Einstein once didn’t say ‘Rock n roll thrives on chaos and chaos thrives on rock n roll and somewhere in the middle of this equation lies the Libertines’
But he could have done.
The beautiful electricity that is perfect rock n roll is a messy business and can burn the fingers of its best protagonists. The Robin Hood outlaws who live on minor chords and the ecstasy of melody live ina twilight zone of danger and genius and the this band are no exception.
I have just entered Libertines world.
I’m in Maida Vale recording an interview for an upcoming documentary on indie labels and the Libertines are recording a session for Radio One next door. It’s remarkable that even a band of this size and influence are still rarely allowed on radio one – a station that seems to be dedicated to eradicating rock n roll from folk memory but here they are playing a seat of their pants live session for the Annie Mac show. It is here that they decide to play a geurilla gig that evening sending their crew and management into a flurry trying to secure a venue.
Spirits are high as they wander out of the room like naughty kids on an eternal school trip, Carl Barat looks remarkably unchanged since the band first emerged all those years ago and I bumped into him in some long lost hip indie disco. Then we talked of another young band called the Libertines that I was about to release on my then record label – a great young guitar band from Bury who changed their name when the London mob appeared and then promptly disappeared.
Carl is as polite and affable now as he was then as he leaves for his interview for the same documentary that I’m on. I’ve never actually met Pete Doherty before and here he is the living embodiment of the ancient strand of Keef rock n roll, an unapologetic billboard for the last of the bohemians who looks as lived in as he should but has graduated from the media’s favourite indie anti Christ and totem of the tabloids tell tale horror and hypocritical establishment who want to jail you for drugs whilst slavering over coke and hookers with a crazed look in their eyes that even rock n rollers would back off from.
Pete now has that kind of elder statesman, wise man role that Keef himself slotted into in the late seventies. A living advert for poetic excess.
Gary Powell is bouncing energy and super affable as weber whilst John Hassall is quietly friendly and surveying the surrounding madness. They seem to have decided to play a spur of the moment secret gig in Camden and no-one knows if there will be any amps or gear – just turn up and hop on a bill of other bands and borrow backline and play for sheer fun- does any other band dare to do these kind of things these days?
In a time when indie music has become so commodified and stale and safe and the polished Bastille type indie groups are a shoe in for day time radio/clothes shop muzak – slightly hip status it’s great that a band like the Libertines can reform and gallop back over the horizon with their devil may care, spur of the moment, instinctive madness and risk these kind of haywire gigs.
The plan is too meet in the Dublin Castle at 8.30 – when I say plan it ‘s a loose conversation and when the band turn up and slip into the back room venue it is for an ad hoc acoustic work out with Pete on acoustic guitar and Carl tapping gamely along on the drums for a version of Albion with some harmonica accompaniment from an elegant looking woman. The room is packed and there is a thrilled tension – could this be the secret gig? nope that is still on and the audience marches down the street to the Blues Kitchen as the band take the stage to a loud cheer for a two hour set of shambolic seat of the pants rock n roll tripwire madness.
The Libertines have always been firmly in the tradition of the classic British bands- they have the Hamburg Beatles mic sharing, homoerotic high voltage sing/snog thing and the too tight leather jacket razor sharp harmonies of the prefab four, there is the early Stones terror twin razorblade guitars and the classic Clash rush of energy. They have the Smiths poetry and the Roses generational zeitgeist aura- they were the alpha band of the beta generation before they were engulfed by the tabloid pigs – it makes you realise how tough the Stones must have been to survive this kind of pressure.
The two hour 28 song strong set sees the band play old and new and a series of cover versions that probably tell you more about the band than they should of as they rattle through The Clash’s classic ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’, the Strokes’ ‘Someday’ an affectionate tip of a dandy hat take on Tiffany’s ‘I Think We’re Alone Now ‘ and fellow traveller the late and great Amy Winehouse’s ‘Tears Dry On Their Own.’ and a mass singlaong to the eternal Roses classic ‘I Wanna Be Adored’.
They also showcased new songs from their upcoming Anthems For A Doomed Youth album and their helter skelter guitars ricocheted in all directions as the band swopped mics and lyrics before Carl Barat crowd surfed all the way to the bar to grab a bootle of rum and made his was back onto stage where he poured it into Pete Doherty’s mouth. The beautiful chaos ends with Doherty’s croaking version of key influence Chas and Dave’s version of Knees Up Mother Brown – just a snippet of the cockney veterans oeuvre that he knows off by heart.
With sweat and history dripping from the ceiling this was a genuine spur of the moment, ad hoc, seat of the pants geurilla gig and a harbinger of the long awaited third album due out on September 4th which, on this early showing, seems set to cement the band’s comeback with a fine and varied selection of songs that vary from the band’s romantic ballideering beauty to their ricochet blood stained anthems..
Fame & Fortune
Death On The Stairs
Boys In The Band
Time For Heroes
Campaign Of Hate
Anthems For Doomed Youth
The Ha Ha Wall
Can’t Stand Me Now
What Katie Did
What Became Of The Likely Lads
Don’t Look Back Into The Sun
I Wanna Be Adored (Stone Roses)
We’ll Meet Again (Vera Lynn)
I Think We’re Alone Now (Tiffany)
Someday (The Strokes)
Rudie Can’t Fail (The Clash)
The Good Old Days
Music When The Lights Go Out
Tears Dry On Their Own (Amy Winehouse)
Hired Gun (Alan Wass)
What A Waster
I Get Along
Knees Up Mother Brown (Chas & Dave)