Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – The Libertines’ Gary Powell

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: the iconic drummer takes the ultimate test

Which Beatles song did angry Sex Pistols fans sing at The Libertines when you supported the band in 2002?

“Was it ‘Get Back’? I don’t remember!”

WRONG. They were singing ‘Yellow Submarine’, because of your matching red jackets.

“All I remember was some Nazi-esque Sex Pistols fans giving me Swastika salutes whilst we were playing, and I lost it and wanted to kick off with those guys. It wasn’t a joyous occasion. There were aspects of racism pinpointed at me, with nobody standing up against it. The Sex Pistols didn’t do anything. I’m not holding it against them, but if that happened at a Libertines show, I would expect not only for us guys to stand up and say, ‘Get the fuck out of Dodge’, but statements from our management, the promoter and the booking agents to state that we’re not OK with that. None of that happened from the Sex Pistols camp, and all I could see from my side was Nazi signs and racist vitriol being thrown in our direction.”

You’ve also drummed for The Specials. According to Libertines frontman Pete Doherty’s latest autobiography, what track did he perform to an unimpressed Terry Hall when he first met him?

“I don’t know. ‘Gangsters’?”

WRONG. In his memoir A Likely Lad, Pete recounts how he planned to impress Terry Hall and his son by performing ‘Do Nothing’, but he injected so much ketamine beforehand that he thought his Babyshambles collaborator MC Purple was “this giant hippo and I thought I was in Aswad and I tried to sing ‘Do Nothing’ but at the wrong speed: Blackpool Empress Ballroom speed, temazepam remix.” A puzzled Terry Hall duly backed out of the room.

“I haven’t read his book. I steered clear – purposefully so as well! Working and touring with The Specials, who I looked up to as child, was an amazing scenario, especially because they didn’t want me to mimic [late Specials drummer] John Bradbury at all or replicate anything he’d done. They asked me to do it my way and add a new dimension, so I tried to pay homage to John and add a new dynamic in the same breath.”

The Libertines’ first European magazine cover was a French publication Rock & Folk, accompanied by the headline: ‘Danger, Branleurs!’. What does that roughly translate as?

“You’re asking the wrong person these questions. I’m clueless regarding that!”

WRONG. It means ‘Danger, Wankers!’

“[Laughs] Hmmm… Well, that’s possibly true. The next question better be at the level of ‘What’s my name?’ And even then, I’m gonna need a second!”


In 2015, The Libertines played a secret set at Glastonbury after which band pulled out?

“Was it Foo Fighters?”


“I’ve got one!”

You once told a bizarre anecdote about how, at the Isle of Wight festival in 2006, where your band Dirty Pretty Things were playing and Foo Fighters were headlining, you and Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie ran around trashing other artists’ dressing rooms, before security locked you in your tour bus. On the ferry back, you escaped – and stark-bollock naked – took a piss behind the bus before “Dave Grohl looked at me and went: ‘That’s a good look, man!”

“I was having the best time in the entire world at that festival with Bobby Gillespie. We were being chased by security and I thought they were laughing along with us – but that’s just what my medication was saying at that particular point in time! [Laughs]”

Ever embarrassed yourself in front of any other artists?

“Years ago, I went to an awards ceremony with Dirty Pretty Things. I’d not long been drumming with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers by then – in fact, our first proper meeting was when [their guitarist] John Frusciante nearly ran me over in LA! Anyway, I’d recently been to a festival where me and Arthur Lee from Love and actor Jason Schwartzman spent the entire day on the tour bus talking nonsense and missed all the acts playing.

“Back to the Award’s ceremony: this is a time when Carl [Barât] was taking the piss constantly out of Americans and the Chili Peppers got pissed off with him, so everybody disappeared. So I went to hang out with Arthur Lee, who pointed at Sting’s table and said, ‘Go ask Sting for a job’, convincing me it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I walked over to his table and said: ‘Hi Mr. Sting. My name’s Gary. I’m a drummer in a band called Dirty Pretty Things. I really like your stuff and if you ever need a drummer….’  Before I could even finish the sentence, I glimpsed Arthur Lee out of the corner of my eye killing himself laughing. He threw me under the earth, let alone the bus! I was crushed by both that and the looks of bemusement coming from Sting’s table.”

“That’s why I don’t introduce myself to people. It’s easier just to get naked and stand there!”

What is the hidden song on The Libertines’ 2004 self-titled second album called?

“There’s a hidden song?! Is it ‘Skint and Minted’?”

WRONG. It’s ‘France’.

“We played that years ago before then. So we gave everybody a hidden track of something we’d done beforehand?!”

For a bonus half-point, what number did the album reach on the French charts?

“Pfft! I don’t know. Five?”

WRONG. 27.

“…Add 22. You didn’t let me finish [Laughs]!”

Which 2015 biographical film of an entrepreneur features The Libertines’ ‘Don’t Look Back Into the Sun’?

“Have I been paid for that?! Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory? [Laughs]”

WRONG. It’s in Steve Jobs, the Danny Boyle-directed biographical film of the eponymous  Apple Inc co-founder.

