The Libertines - Various, UK, Throughout 2002
10 Feb 2004
'... i was from a working-class family, but not a working-class family that was into drugs. well, apart from the liverpool side of them. but carlos had come from a more liberal background, a bit more off-the-rails...'
'Daisy chains, and school-yard games, and a list of things we said we'd do tomorrow...' - 'The Good Old Days'.
The greatest song-writers, the finest composers, are those that help us transform our mindset, no matter the location we're situated in - from the comfort of our arm-chairs, on the tube, lying in bed: it's irrelevant. What matters is the sincerity and earnestness of the performer - inhibitions willingly bared, in-jokes shared, and, hopefully, few signs of an over-sanitising brush which polishes the end-package to an uncomforting gleam. After all, rock 'n' roll is not about cleanliness or endlessly note-perfect renditions of the same belters - cliché as it is, it's the heart behind the enterprise that registers true success.
Charting a full year of one such musical sensation capable of the above has proven an arduous task. The partying, the shows, further partying, and the music slapped in the midst of it all; with The Libertines, however, it's not so much following a band, as joining a circus that's been steadily growing in supporters since its inception, and bettering itself on a frequent basis. There are familiar faces around at all times. There's little chance of not indulging in a beer or six when present in the band-members' orbit. And there are riotous, roaring shows along the way that help define the past twelve months, proving just what is so unique about the relevant subject-matter, and why everyone is celebrating in the first place.
In spite of outside claims, rockfeedback obtained the band's first ever interview after unrelenting, avid stalking. Officially, vocalist-guitarist Carl Barat was our premier victim, when we invited ourselves to his and co-singer/six-string wielder Pete Doherty's flat in March; at some point in the day, we blagged copies of their rare demo, which - to this day - still dazzles with exuberant, effervescent zeal.
The meeting was followed up a month later with an even more in-depth, hour-and-a-quarter experience, with both Doherty and Barat delivering their dual conversational-debut. Located on-board the band's tour-bus outside Oxford's Zodiac venue, the foursome were due to support an Australian act making waves on the scene, The Vines, later in the evening. 'Til then, there was us to face to.
'I think we're both pretty united in what we do,' Peter explained, accounting for his and Barat's joint-input in the group. 'The lyrics and the music mean the world, everything to us. We're trying to create bases we can live inside, like digging trenches for ourselves - one person might stand at an area of land where he feels the digging should be done and the other person does the actual digging. If one person comes up with a strong lyric, it can have the opposite effect; so, in a way, it's the person who's not got the strong idea that's doing all the work, because they're having to monitor and listen, and give the opinion... So, if I think what I'm doing's amazing, but Carlos doesn't like it, then it might be difficult for him to say, 'Right, well, I'm not wanting to sing that.'
Evidently, these were the first signs that we were dealing with a bizarre being. Fact or fiction - are Doherty's sentiments a true insight into his inventive, enigmatic mind, or a mere opportunity to intelligently discard journalists' hopes and expectations? It's certainly a topic that has baffled the UK press in recent times.
Returning to the bus, we respond. Are you diplomatic when you dislike each other's work?
Peter sits back, smoking, his eyes darting towards random people walking past outside. 'Well, I mentioned the trench thing, and - in a kind of way - it is like being at war; you've got to load the barrels, and be honest - there's no other way around it. If we can't be honest with each other over our songs, then there's nothing to be honest about.'
Do you consider yourselves best friends?
Carl peers at Peter in a considerate glance.
'I s'pose so,' ponders Doherty. 'We've evolved into best mates in a natural way. When I first met Carl, I think I was about 15, around the time I was at a place called Ainsworth Close, which was an estate my Nan was living in; he had a cousin living there. I didn't really know him - but I didn't want to know him, because Mum always said, 'Don't hang around with them lot.' But then he started going out with my sister, so I sort of knew him; he didn't like me, and I didn't like him. But I knew he could play guitar. We went from being two people from completely different groups, different worlds...'
What is the fundamental distinction between you both?
'I don't think that there are many differences between us now,' continues Peter. 'Back then, the main differences were that he was a bit more street-wise than me, which didn't really appeal to me; I was happy as I was, you know. I'm well into my drugs and music, and that, but - then, at 15 - I wasn't... I had no interest in it. I was from a working-class family, but not a working-class family that was into drugs. Well, apart from the Liverpool side of them. But Carlos had come from a more liberal background, a bit more off-the-rails. My parents were also quite strict - my Dad was away in the army for a lot of time. He said, 'You can do what you want, but if you don't want to live by the family's rules, don't bother staying here.' Carl's Mum, meanwhile, used to have magic mushrooms in the kitchen.
'There was one summer, when I was staying at my Nan's, and Carl was just round there, and he ended up going to the same college as my sister. We met properly at her college, then. I was standing in a plastic coat looking out the window of her room, and he thought I was incontinent, because there was the smell of the Thames coming into the room. The way it developed was part of the Arcadian Dream; it's all a part of the journey.'
A-ha - 'the Arcadian Dream'; this was the introduction to a concept that Doherty has stood by tirelessly and famously throughout '02. But he never seems to back it up quite convincingly.
'I think we've got an almost maniacal... not tyranny... It's more of a benign dictatorship really,' details Doherty on the roles of each band-member in their quartet. 'There's no leaders, but Pitzia is in control.'
We stare at him blankly. Pitzia?
