It’s the headline set that could never have happened; a potentially glorious moment lost to addiction and in-fighting. This weekend (August 28-30 August), The Libertines finally top the bill at Reading And Leeds ahead of the release of their third album, ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’. We spoke to co-frontman Carl Barat about the band’s most recent appearance at the festival in 2010, what is different this time round and what it means to join Mumford & Sons and Metallica on top of the bill…
Does headlining Reading And Leeds mean more to you given all the turmoil in the band’s history? Presumably there must have been a point when it seemed like you might never headline?
Carl: “It’s certainly a milestone point for us. Last time no-one trusted us to turn up, so we didn’t get there then. But I think we’re all in a much better place now. Reading, for me, is a bit of a homecoming as well, after quite a few years of tumult. Reading was the first place I ever saw a famous band – it’s where I saw Rage Against The Machine. It made me fall in love with the idea [of being in a band] and run headlong into it. It’s the first place I ever got annihilated in the moshpit, and the first place I ever passed out in a moshpit. I just fell in love with the idea and it’s the first place I made the connection between music that I had in my head and in my bedroom with my friends and seeing it have a mass appeal. It made an impact on me. There’s something about that place. I’m hoping that the circle can continue and there’ll be kids face down in the mud who’ll feel the same way and be inspired to do something. It’s got a symbolic significance to it.”
I don’t know if this is the general consensus, but I personally thought your set in 2010 was a bit underwhelming. How are you going to make this year better?
Carl: “Shoot from the hip there, Rhian. Did you think it was a bit boring? What did you want from it, dancing girls? Pyrotechnics? Maybe you built it up too much in your head – hopefully we’re out of the woods with that kind of danger. Last time we did Reading, to me… where were you standing? You need to be in the epicentre. I thought it was the epitome of what I thought it was all about, really. It felt quite special to me, it didn’t feel underwhelming at all. I was worried about living up to that! Well, not that worried – it’s kind of a different thing now, but I generally try to find things to worry about.”
What’s different in the band now, compared to 2010?
Carl: “Well in 2010, we didn’t know what we were doing. We willingly had cameras put in our faces for the whole process and were just guided along to the stage really. It was a bit confusing. We needed to gel together again, and we hadn’t really. We were like rabbits in the headlights. In some ways, it was good because it kickstarted the chain of events that’s led to where we are now. What’s different? The band are all friends and I feel like we’re growing together, I suppose instead of just being thrown together. It’s like a body accepting a donor organ or something. We know it’s not going to reject it.”
Reading organiser Melvin Benn said last week that he thought the difference between 2010 and this year is that you’re “incredibly excited” about playing this year.
Carl: “I’d have to really question my life if I wasn’t incredibly excited. There’s a modicum of terror in there as well, as always. I think Melvin’s got a point there. Before we were probably just terrified. There was a bit of wonderment in there as well, it wasn’t just negative. I think what we did in 2010 showed us what we were still capable of, and made us realise that it was still ticking, to paraphrase a Libertines song.”
In 2010, you told us that rehearsals had been “fraught”. Have you done much rehearsing this time round and what’s the mood been like?
Carl: “The Libertines have never previously greatly flourished in a standard rehearsal situation. We’re better at garnering our learning on the road. I think we’ve done a fair bit of that recently. We’ve been playing loads all over the place. I think we did four hours of rehearsal in total for Reading last time. I think we’re a bit better prepared for this one.”
It must be nice to have newer songs this time round that are less of a struggle to remember…
Carl: “I dunno, it’s hard to remember the new ones. But it’s great – having new songs is everything, really. It’s the final hurdle, really, apart from getting it done. It’s the final hurdle in terms of knowing that the ship has set sail. Sorry, I’m getting a bit hackneyed in my references. ‘Fame And Fortune’ has been a disaster every time we’ve played it, due to lack of rehearsal. Maybe in the next run of gigs… actually saying that we’ve got rehearsal this week so we are actually booked in for an official rehearsal. It’s a divider, that one, but I’m definitely on the side of liking it.”
Last time you did Reading And Leeds, you said you would like to put strings on a few songs but it was a bit much for someone who wasn’t headlining. Have you got anything like that planned this year?
Carl: “No, but maybe we should actually. That’s a thought. What do you think – are people expecting all those bells and whistles, or are people just expecting as is?”
NME: ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ with cello and keys at Glastonbury was good, but I think people are just expecting straight-up, raucous Libertines.
Carl: “Well, they’ll get that – it’d be really hard for us not to do that. We’ve ticked that box. But anything could happen – we could go all MOR in the interim, but that’s unlikely isn’t it?”
Is this the biggest period of your lives, going from headlining Reading And Leeds through to releasing an album that could never have been made?
Carl: I’ve had some pretty damn big weeks. There was one where I didn’t get out of bed for a week. That was pretty big. But yeah, it certainly sits in there among some of my biggest weeks.”
The Libertines headline Leeds Festival on Friday and Reading Festival on Sunday.