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The Libertines

Led by vocalists/guitarists Carl Barât and Pete Doherty, the Libertines' brashly melodic style updates the traditions of British rock while becoming a part of them. As their music connected the dots between heroes like the Kinks, the Jam, the Smiths, and the Clash (whose Mick Jones was a frequent collaborator), the London-based band grounded their songwriting in ragged poetry inspired by Barât and Doherty's tumultuous partnership. This volatile chemistry ignited 2002's bracing debut album Up the Bracket, which helped reinvigorate British indie in much the same way the Strokes' Is This It shook up rock & roll across the pond, and added extra drama to the fallout chronicled on 2004's The Libertines. The careening highs and lows of the band's early days couldn't last, but when the Libertines returned after a lengthy hiatus -- first with sold-out tours and then with 2015's reflective Anthems for Doomed Youth and 2024's like-minded All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade -- it suggested Doherty and Barât had found a more sustainable way to honor their legacy. The band's roots date back to 1997, when Barât, a drama student at Brunel University, met and connected with Doherty, an English literature student at Queen Mary, University of London who was the younger brother of his roommate. The pair formed a band with their neighbor Steve Bedlow; initially known as the Strand, the group's name was soon changed to the Libertines. With musicians including Razorlight's Johnny Borrell spending time in their lineup, the band played its early shows in venues like Filthy Macnasty's Whiskey Cafe, where Doherty worked as a bartender. The Libertines honed their raw, tuneful sound and recorded demos, and in early 2000 entertainment lawyer Banny Pootschi became their manager. Though the band initially had trouble finding a label deal, the success of the Strokes encouraged Pootschi and the Libertines to persevere. The band collected its best songs on Legs XI, a set of demos featuring cellist Vicky Chapman and Frank Sinatra-influenced vocals from Doherty. After playing a showcase for Rough Trade, the Libertines signed to the label in December 2001. Following the Rough Trade deal, Barât and Doherty moved into a flat in North London on Camden Road dubbed the Albion Rooms. The Libertines -- now comprising Doherty, Barât, drummer Gary Powell and bassist John Hassall -- played impromptu gigs there as well as dates with the Strokes and the Vines. In June 2002, Rough Trade issued the band's debut single, "What a Waster/I Get Along." Produced by Bernard Butler, the single reached number 37 on the U.K. Singles chart and solidified the media buzz around the Libertines: NME crowned them the best new band in Britain, and "I Get Along" earned Single of the Week on BBC Radio 1. The Libertines spent that August recording their debut album with the Clash's Mick Jones at RAK Studios. Appearing that October, Up the Bracket captured the band's raucous charm and peaked at number 35 on the U.K. Albums chart; its title track was the album's second single and cracked the top 30 of the U.K. Singles chart. At that year's NME Awards, the Libertines won Best New Band. In March 2003, Up the Bracket was released in the U.S., peaking at number 13 on the Heatseekers Albums chart. The Libertines' stateside tour, which included an appearance at the Coachella Festival, brought their furious live act across the pond, but Doherty's worsening substance abuse issues put a strain on the band. Scrapped recordings from a New York session that May were distributed online; that June, Doherty didn't show up for a tour of Europe. The rest of the Libertines went ahead with the dates while Doherty formed another group, Babyshambles. The following month, while the remaining Libertines were on tour in Japan, Doherty was arrested for breaking into Barât's apartment (he had moved out of the Albion Rooms in late 2002) and stealing items including a harmonica, laptop computer, and antique guitar. That August, around the time the Butler-produced single "Don't Look Back into the Sun" reached number 11 on the U.K. Singles chart -- their highest placement to date -- Doherty pled guilty, and also confessed to addictions to heroin and crack cocaine. In September, as a deluxe edition of Up the Bracket was released, he was sentenced to six months in jail. However, his sentence was reduced to two months on appeal, and with time off for good behavior, he was released in early October. Later that month, the complete Libertines lineup performed at the Rough Trade 25th Anniversary show. In November, Doherty played two shows in his own apartment that featured a mix of Libertines and Babyshambles songs. The Libertines closed out 2003 with a string of sold-out dates at the London Forum. Though "Don't Look Back into the Sun" was their only release that year, they won the NME Award for Best Band. The Libertines began 2004 by writing and recording new songs in France with Butler. Pootschi, having resigned as the band's manager, was replaced by Creation Records founder Alan McGee. Their first U.K. dates of that year, a three-night residency at London's Brixton Academy, unfolded in chaotic fashion when Doherty smashed his guitar and left the stage in the middle of the band's final performance. As the Libertines continued to record, bringing in Jones to finish their second album, Doherty and Barât also appeared on April 2004's "For Lovers," a single by their friend