'She's the Goddess of Arcadia, basically,' Peter deadpans in response.
We look at Carl, in hope of inspiration. Instead, worryingly, he agrees with his co-hort.
'Yeah,' he nods, 'the orders come from on top.'
Peter is just firing up. 'You know - Arcadia? The realm of the infinity? It's a poet's corner. This is the code by which we live our lives. This is the pact we've sworn all those years ago that turned us all from enemies into companions and wayfarers and travellers on the seas of Albion. It's not a cult or a religion - it's an awareness of your surroundings; you're not gonna force yourself on anyone and, equally, no-one's gonna force themselves on you. And it's about community and pleasure.'
And what do your friends and families think of this idea?
Peter pauses. 'They think we're completely mad.'
OK, how did you hear of it?
'It came from a whisper through the trees. It came from a crack in the pavement. It can also come when you open a bag of crisps, or when you kick a football against a goalpost,' he elaborates. 'Even if I was winding you up, it would still be true, because Arcadia and the Arcadian Dream is so deep, is so true to our hearts... There have been Arcadian gatherings over the years, but I think the best is yet to come. It can be as powerful as your imagination can allow it to be. But, it can also be as dark and twisted as your soul... Arcadia encompasses the infinite, and that's why it comforts me.'
Doherty then attempts to explain the process of how people can indulge within the dream themselves and its history; we choose to not publish this due to the criminal vagueness of what he suggests. Suddenly, there's a burst of sunshine on the horizon.
'I mean, the girls, the drugs and the drink - that's all that we were doing before we got signed anyway,' Doherty outlines. 'This is all something above beyond mere pleasure-seeking principles... I'm sorry if you listen back to this all and think it's all drivel, but - seriously - the Arcadian Dream, that's where I'm heading... Arcadia: don't spare the horses.'
Carl sits back, enamoured. 'Pete's managed to beautifully illustrate something that's always been swirling around namelessly within me.'
'Tell me what can you want? You've got it all' - 'Time For Heroes'.
The first time rockfeedback encountered the band was at their inaugural performance of 2002, a much-raved-about, sell-out show at London's Cherry Jam. With just over 150 in attendance and word on the street that this was the band to look out for, we were suitably astounded; whether or not the group could hang on to their instruments wasn't the issue - this was the start of something, or, to use a brutal term, marked the unveiling of a full package - chiming guitar-hooks, edgy, strung-out stares into the crowd, ruffled leather-jackets and hair that resembled potentially combustible haystacks... We had to grow with this band.
Fortunately for us, it wasn't long before we next chanced upon these four individuals. The Strokes were performing at Birmingham's Academy and, in support, were the very same group that had ignited our senses just days prior. Even though this was only The Libertines' third show proper within such an incarnation, they played as dextrously fluent yet even stronger than before, more than justifying their early coup of supporting such an esteemed headliner.
We finally met two of the members after the show for the first time - Pete Doherty, and drummer, Gary Powell. They didn't disappoint. Doherty swaggered uncontrollably and slurred a polite-enough hello before falling on the bar to order a drink. Powell was slightly more conversational, revealing his offence for a comment we'd placed in our Cherry Jam review, where we dismissed his trendy hat as akin to a golfer's cap; apparently, this line marked a confirmation of suspicions his fellow musicians had over his fashion-sense. After much grovelling on our side, all was forgiven.
The very next night, we bumped into them again. It was at, no less, a glitzy awards-ceremony amidst their native East End of London. Peter was repeating his impressive, previous night's public-display, whilst we met Barat for the first time at the bar. Well-spoken, enthusiastic and playfully humorous, it was the third time in two days that we had been entertained by the company of a Libertine. Only left was John Hassall, the band's bassist, who we finally encountered at the scene of a live-set conducted by friend-of-the-band, and then solo-musician, Johnny Borrell in Camden's Enterprise.
The puzzle had been completed, and networks had been connected. All that was left now was to document our subjects and their advancing surge of activity, which - in hindsight - no-one could have anticipated to be as thriving as it soon turned out. Markedly, Doherty commented originally on a wave of hype: 'We're ready for all that. But, although you can compare us to any band at the end of the day, all the publications that are potentially gonna do that have got more in common with each other than any other band has got in common with each other... The only thing we've got in common with The Strokes is that our bass-player went to a private-school. That's all I can think of...'
'The rapture of vertigo, and letting go, me myself I was never sure, was it the liquor or was it my soul?' - 'Vertigo'.
The riot really began with the release of their double A-side debut-single on Rough Trade, 'What A Waster'/'I Get Along' - a Bernard Butler-produced, three-track release that sneaked into the top-40 just before the summer. Containing a multitude of unrepeatable cursing, it was provided with the ultimate accolade of being banned by Radio One.
'C**t' as a word has almost become meaningless,' Peter comments to us at the time of the single's release, regarding such lyrical subject-matter. 'You say it enough times and it doesn't have any effect. I played that song to my Dad at Christmas, worried about what he may say, even though I knew he swears, because he was in the army and all that... and something really weird happened in the room. He just started eating my cigarettes and saying, 'You c**t, you c**t - that's amazing; you've gotta release it.' Funny, as it started off as a ballad, originally...'
How do your lyrical-themes vary, in general?
