The Libertines are the perfect band for a bored teenager. Or a bored 12 year old for that matter. Forget the music – the whole ethos of the band alone is enough to giddy a child. The definition of libertine is a free thinker who freely indulges in sensual pleasures without regard to moral principles. A perfect name, then, for such a band as they would mirror this image to a T. They were reckless and they were unstoppable. Renowned for their habitual use of Class A drugs, they became a Rock ‘n’ Roll cliché. Pathetic and prewritten, perhaps to somebody with a few more wits about them. But for me? Well, I was on the edge of my beanbag.
The band was formed by frontmen, Peter Doherty and Carl Barât, who began their rickety road to success in 1997. Bass players, guitarists and drummers (including the likes of Johnny Borrell of Razorlight) would come and go like the shedding skins of a snake, but the backbone and ethos of the band would remain the same. That is, just as long as the boys continued to stay true to their moral. Doherty explains this during an interview for MTV’s Gonzo. “We could be signed or unsigned – as long as we’re together then Arcadia still exists. As long as we’ve got what we set out with, which is the dream.” Explaining the Arcadian dream, he goes on to elaborate: “[It’s] an enclosed libertarian worldwide commune of the soul.” This bohemian attitude to life gave The Libertines a quality that guaranteed authenticity. And this caught the fancy of many.
In 2001, they signed to Rough Trade, which propelled the band’s fan base all the more. Followers of Britpop lad culture, wearers of the bucket hat and White Hart regulars would unwind their hard demeanours, delving deeply into more sensitive subjects. Oscar Wilde became a halls of residence-hold name. Dog-eared diaries and quills would make their way onto WH Smiths’ stock list. The band was becoming enormous. One of the reasons for this magnetism was the barrier between the band and their followers. There wasn’t one.
Creating chat rooms, Peter would message fans to arrange meet ups and free gigs. Acting as a half Fagin, half pie-eyed Pied Piper character, he would gather strangers and arrange guerilla gigs at their flat in Bethnal Green, affectionately nicknamed the Albion Rooms. Never had meeting your idols been so easy. Fans would huddle in awe for a night of tunes, jams, police visits and probably a snog. At the end, they’d be told to take whatever they could find as a souvenir. “It’s either the top of the world, or the bottom of the canal,” Barât would famously say to Doherty. This summed the band up perfectly.
But it wasn’t just the Albion Rooms that The Libertines would mark as their own. The Boogaloo, Filthy McNastys, Rhythm Factory, alley ways all had a part to play in creating the most hedonistic game of Monopoly yet. Exclusive to the East End, the band made their own mark in history. And in sharing this experience with anyone that would let them, The Libertines would inspire a generation.
However, by 2004, they became less of a band and more a soap opera. Addiction and bad relationships clogged up the clockworks of the band and they split. Peter would start new band, Babyshambles. The messy left overs became Dirty Pretty Things. A snowball of alarming adjectives, snow and an ever-growing fan base was heading for the cliffs. Luckily it hit water.
In 2010, the band claimed to have buried the hatchet. A thrill for all fans too young to see the band the first time round, they did a one off reunion gig at Reading and Leeds. But the emotionally entwined relationship “like ivy in a tree” that Barât once described was still amiss. All four members seemed like strangers, forced together on stage – much like a rendition you might see on the X Factor (except somehow less heart felt and somehow more awkward.) This was a money making scheme. It was a publicity stunt. Barât and Doherty still didn’t get on – frailties between them were ripe as ever. They admitted this to be the case in There Are No Innocent Bystanders – the DVD that exposed the build up to their Reading and Leeds gigs, and the DVD that was costing each and every needy fan a tenner a pop just to buy it. The term libertine and Arcadia suddenly began to appear a make shift fantasy, used as a farce to swerve away the debt collector. But something eventually clicked.
In July 2014, the band reunited yet again, scheduled to play their biggest gig yet of 60,000 people in Hyde Park. Colossal. With slurs and urghs, out they strolled, not a second late. Doherty was violently intoxicated, as always, but they seemed happy. That chemistry that Libs fans rant about, that was beginning to seem a myth, was once again alive and kicking and more fiery than ever. Grimace faces and expressions of release from the crowd splurted out lyrics, while tears of joy danced off the cheeks of others. There was an energy in the crowd which is always present when I see Peter and Carl play. They mean a lot to a vast minority of people. And if you can’t feel it at a Libertines gig, you can at least always see it.
They’ve come a long way since their split in 2004. Doherty is clean, having spent 3 months at Hope rehab centre in Thailand. Carl has his own side project, Carl Barât and The Jackals. The Libertines are back in the game (for good this time.) Signed to Virgin EMI Records, a new album is in the pipeline. And with smoothed over friendships and lifestyles anew, who knows? Maybe this will be their best album yet. Strike a light, raise your glasses, drink a toast to the boring classes, because exciting times are ahead. The world is ours once again.