It’s a cold November evening in Amsterdam as Pete Doherty sits in his dressing room, signing albums and quite literally warming up for a show at the Melkweg venue in the Dutch capital. He throws a sandwich crust floorwards where it’s intercepted by his regal Siberian Husky Zeus, a dog who’s amassed a sizable online cult following recently. Doherty’s Libertines bandmates Carl Barât and John Hassall then enter the room, having both misplaced their phones before then, of course, finding said phones in their respective pockets.
It certainly feels like the last day of a months-long tour, but The Libertines are still keen to end the 20th anniversary celebrations of their debut record ‘Up The Bracket’ with a bang. An album which captured the chaos of four young Camden-dwelling indie poets at the threshold of stardom is not an easy thing to reconstruct night after night two decades later, but, despite the fatigue (“I’m so tired,” Barât concedes), the glint in the eye is still very much there among all the Boys In The Band.
For the latest instalment of our In Conversation series, NME sat down with Doherty, Barât, Hassall and Libertines drummer Gary Powell to look back on the legacy of ‘Up The Bracket’, recount some hedonistic Libs memories and look forward to a future with new music very much on the way.
The Libertines may have changed a lot over the years, but they’re stronger than ever
A lot has happened in The Libertines story – three albums, one break-up, the launch of their own Margate hotel – but the quartet say their bond has never been stronger. Trying to keep up with 20 years of in-jokes, playful squabbles and camaraderie as an outsider is no easy feat, but what, NME wonders, are the most noticeable changes in the band dynamic between 2002 and today?
“20 years ago, we’d go on stage and play as really hard and as fast as we possibly could, and then go back to the dressing room and drink as hard and as fast as we possibly could, and we didn’t really pay any attention to the outer surroundings,” Powell recalls with a laugh. “I think, this time, there’s been a lot more due care to everything: the musical approach and the approach to our fans is a lot more considered.” Barât adds: “I used to just go absolutely fucking mental, and then I’d be shaking and I’d go off stage, puke in a bin and no one could talk to me for about half an hour. Things have changed now.”
Noting that the band seem to be getting on handsomely these days, Powell replies: “Yeah, we get on amazingly, we get on great…” He pauses, before adding with a wink: “We get on alright, yeah, well… yeah, it’s fine.” The band, of course, then all fall about in laughter.
They’re still getting up to no good, though
What have been their highlights of the ‘Up The Bracket’ anniversary tour? “Prague was pretty special,” Doherty says. “We’d never been there before as a band, and we had a little horse-drawn carriage ride around the town.” When it came to the show itself, Doherty notes: “There was no barrier or gap between us and the crowd; we were just like crotch-high, drinks on stage. They’re just, like, proper bouncing, the Czechs, and it was amazing… the beer in Prague is incredible, [too].”
And then there was Milan. “Carl and Gary did a DJ set in Milan, and the mafia tried not to pay them,” Doherty explains. “So [our tour manager], armed only with gluten-free hamburgers, had to re-extort the extortionists and get the money, and then do a runner half-way through the DJ set.”
They still have fond memories of releasing ‘Up The Bracket’
The Libertines still remember what they did with the money from their first record deal. “We got it all out and took it home in bundles of fifties, and we put it in the fridge and we ironed it every day,” Pete fondly recalls. But what did they end up spending it on? “We spent it all on guitars and drugs, I think,” the co-frontman adds.
A risky move, you might think, given that one of their tour managers at the time was an active policeman. “We were on the road and we had this TM who was quite new,” Barât recalls. “[He] took us to his grandma’s house in Ireland and to his mum’s house to have tea. He’d taken The Strokes there before!”
Pete briefly incurred the wrath of Jamie T during their Wembley Arena gig
“Pete, you didn’t want to do it initially, did you?” Barât asks Doherty about the band’s landmark arena show in July. “No, I never want to do anything,” the guitarist replies, albeit half-jokingly. Thankfully, though, Doherty and the rest of The Libertines went through with the gig, which turned out to be one of the most memorable dates on the tour. They even brought out fire-eating performers and acrobats to spice things up further, before Jamie T joined the band for a rendition of ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’.
“I thought it’d be nice to have him up there,” Barât says of the reason why they invited the Wimbledon musician on stage with them. “He’s always been really supportive, and I’ve always loved what he does – I think that’s the general consensus among the boys [as well]. Because this was a Wembley show, we just wanted to pull out the stops a little bit and do something special.”
There’s a song on the next Libertines album called ‘Shiver’
Speaking to NME at Glastonbury, Doherty voiced his hope that the next Libertines record would be out by the end of 2022. While that hasn’t come to fruition, the band did head to Jamaica before the European leg of their recent tour to work on the record.
“We put a few new songs together, me and Carl,” Doherty says. “Now the four of us just have to learn and play them, and write a few more.” Barât adds: “Sonically, we want to do something we haven’t done before… I think we’ll be looking to do something with a different energy than before. But we’re not at that stage yet.”
One track they have written for their next project is called ‘Shiver’, which, Doherty explains, has “got a real sentimental hark back” to previous Libertines cuts ‘The Delaney’, ‘France’ and ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’. Barât agrees, adding: “Yeah, ‘Shiver’’s great. I was listening to that last night, actually.”