'They're not just London-life,' confirms Doherty. 'They're trying to capture forever, and a feeling that is real; that's the thing about a song you're going to be singing over and over and over again: if you're prepared to do that, it has to be worth singing, it has to have some poignancy, or even bring you to tears or make you laugh. It's always been important that any band we adore like the Velvets or The Smiths has that - it's almost as if the lyrics are impossible to separate from the melody, you know? For them, once that song has been written, you cannot change it, and it's almost like that for us. 'I Get Along', it says, 'If you get them on your side/You have a good time,' but, somehow, it used to say, 'If you roll them on their side/We all have a good time...' Lyrics mean a lot to us, and it's always been a bit of a fantasy to have people singing words back.'
Even if questionable in actual content, all retorts proven from this session are so poetic and eloquently-stated that you're tempted to believe anything they say.
Would you articulate that you're both intellectuals?
'I don't really know what 'intellectual' means,' wittily responds Doherty instantly, 'but if it means you've got a desire to learn, you've got a desire to look for things that haven't been presented to you, then, maybe. I think that 'intellectual' is quite an exclusive word. I think it's just for anyone that has a thirst or a hunger to improve themselves, or a yearning to escape from somewhere to get to a better place.'
So are your views anything to do with drugs?
Peter smiles at such crass inquisition. 'We've all at one point been arrested. When we were called The Libertines with Scarborough Steve singing, we got banned everywhere because we attracted a little band of f**ked-up kids every where we went, because they knew they could sell gear at our gigs. With drugs, I think the sort of person that would die from an overdose is gonna die soon enough anyway, because they've got that will to destroy what's left of their life.'
At this instance, aboard the vehicle still, Doherty slides open the door and begins to open bottles of beer via means of smashing lids against a nearby pavement, all in order to fuel further discussion. Topics turn to recent hostility outside a concert in Brixton, involving people they know.
'I'd say that if we were pushed, we'd fight to the death - so it doesn't matter if we're hard or not,' notes Peter on violence. 'If they want it, then they can have it.'
Carl looks at Doherty in quiet disbelief. 'Well, in all fairness, if they want it and I don't, then I'm not prepared to risk life and limb on it.'
The roughness of the East-End is depicted to be important to The Libertines; is this the case?
'Whitechapel has been an important part of our history over the years,' acknowledges Peter. 'Clapham as well. Just romantic places where amazing things have happened, or places where our families, or generations have lived. London's a hole, though.'
Do you think your common referencing to the same locality could result in limiting your audience?
'Nah,' Pete dismisses. 'It shouldn't at all. I lived up in Liverpool for a long time; only my Dad's from London. I used to have the full, Scouse accent when I was about nine. I think when we're first gonna play Liverpool, that's gonna be a romantic gig.
'I wouldn't mind going to Newcastle, because I was born there, but I've never been there since,' he adds, looking to their debut-tour plans for the period. 'My Mum was pregnant, and they were driving through from Scotland and her water broke, so they just pulled over in the nearest city - it happened to be there.'
What about your recent experiences playing with The Strokes... How did those rank in your personal opinions?
Peter begins to unveil the tale of how they first met the NYC quintet. Sadly, it's unpublishable.
'Playing to 4,000 people or whatever in Birmingham was the most astonishing thing,' he then utters. 'I felt that we were part of a good night. But people didn't seem like they wanted to dance to songs they didn't know, which I can't ever understand, so I thought that maybe they didn't dig it. Ideally, I'd really want people coming away, thinking, 'Ah. Wasn't that really good fun just jumping up and down for half an hour?' I want movement in the crowd. I think, up 'til now, people that would want to dance have been put off because they've been looking around at the audience and they're just seeing a load of industry-scum.'
Carl: 'Yeah - the scene-seekers, and the suits. From those Strokes shows though, I just remember all these little girls standing near the front of the stage, pushed right to the front of the barriers, with all their flesh poking through. And these funny faces, with beady eyes, all transfixed, mesmerised... I want an audience like that for us in the next year.'
'And they all get them out for the boys in the band. They twist and they shout for the boys in the band...' - 'Boys In The Band'.
'I can't remember the last time I went record-shopping,' raises Gary Powell in shock as we walk around Oxford Street's Virgin Megastore a couple of months later. 'I haven't done it in at least a year. If I go into a record-store now, I don't even know what to look for...'
The very following week, his band's single reaches the charts, and features on the shelves of a section he once would have purchased his own musical-preference from. We soon exit the shop and find a pub in the Soho locale. The next hour is spent sitting down for a couple of pints and harking back to the times encountered by the band's least-profiled character. Of the time, this was Powell's first interview proper, save for a few sloppy encounters with glossy mags that spent all their time focussing in on Barat and Doherty. Admirably, this doesn't bother him.
'It's interesting because the Secretary of State - Colin Powell - is originally from the same town in Jamaica that my great grandparents are from,' he opens on the formality of his name. 'So whether something's going on there, who knows..?' He pauses. 'I doubt it, though.'
Gary is an entirely charming and engaging character. Unlike his other band-mates, he's not even British, instead having been born in the States.
'It's mainly revolved around New Jersey and here,' he illustrates, regarding his childhood. 'I spent a lot of time over here originally in the early-70s, and we moved over here properly in the 80s. I went to school here for a while - my secondary-school education was very brief, hated it with a passion. Didn't get on with the school-kids there; had a couple of OK friends. I got into music in the late-80s, and that was when it started to take a real forefront for me.'
