2002. The track was enough for them to be crowned as Britain’s best new band by NME, and they released their first album ‘Up The Bracket’ in 2002 with Clash legend Mick Jones taking over production duties. The album debuted at Number 35 in the UK Albums Chart.
Despite their success, Doherty’s drug use and dependence on crack cocaine and heroin led to the break-down of his relationship with his bandmates. Their non-album single ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ was a commercial hit, charting at Number 11, but tensions arose again when Barat told Doherty he would be unable to continue playing with the band unless he sought help for his drug problems. Doherty performed with his side-project Babyshambles rather than joining The Libertines on their tour of Japan, and then burgled Barat’s flat out of revenge. He was sentenced to six months in Wandsworth Prison for the offence.
When Doherty was released in October 2003, however, Barat greeted him outside of the prison and The Libertines played an emotional, intimate return gig in Kent the same evening. The band, who won NME’s Best Band gong at the NME Awards 2004, began work on their second studio album but sessions were plagued by more in-fighting: security had to be hired to keep Doherty and Barat from brawing. The band released ‘The Libertines’ in August 2004, scoring them their first UK Number One album, but Doherty left shortly afterwards and Barat dissolved the band as he was unwilling to continue without his co-frontman.
Doherty continued to work with Babyshambles and also released a solo album, ‘Grace/Wastlands’, in 2009. Barat, meanwhile, formed the band Dirty Pretty Things with Powell, guitarist Anthony Rossamando and former Cooper Temple Clause bassist Didz Hammond. In 2010, The Libertines reformed for a series of headline shows including slots at Reading And Leeds Festivals. In 2014, meanwhile, the band reformed for a much-publicised gig at London’s British Summertime Hyde Park and then surprised fans by arriving by helicopter for a surprise Glastonbury Festival set in 2015.