Wolfman. Peaking at number seven on the U.K. Singles chart, it became the most popular Libertines-related release yet. That April, Babyshambles released their self-titled, limited-edition debut single. Later that month, Peter Perrett of the legendary new wave band the Only Ones joined the Libertines on-stage at a show, performing "Don't Look Back into the Sun" and the Only Ones' classic "Another Girl, Another Planet" with them. Soon after, however, Doherty's ongoing troubles led the Libertines to cancel performances at the Love Music Hate Racism concert and the Glastonbury, the Isle of Wight, and Morrissey's Meltdown festivals. In June, Doherty was arrested by London police, who detained him for a traffic offense and found a switchblade in his possession. The rest of the bandmembers carried on with their obligations for July and onward, saying that Doherty was welcome to rejoin the band once he had his addictions under control. The Libertines recruited guitarist/vocalist Anthony Rossomando for their upcoming gigs, which included a performance at the T in the Park Festival. Doherty, meanwhile, set up a string of solo shows and dates with Wolfman, but failed to appear at several performances. In early August 2004, "Can't Stand Me Now," the self-referential lead single from the band's second album, entered the U.K. charts at number two. A few weeks later, Doherty appeared in court and pleaded guilty to the charge of possession of an offensive weapon. Arriving in late August, The Libertines offered a sprawling, ambitious version of the band's sound. It topped the U.K. Albums chart and spawned another top ten hit, "What Became of the Likely Lads." The album also charted in France, Germany, and the U.S., where it peaked at number 111 on the 200 Albums chart. The Libertines -- minus Doherty -- toured the U.K. and the U.S. in support of the album. Doherty, meanwhile, put his efforts into Babyshambles. Around this time, he played solo gigs and added guitarist Patrick Walden, bassist Drew McConnell, and drummer Gemma Clarke to Babyshambles' lineup. When the Libertines' tour ended that December, the group disbanded. The Libertines' members soon pursued other projects. In October 2005, Babyshambles released their debut album Down in Albion. After signing to Parlophone Records, they issued the Blinding EP in December 2006. After the release of Babyshambles' sophomore album Shotter's Nation in October 2007, the band went on hiatus. Meanwhile, Barât formed Dirty Pretty Things. Named after a club night he founded, it featured Powell and Rossomando along with Cooper Temple Clause's bassist Didz Hammond. After releasing two albums, 2006's Waterloo to Anywhere and 2008's Romance at Short Notice, Dirty Pretty Things came to an end. In 2009, Doherty joined Barât and Powell for a Libertines reunion show at the London Rhythm Factory. The band's members then balanced solo projects with Libertines work: Doherty recorded his solo debut, 2009's Grace/Wastelands, with producer Stephen Street and Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, while Barât released his self-titled solo debut in 2010. That year, the Libertines reunited for gigs at the Leeds and Reading festivals. The band documented these shows with The Libertines: There Are No Innocent Bystanders, a feature-length film that premiered in April 2011 at the East End Film Festival. Babyshambles returned in 2013 with their Street-produced third album, Sequel to the Prequel. Following the Libertines' sold-out shows at London's Hyde Park and Alexandra Palace in 2014, the band started work on their third album. Recorded at Thailand's Karma Sound Studios with Jake Gosling, September 2015's Anthems for Doomed Youth offered a more mature and polished incarnation of the Libertines' sound. Peaking at number three in the U.K., the album charted throughout Europe and also topped the Heatseekers Albums chart in the U.S. Though the Libertines continued to tour regularly for the next few years, they found time for their other endeavors. Barât's group the Jackals released their debut album, Let It Reign, in 2015; Doherty's second solo effort, Hamburg Demonstrations, appeared the following year. Barât appeared in the film The Mummy in 2017, the same year that Labour Party leader and Prime Minister candidate Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech at one of the Libertines' concerts. Doherty's group Peter Doherty and the Puta Madres featured members of his touring band and released their self-titled debut album in 2019. Late that year, the Libertines embarked on European dates and a holiday tour of the U.K. In 2021, Doherty teamed up with French composer, arranger, and singer/songwriter Frédéric Lo on "The Fantasy Life of Poetry & Crime," a single they expanded into 2022's full-length album of the same name. That year, Barât embarked on a solo tour and put together a Dirty Pretty Things reunion show. The Libertines performed at 2022's Glastonbury Festival and celebrated the 20th anniversary of Up the Bracket's release with a deluxe edition featuring live and early recordings. Late that year, Doherty and Barât began work on the band's next album in a Jamaican studio, then reunited with Powell and Hassall in February 2023 for recording sessions with producer Dimitri Tikovoï. Arriving in April 2024, All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade continued Anthems for Doomed Youth's poised versions of the Libertines' rave-ups and ballads.
© Heather Phares /TiVo


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