Because of your heritage in another country, did you experience alienation from peers when you were brought up?
'Yeah, kinda, but - via my parent's upbringing - I learnt very early on that if people don't want to know you, then why the hell do you want to know them? Even now, I've got a small social-circle, but the people I do know, I love them to death... I've got some really good friends. One thing my Dad always told me when I was younger was to 'differentiate between friends and acquaintances' and I think that most people operate on that basis - but a lot of the time, the people they deem friends are actually really just acquaintances.'
Holding such moral-fibres in hand, what are your observations of the industry you're surrounding yourself with; how do you relate these philosophies when you meet characters within it?
'I just take people on an individual basis,' he replies open-mindedly. 'I'll talk to anybody, but I do often understand the nature of the relationship that's involved. Other people, I'll speak to over a longer period of time with, and the rest, 'Hey, good to meet you, I'll be on my way right about now...'
Powell then outlines his vivid history. 'I was in my mid-teens when drumming really started to take off for me; when I was younger, at about eight or nine years old, my Dad relentlessly made me go to my grandparents' church every Sunday at 9am. I used to pray saying, 'Please God, don't make them send me to church today,' and then my Dad would come in and drag me out of bed. Then, we'd get back at about 2 in the afternoon, and I'd have to tidy my room, which was a part of the cleaning-regime we had every week; whilst he'd be dusting the floor, cleaning with a mop, there would always be music on - the TV wasn't on 'til about 5 or 6 'O clock. It was always classical-music on a Sunday, too - and I used to hate classical-music.
'Before then, when I was about fifteen or sixteen, I'd go through my parents' record-collection, and there were so many - Isaac Hayes, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye: all of this now is just music that I love, purely on the emphasis that my parents placed upon me.
'My Dad played in a band, and there's still a few guys he messes about with, playing keyboards; the genre was kind of R 'n' B, 60s soul, reggae.'
Did your parents inspire you to be a musician straight away, then?
'No, not at all - it took a very long time for me to realise what I wanted to do,' he answers openly. 'A lot of it was a lack of my own ability as a musician, and it wasn't just drums I was interested in. Eventually, I got into the different genres of percussion - I played with timpani - and I play a bit of piano myself... I also love playing the vibraphone, the tabla, Afro-Caribbean styles. Everything about percussion fascinates me. It really does add the colour and emotion to a lot of music.
'I always loved playing drums. As a kid, I joined a marching-band, then I was in a drum and bugle chorus in the States, and one in Canada called Dutch-Boy... I've got some stories about that last one that I'm not saying - even the name sounds a bit ominous... But my main learning-experience came out of my time in the cadets in Pennsylvania; the programmes we played with them were really varied. I remember a programme we did in '91 was called 'The ABC's of Modern American Music' and it was of John Adams, and we played the music of Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein. We also played a few percussive-pieces, and we had to approach a complete, huge wide range of music.'
Did you mention cadets in there..?
He smirks boyishly. 'I left the cadets when I was 22 and I played in the odd concert-band here and there, and did some teaching, too. I was working with an organisation in Canada with a mad Scottish-man director who moved to Scarborough, Ontario when he was ten years old, yet he still had the thickest Glaswegian accent I have ever heard, even though he was 55; he was very cool and everyone was a little scared of him.
'I was working for an organisation that the cadets were affiliated to in New Jersey for a while as a percussion-teacher; I worked in Ohio State doing a bit of teaching there as well for a while. I loved teaching - it's about power. Percussion-teaching in the States was a completely different experience to learning over here - people are out of school, so they're adults, and if they treat you like shit, and talk to you like an asshole, then you have to make it clear to them that they're outta the door.'
Were you strict, then?
Gary pauses, not wanting to sound too much of an ogre. 'I was comically strict,' he reasons. 'There was a time I was teaching an ensemble and we'd rehearse outside and - if they messed up - you wouldn't scream at them, you'd just say, 'Drop and give me ten push-ups...'
'We were having a really good time one day and I had this idea by reducing the amount of press-ups they had, but making it doubly as difficult... So, someone would mess up and I'd say, 'Give me one push-up,' and at the end of the day, I'd have about five guys, and they'd all each probably have about five push-ups to do. The rehearsal would have finished and they'd all come up to me and go, 'All right, let's do our five push-ups - not a problem.' Then they would get down and do their first one: I'd stop them half way through and say, 'Hold it there, don't move,' and then I walked off, and came back a minute later, and then said, 'Right - up. That's two you're on now, fellas... HOLD IT.' And then I'd leave the room again; by the third one, they were shouting, 'You f**king bastard,' but let's just say they didn't f**k with me again.'
Presumably, such discipline would hold you in good stead for an aspect of your present duties - such as touring?
'Touring's pretty easy for me,' he admits, 'because I got used to touring with all the percussion-ensembles. I love it, and one of the things I like about being on the road are the drives to the next town - don't ask me why: I just really do like it. It can be seen as somewhat monotonous, but I love being driven in a bus, just sitting down with a book or my headphones up and looking around.'
What bridged the gap between your US encounters and your eventual return to Britain?
'I did two years of teaching and then came back to the UK, got myself some crappy job, and then I bought a drumkit; when I was at university, I didn't really play with a kit as it wasn't part of the uni-module: we usually played with timpani and overall percussion instead. Anyway, I joined one band, and got canned from that after one gig, because I sucked - I was just doing too much; either you fit the bill or not. After that, I got a job as a marketing-consultant, a true, 9-to-5 job.
