Libertines Reunion – Backstage And Down The Front

So, last night, The Libertines reunited. Or rather three of them did – apparently John Hassell was out of the country. Yeti are great but boy, did JH miss out.

I’ve spent many dark, damp nights at the Rhythm Factory – the birthing pool of The Libertines and home to regular shows by Pete doing his solo thing as well as Babyshambles.

Highlights – or at least memorable-lights – so far include ‘Shambles guitar-slinger Mick Whitnall smashing his axe into a kazillion pieces then having a screaming battle with security, interviewing a shirtless Pete at 4am in the car park while photographer James Quinton helped fend off inebriated hangers-on trying to muscle in for photos, and James’ personal highlight – entering a gents’ cubicle at 5am after a Pete solo show only to be confronted with the back of a sweat-glistened arse pumping away at a new acquaintance as things got romantic in trap one.


The Libertines, London Rhythm Factory, 2:40 am, 16 May 2009. Photo: James Quinton

Basically, it’s a place where things happen. And last night rumours were abound that a full Libs reunion was going to happen. Then that just Pete and Carl would play together. Then that Pete and Gary Powell would play with The Paddingtons. Then that Carl wasn’t answering his phone at all. Some nights it’s just best to go along, grab a seat and wait to see what happens.

Backstage at the Rhythm Factory, it was hustle and bustle as the full line-up of Libertines cartoon characters mingled – The General, Paul Ro, Johnny Headlock, er, Naboo from The Mighty Boosh wearing red trousers – all darting their eyes around to try and see where Pete was. The rest of the Shambles were there, Adam Ficek cowering by our sofa safe from the saucer-eyed throng.

And then Pete strode in, draped in a long designer coat and in an amiable mood, chatting and knocking back cold beers. Spirits seemed high – after all tonight was a tribute gig to the late Libs promoter Johnny Sedassy, and all the acts seemed determined to send him off in style.

But up until then it looked like we were set for a Shambles-only show – until Mr Barat crept in round the back and dished out a few hugs to acquaintances. And there was Gary, chatting away in the corner. It looked like we were on.

2:15am, I’m pressed against the back wall of the side-stage watching Shambles tear it up. They sounded taught but frenetic, earning screams for ‘Killamangiro’ and ‘Delivery’. It’s intensely brilliant – the atmosphere fuelled by expectation about what might happen after every song.

Then fan-wide eyes start darting a few feet to my right, where Carl had slipped in to watch proceedings. He looks nervous, eyeing up the fans spilling over the barrier as things heated up.

Then after the closing notes of ‘Albion’ soaked into the walls, Adam and Mick headed off… Gary leaped behind the drum kit and Carl strode on, the crowd erupting into Beatle fan-like screeches as they clicked what was happening. No long intro, no over-sentimental love-in, the four-some (Drew playing bass) launched into ‘What A Waster’ with adrenalin-surging vigour.

I’ve never seen such on-stage chemistry since I last saw The Libertines play the Cardiff Barfly many, many moons ago. Sharing a microphone the pair attacked their guitars, fingers blurring, spittle crossing in the air as they traded lyrics.

‘Up The Bracket’, ‘What Katy Did’, ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, ‘Time For Heroes’, ‘Death On The Stairs’ – it was enough to reduce a Libs fan to mush.

But what was so heartening about the brief show was how fresh and relevant it sounded. Electricity still darts between Pete and Carl like blue lightning-cracks between two pylons.

With the closing notes of ‘Death On The Stairs’ over, Carl burst through the pack of side-stage watchers and into the back room, kisses being planted on his head as he stormed outside and was gone, as behind him Babyshambles finished off the tribute show by welcoming departed guitarist Pat Walden back onstage for a cameo.

Fans high-fived and called their mates, Libs-obsessed strangers hugged and yelled “Oh my God!” at each other, while others started spreading the jealousy through Twitter on Blackberrys.

And so, what of the night. The bottom line was that this was a group of musicians and friends coming together to pay their collective tributes to Johnny Sedassy, who played a huge part in the formation of the band.

And while Carl might have made protestations about ‘bad energy’ in the past, the success of the show (and how much fun he was clearly having) must have reasserted Pete’s notion that it’s only a matter of time before they’re back and bound together, to all parties.

Here’s to the next one.

Photo Gallery – down the front at The Libertines’ emotional reunion gig

Watch video footage of the gig