“I know ‘Time for Heroes’ was used in American Pie 3: The Wedding because Dirty Pretty Things were in Nebraska on tour at the time and went to see it in the cinema. When the montage scene started and ‘Time for Heroes’ played, we cheered ‘YEAHHHHHHHH!’, like a World Cup goal had been scored, and the people in the cinema yelled ‘Shut up!’. Then we ended up in a dodgy bar playing pool. In the great worlds of Childish Gambino: ‘This is America’.”

A Pete and Carl round. For a full point, can you answer either

What is the name of the song Chas & Dave wrote for Pete Doherty?


For what unusual reason did Carl have to throw away a pair of his shoes when The Libertines toured in 2002?

“Well, I remember Alan Wass and the Tourniquet, Left Hand, our support band, filled Carl’s shoes with loads of fruit and vegetables and he had to throw them away because they were ruined, but I had no idea Chas & Dave wrote a song for Pete.”

CORRECT-ISH. The shoes apparently just about made it through the vegetables – but couldn’t survive your support act pissing in them. Chas & Dave composed a ditty called  ‘Why Don’t You Have A Cheese Sandwich Instead, Pete’.

“I’ve never heard it, so I can’t say any more on that!”


Two castaways have selected a Libertines track as one of their Radio 4 Desert Island Discs, but can you identify either of them?

“My son Wolfe and my mum?”

WRONG. Horticulturalist Monty Don chose ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ in 2006, while Russell Brand picked ‘Tell the King’ in 2013. Who’s been the most unexpected person who’s turned out to be a Libertines fan? And have any of them ever surpassed the late June Brown (aka EastEnders’ Dot Cotton) being into the band?

“Russell Brand did? Wow, that’s pretty cool! I never know who is a Libertines fan so I’ll find it odd when you’re having a chinwag with Game of Thrones actor Isaac Hempstead Wright [who played Bram Stark] at Glastonbury and he says he likes the band. I think I met June once and my brain absorbed all the aspects of surrealism when it came to that encounter. I felt like: this is weird. When someone of that stature is praising you, your mind shuts down and you just want to run away.” [Laughs]

You played drums for the New York Dolls at the 2004 Meltdown festival. Name any other three bands that played it.

“Moving on! [Laughs] I honestly don’t remember anyone else who played there, apart from Morrissey, who curated it – the wazzock!”

WRONG. Among many others you could have had: Cockney Rejects, Gene, Jane Birkin, Loudon Wainwright III, Nancy Sinatra, The Ordinary Boys and Sparks.

“I got the offer to drum for the New York Dolls when we were recording the second Libertines album. They sent the music over beforehand, and [Libs bassist] John Hassall came over to my old flat in Dalston to run through some tracks – but we just ran through ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Personality Crisis’, then watched The Lord of the Rings instead [laughs]. When I did eventually get into the studio with New York Dolls, they turned up five hours late and just wanted to play cover versions rather than any of the show, so I stayed up all night at home afterwards trying to learn the music. I bumped into Jonathan Ross and David Walliams at the venue before I went on, who were taking the piss of me, going: ‘You’re going to fail!’

“My son’s middle-name is Sylvain – named after [late New York Doll] Sylvain Sylvain who I became good friends with. He was hilarious and a character. Walking back to the hotel after a show in Belfast, he noticed a drive-thru McDonalds and said we should pretend to be a car. So we crouched behind each other like we were sat down, making ‘vroom-vroom’ car noises, and approached the window where you order. Sylvain pretended to wind the window down and put his head out of the car, and said, ‘I’d like to order a take-out please’, to a confused reaction!”

You’ve previously claimed Morrissey was rude to you during that Meltdown appearance. Did he ever apologise?

“No. He never spoke to me for the two days we did Meltdown. He came up onstage, spoke to everybody in the New York Dolls, and completely blanked me. At the meet and greet afterwards, he didn’t even look in my general direction. When [The Libertines] later did an NME photoshoot with Morrissey, I was stood next to him and he again didn’t talk to me – he spoke to everybody else in the band. The only thing he said to me was ‘Mexico’, grudgingly, and that’s because I asked where his ring was from. He showed his true colours and feelings towards me and it was a level of ignorance I can’t be bothered to deal with.”

What is The Albion Rooms, The Libertines’ hotel in Margate, overall Tripadvisor rating?

“It’s one of the best hotels in Kent, so I’m guessing it’s 4.5”

WRONG. It’s five out of five.  Everybody’s effuse in their praise, apart from a solitary  damming one-star review that complains about bad-smelling toilets and dodgy wi-fi.

“That review will be from my girlfriend! [Laughs] Whenever I’m down there, I go straight to the studio, which I sourced all the equipment for. It’s Carl’s baby. The press said, ‘Peter Doherty is opening up a hotel’, but he did nothing except turn up with his suitcase! [Laughs] He did bring loads of cool trinkets which added to overall joie de vivre of the place, but Carl did the majority of the hotel work.”

Any chance of Carl replacing Alex Polizzi on Channel 5’s The Hotel Inspector?

“He would do it and I reckon he’d do a good job of it!”

The verdict: 2/10

“I can live with that score!”

– Gary Powell’s label, 25 Hour Convenience Store, is running its first showcase tour, ‘The Steam Packet UK Tour’, headlined by Dead Freights, with support from Casino, Bear Park and Young Culture, which kicks off in Birmingham on October 7.