'At my home in Brum around the time, I set up a studio next to my bedroom, which had all my equipment in there. So, I'd come home from work, go upstairs, get changed, and go straight into the drum-room and just play non-stop, 'til about 9:30 at night. When I was at work, I'd just be really looking forward to going home and playing.
'I did session-work when I came down to London about a year ago. I got offered to work with Eddy Grant before I signed to my agency of the time; I got a call out of the blue and was asked to work with him. Through meeting his other session-musicians, they then advised me to come down to London to sign up to an agency and that was all I needed to make me move, really, because - up 'til then - there was a definite fear in my own abilities as a player; it's different being in a city like Birmingham, because the music-industry is one of the top-five biggest revenue-generators in the country, but London is where it all happens.'
So what's the story of your involvement with The Libertines?
'When I first met them, I just thought they were nice guys - and, for me, that was the most important thing. I was playing in other bands before - in fact, about four of them in total - and every time I'd get home from work in London, I'd go off to a different group-rehearsal, and The Libertines was one of them. As time went by, the others all kind of fell by the wayside, but I always felt like I clicked with Peter, Carl and then John, who re-joined the band in January.
'When I joined this band last October (2001), it was the first time I'd joined a band of this nature before... Beforehand, it was jazz, classical percussion, a bit of soul here and there, that type of thing. It just worked out in this.'
Were you formerly interested in such a classic, guitar-based sound as the one you'd soon collectively produce?
'Yeah; it wasn't like my main focus in music, but a very good friend of mine used to have the coolest, 70s stereo set-up - quadraphonic speakers, and everything - and if I was staying over at his, we'd just wake up in the morning and whack The Ramones on up to full volume, and Sex Pistols, Stooges, Fishbone, all that kind of stuff.'
Did unifying with the band feel akin to a leap-of-faith in some form?
'Not really - because it was happening with the guys I knew and got on with already. I didn't think about what would happen next - it was just a conscious decision to join them and be a part of it based on the fact that I liked them as individuals in the studio and outside of the studio as well. They were always honest with me.
'What's happened with us has happened over a very short period of time - our first major shows were in sold-out venues to thousands of people... It was something that we didn't really know much about - it was completely new to us. But it's always about audience-participation - are they enjoying it? - how well we are received as band... It's not so much to do with me - I just sit and play, and all I do is just constantly watch the guys in front: if they really get into it, as far as I'm concerned, that's a great gig.'
One such 'great gig' occurred on the 23rd of May at Old Street's 333 Club. Having previously performed earlier in the evening with British Sea Power at a packed, rousing return-set at Cherry Jam, the guys bundled their equipment on to the bus and ventured to their secondary venue to perform a show that has been widely heralded as the band's finest. Ironically, it wasn't a technically astute airing of their output.
... But it was symbolic of the turning-point of the band's career. Eager fans and trendy scenesters queued round the block of the building until the early hours of the morning attempting to gain entry, and those that eventually did perched themselves on top of the bar, or piled-up tables - just any physical-matter that could guarantee extra height to view what magic was unravelling on the crammed, minuscule stage. The epitome of punk, it ended with band-members grappling with the audience, and an indoor temperature more fiercely escalating than the trouser-region of a vicar that's just greeted his latest choir-boy whilst in the backdrop of the Sahara Dessert... That hot. Unfortunately, Gary doesn't recall the occasion so amorously.
'What I remember vividly about the 333 was that I was knackered, dying for a drink, sweating a lot, and wanting to sit down on something other than my drum-throne.'
Well, hasn't the euphoric press-attention warranted towards yourselves of late alleviated the stress and strain of such a night's tasks?
'I really haven't read any of it,' he laughs. 'I look at the pictures and think, 'Hey - that's totally cool, man - I'm looking good there; maybe I don't need a model to stand in for me, after all...
'I just think that Pete and Carl are great song-writers, really amazing lyricists - I hope that we can grow together as a group into different areas of their imaginations,' he rounds off. 'It all pretty much does stem from the playground inside their heads - me and John get invited around, we join in, and it springboards from there - but the origination does come from Pete and Carl; that's the basis for how everything's happened right now... John and I know this - and we're happy being where we are.'
'You're like a tabloid journalist, the way you cut and paste and twist...' - 'Tell The King'.
As the months heated up, in a wonderful bout of pathetic fallacy, so did the excitement surrounding The Libertines. The period of June to August saw numerous highlights: the band performing at the Sex Pistols' Jubilee all-dayer in the huge, outdoor Crystal Palace Sports Centre; overseas appearances in Europe and Japan; well-attended and positively received festival-excursions; and, of course, the recording of the band's debut LP.
Recorded at Rak Studios under the watchful, mysteriously bloodshot eyes of former Clash- legend, Mick Jones, what resulted in the latter were twelve tracks hovering around the downbeat and melancholic, to rowdier pub-rockers, and whimsically epic, timeless chart-assaulters. 'Up The Bracket' the project was emblazoned, named after the title of its second single, which gate-crashed into the top-30 during September. By this point too, the press-hysteria surrounding the band had proven near-impenetrable.
On the day we interview our final Libertine - Mr J Hassall, no less - inside a café nearby to Oxford's Zodiac, where - tonight - the boys have escalated to the level of headlining their own show in such premises, we also find out that their label Rough Trade is present to dish out the final copies of their album, artwork and all, due for release in the following month. Obviously, it's a landmark day in the band's time-span.
'It's just the whole inlay cover,' contemplates John, viewing the CD in his hands. 'It sums up everything: what I dream at night - this haphazard collage of different days, different people and so many things happening... It's a bit of a whirlwind really.
'There is a long history to the band, especially from Pete and Carl, who have been best friends for seven years or something. We all go back - it's not just something that's suddenly happened; it's been maturing in oak caskets for years. But, at the same time, it seems very spontaneous, the whole thing... I also actually realised something the other day - I'm the only Libertine that's actually from London, and who has lived in London their whole life.'
Because of all this, does it seem occasionally upsetting that the spotlight is continually centred on Pete and Carl?
'No, not at all,' he responds in his trademark, cool demeanour. 'I am actually very satisfied with my position in the band, and anyone that listens to us will realise that it is a band, and that there's a chemistry in there of the four people playing together.'
And Mick Jones' input on the record - has he tapped into the essence of what you're collectively creating?
John considers this reflectively. 'The whole album was completely unplanned; we had no structure to the recording. We'd literally turn up to the studio in the morning... well, afternoon anyway, at about 2 O' Clock, when everyone rolls in... and we'd just play whatever we've been playing in the last week, and record everything live. The whole album is virtually completely live, apart from a few overdubs. Mick just stood there dancing and having fun throughout - his whole aura about him really rubbed off on us. I think that's what we needed - someone giving us some space to do our own thing. It probably only took a month or less to record from beginning to end.
'We even had something silly like thirty 2-inch reels by the end of it, full of material, and that's quite a lot... We've got some music we can hold back now; something like 'Skag And Boneman' (recent b-side), Pete and Carl just knocked it out in half an hour, and the next thing you know, Gary and I had never heard it before, but we just played along to it - and that's where what you hear is what you get.'
What's most noticeable is that the rawness of the live-shows has been caught in all its pummelling energy, in addition to a mellower ambience that fans may not have anticipated...
'Yeah,' agrees John. 'I love the version of 'Radio America' (a particularly slow number) on there. We actually rented lots of old equipment for that - a double-bass, a cocktail drumkit, arch-top guitars, and we went in there with one old mic, and did it all live. The whole spontaneity of the time in the studio was captured. Actually, Carlos came in really late and was pretty hungover, and he fell asleep during the recording of it, and his head hit the microphone.'
Do you think the whole package will surprise people if they had only heard the singles in advance?
'Yeah. Just from reading about our band in the music-press, everything stated about us seems so two-dimensional, and 'in a nutshell' in its portrayal of what we're doing - it's just like 'Boys from East End play rock 'n' roll', but there's a lot more to it. That's why I think we are a good band - there's a lot of different angles to what we're doing. There's infinite possibility in the lyrics and the music, and there's so much to say that hasn't been said yet...'
'I hope they'll be blown away by it,' he concludes. 'I don't see why they wouldn't be. It's a great album, and - from obviously a totally biased perspective - I think it's one of the best albums that's come out this year...' John realises the strength of such a declaration, and then laughs.
What have been your personal high-points since the beginning of the year?
'You do get to meet people which I'd never imagined I'd ever meet - great musicians - and it's wonderful, and that's a real perk of the job, along with going places, and obviously playing music. I love travelling. Some of the towns we play in, I'd probably never go to otherwise, but suddenly you're there; before, I'd just stay in London for the whole year. Even getting to go to Japan - we played the Summer Sonic Festival. The audiences there are so much more enthusiastic; we'd play a song, and there'd be a deadly silence at the start, where you couldn't hear anything, then they'd start jumping up and down in unison. Then, the song would finish, there'd be rapturous applause for ten seconds, and then they'd be silent again. Weird.'
What about the media-coverage surrounding yourselves at the moment; from rent-boys to cat-food being tipped on band-members' heads - there's been a tall tale in every story, and some say that it's cheapened your work.
'To be brutally honest,' John sneers, 'I'm very disillusioned with a lot of the music-journalistic industry. The whole 'fame' thing, because you're in a magazine or whatever, people expect you to become famous, and they then treat you as if you're famous, and therefore you become famous, and it all stems from, genuinely, nothing. It's not real at all. I always check myself that I'm not swept up in any of it.'
A relief that's the case, too; despite the influx of attention over their input during the past six months to this moment, the internal characters have stayed true to their origin, hardly succumbing to the scene-savvy elite of perilous egos that the industry they're within too commonly accommodates... It's to their credit.
Musically, however, when did Hassall first feel inspired?
'I was about maybe thirteen or fourteen,' he recollects dreamily, 'and was rummaging through my Dad's record-collection. It was full of shit really, and monastic chanting music from the middle-ages. But, anyway, for some strange reason, he had a copy of 'Revolver' right at the back of it all. I dug that out and I was just so blown away by it all that I was dancing around the living-room.
'That same evening, it was a Sunday, I wanted to learn guitar. As it was Sunday, I couldn't go out and buy one from a shop, so I had to make one out of a plank of wood and some nylon strings I found lying around. It didn't work. But it shut me up for the evening. I then bought all the (Beatles) albums chronologically, but I'd roughly buy two every year. I just became obsessed by them - I wouldn't be talking now if The Beatles hasn't existed.
'After that period, I'd listen to 60s stuff, psychedelic music, but that's a teenage part of your life where you'd drop some acid and put on The Move... And then you're laughing really.'
When did the interest make a conversion into instrumental-based performing?
'I taught myself guitar around the time,' he proceeds, 'and I was really into it - I used to spend hours each day playing. And then when I went to secondary-school, I started a band with my friends; I was relegated or promoted, or whatever way you want to look at it, to the bass. I love the bass actually; in a lot of ways, I prefer it to the guitar... It's so meaty. Since then, I'd been in and out of bands for years - probably about ten different bands - but none of them seemed to click.
'And, then, one day, Peter came round to my Mum's house - a mutual friend told him about me. He turned up on a sunny day and he was out there stroking the cat, and then he brought Carl round the next day, so we could just f**k about on the guitars. Then I decided to join them properly, and we took it really seriously. We played some gigs, got a proper drummer in, and played for about two or three years on the circuit.'
From speaking to friends of yours at various shows, they commonly maintain that the earlier Libertines were more melodic than your present state...
'Yeah - we are a lot harder now,' John affirms. 'I left the band half-way through 2001 and Pete and Carl were on their own for a period and I think that was a good thing; I may have physically left, but I didn't really leave at all... It was the right time to have a break. There was probably quite a bit of frustration for them because they were both basically homeless and had very little money, and that pent-up frustration went into the music. We're all kind of angry, young men in a way.
'But there's a lot of reasons for young people to be angry these days; we're living in a consumer-culture, and people are so tied down to material things such as possessions, the notion of love - things that aren't real. Eventually, everything will deteriorate sooner or later, and people get angry about it. They don't realise that happiness is from within - not from without. I don't like to bitch about the government, but I think there's a lot of things that need adjusting at the moment as well... I suppose our making music is one of the ways of dealing with it all, whether the impact it makes is that big or not.'
When you look back at your earlier experiences, is there anything you miss?
'There's lots of memories,' he warmly muses over, 'from playing in someone's basement, to having a drink, having a smoke... But we still do that now. Just on a bigger scale. I don't regret anything, and we're all having fun.
'For now, I hope people acknowledge the album for what it is, and that we'll be soon able to play to an audience that may know some of the lyrics. It is funny, because when we play 'What A Waster', there's some people in the audience that know the song, and that's half the battle. When we're playing gigs, people are still sitting back, evaluating it, and they're obviously not bought by any of the hype - they're there to suss it all out... But, in 2003, I hope they'll be able to enjoy themselves even more.'
The evening soon arrives, and the room fills. In support to the band tonight are fellow London-ites and rowdy mates The Left Hand, a group that merge cocksure posturing and rampant psychedelia as if it was destined to collide. And then our heroes line the stage, Doherty in his Gaffa-taped jeans and Barat falling into the mic-stand uncontrollably. Really, it shouldn't be as good as it actually pans out to be.
Later on, just as we're about to commend Peter for his performance, our timing is off, as he is set to leave. However, turning to meet us abruptly, he places an object in our hands before continuing on his way out... It was his personal copy of the album which he received that day.
'I've been following, I've been following your mind's instructions on how to slowly, sharply screw myself to death' - 'Horror Show'.
We're almost up to present-day. Following the group's self-titled 'Albion Tour' around the UK, more dates in Europe were undertaken - resulting in the creation of a loyal, international fan-base - in addition to a British series of gigs with Supergrass... Oh yes, and that album of theirs barged itself in amidst the Aguilera's and Bon Jovi's of this world by entering the top-40.
You could already lead to the question, 'What next,' quite naturally. For a band whose foundation lay in performing acoustically in various London hang-outs and whose homes, save for Powell and Hassall, have counted any number of squats up and down the scale of the city, such a level of notoriety must mark an impeccably substantial shot in the arm.
Returning to that bus back in Oxford during the spring, the band's intent was actually questioned back then, namely if it was a do-or-die philosophy they were abiding by.
'It is,' Peter laid down. 'If the ships go down, we all go down together.'
Accomplishment-wise, is success a priority?
Carl visibly shudders at the thought. 'It's hard to switch to that way of thinking about it.'
'If you went around one day deciding that you were at the top, then you probably wouldn't be,' philosophises Doherty. 'To be at the top of anything, it's best to be at peace with yourself and the people around you.'
Barat is more colloquial. 'There was a sketch I remember off 'Sesame Street' where they used to all march in a row; they had Grovener at one end, and Miss Piggy at the other. Then, they'd have Grovener at the front and he'd go, 'I'm at the front, I'm the leader,' and then everybody would turn round and it was Miss Piggy at the front and he was at the end...'
Peter pauses and interrupts. 'I don't think Miss Piggy was in 'Sesame Street'.'
'Ah, well,' murmurs his co-conspirator, 'whatever the f**k it was.'
Do you feel a part of a fast-developing scene, along with other such types as The Left Hand and Johnny Borrell - close friends and musicians with ideas, united idiosyncrasies?
'I don't think it's developing - it's just something that's always been there,' details Peter. 'And something that always will be there. It's just called, 'Kids Making Music, Kids Going Out Dancing To Music, People Learning.'
Specify your musicality, then.
'It's just about being naked - that's what all rock 'n' roll is, and opening the door and being honest with people,' he insists, mirroring a previously-shared outlook from this article. 'If you can put on a great show and get people dancing, that's as important as anything.'
'I can't think of any alternative to what we're doing,' inserts Carl. 'People ask, 'Has it been hard work,' and I suppose, in one sense, it's been f**king hard work - I mean, it's nearly killed me. But, in the other sense, it's as if it hasn't even been work in the first place.'
'A lot of peculiar things have happened since we started this all properly,' begins Peter. 'Like the day we actually signed to Rough Trade, there was a bit of a build-up to it; after the signing, we went somewhere with everyone, to see British Sea Power, I think, at Water Rat's. But we lost each other that night; I ended up going back down to Filthy's with some people, but - at some point at 3 in the morning - Carl and I both happened to be at the same place at the same time at... Where was it, that square?'
'Yeah... So, we'd both come from different directions and bumped into each other and then saw this tramp on a bench. We hadn't said anything to him, but he just came up to us and he went (adopts hoarse tone of voice), 'It's the worst thing that could happen to you...' It really freaked me out.'
Carl beams. 'I was laughing about it.'
'We should also mention PJ,' Pete informs. 'He was this puppeteer we met, but he'd fallen on hard times and he lived above this launderette and had about sixteen kids.'
'He looked like that comedian Tommy Cooper,' reveals Carl. 'And he was a big Tommy Cooper fan, too. We actually shouldn't mention him.'
'Yeah,' remembers Peter. 'He had an unnatural affection over Carlos...'
This is something we hear time and time again; is your name even Carlos?
Carl breaks for a second. 'I don't think so. I know that my parents used to call me 'Little Vampire'. I don't know why. 'Little bug', too.'
You could listen to them both every night; masters of the tale, they create scenarios and recount experiences with an everlasting vigour, and simultaneous, artistic competence for story-telling.
'Everyone has weird experiences, but they don't realise it because their whole life's been strange,' interprets Doherty on a bounce-back. 'Some of the most amazing people I've met have always thought of themselves as being quite dull, but you only have to look at their every gesture, their every action, to know that they're unusual. It's like that song: 'I find it hard to realise that you don't know the beauty that you are...' 'I'll Be Your Mirror', isn't it?'
Clearly, we've been fortunate enough to weave back and fore in the mists of time, yet let's examine those original intentions of the band's.
'New dawns, plenty of gigs, plenty of bodies, plenty of sweat,' aspired Peter aloofly. 'Lots of heart, lots of guts, new shoes. I think we've got to earn some money as well. In fact, we should mention that - our manager has basically taken a lot, put us on a wage that's not much better than the national-minimum, and she reckons she's gonna invest it all in her brother's overseas company in Persia. She's got this irrigation-scheme planned.
'Before we got signed to Rough Trade actually, times were pretty desperate: we were both homeless and Carl had a really bad debt at the County-Court...'
Carl stirs subtly. 'I've still got that debt...'
'... And he needed so much to pay it off... Well, it was a lot at the time, anyway - £230 - which doesn't seem that much now. But, then, it was like, 'Where the f**k are we gonna get that from?' We signed a special agreement with our manager; she said, 'I'll pay your £230, if you sign this contract,' and we didn't think about it, we just did it because she said she was gonna get us signed to Rough Trade eventually... So, yeah, the next thing you know, we are signed, but we've got this weird contract now.'
Aside from settling this, what are your personal goals?
'Mental-stability, I would say,' lingers Doherty. 'I'd like to achieve a fluidity, where everything stays consistent - always doing shows, always with the chance to release records, meeting new people... I want people to embrace us in the way I've been inspired by so many artists... Like the Stooges, the 'Pistols, a lot of R&B, soul, ska/mod stuff... That was what I liked about Carl originally - the fact he didn't know about people like The Smiths and The Stone Roses... A kind of naivety... Apart from that, we'll be writing new songs along the way.'
'Yeah,' corroborates Carl. 'We're not gonna look for anything specific - we're just going to look around.'
'Mmm,' romanticises Peter in that innocent gaze of his. 'And to keep paddling the oars... After all, it's either this - or the bottom of the canal...'
'Don't bring that ghost round to my door, I don't want to see them anymore' - 'Death On The Stairs'.
The final engagement of the band's year is, predictably, an all-night party. Whitechapel's Rhythm Factory houses the festivities on December 18th, providing a bill consisting of all the band's close complex of allied friends and performers - as organised by DJ's/promoters Queens of Noize, Mairead and Tabitha. The hundreds of attendees, late on-stage timings and three bars in close proximity of one another results in yet another memorable evening.
The band's performance is wilfully and customarily shambolic. The mic-stands don't last, Doherty collides with Carl in more than one instance and the plug has to be pulled after a mere six songs. No-one seems to mind - every moment has been savoured joyously.
So, really, even in a year that has seen so much change around them... Nothing has changed at all from within. The boys in the band that stole our hearts with a knack for a melody and an eye for a pair of vintage-jeans - they're as down-to-earth and eccentric as when we first stumbled across them over a fateful week in February. The only substantial difference between then and now is that they currently have a high chance of getting recognised in Camden Market on a Sunday afternoon.
Yeah, it's been a journey all right, and whilst the seas of Albion may have been high and treacherous to start with, the stormy conditions seem set to continue subsiding into The Libertines' well-earnt favour... Just our pleasure that we've been privileged enough to tag along for some of the ride. Even if it's only the beginning.