The Libertines burst onto the pages of the UK music press in the early '00s, setting the rock world ablaze with a revitalized, rambunctious and decidedly more British answer to American wunderkinds the Strokes. With a sound that was equal parts poetry and punk rock, the perfectly paradoxical four-piece kickstarted a new era in British rock and paved the way for future generation of guitar-wielding wannabes.
Fuelled by the explosive and unpredictable creative partnership of Peter Doherty and Carl Barât, the Libertines managed to blast out two studio albums before burning out in a blaze of anything but glory. The chaotic, combustible chemistry that made the music so volatile, raw and exciting would implode into a mess of fights, drug addiction and tabloid drama, silencing one of the decade's most exhilarating bands far too soon. Until now.
Poised to return with Anthems for Doomed Youth on September 11 — an album many have anticipated, but few were foolish enough to expect any time soon — the Libertines have once again set the good ship Albion on course. And while it's never been smooth sailing for the "Boys in the Band," it's certainly been one hell of a ride.
1978 to 1996
On June 6, 1978, Carl Barât and his twin brother are born in Basingstoke, UK, to hippie parents. His brother dies as an infant and his parents divorce. His father takes up factory jobs and lives in a council estate, while his mother continues to live a communal lifestyle. Barât, who also has a sister, three half-siblings, a step-brother and a step-sister, spends a nomadic childhood amongst communes until he finally settles into the drama program at Brunel University in Uxbridge in the mid-'90s.
Peter Doherty is born in Hexham, UK, on March 12, 1979, to a military couple; his father, Peter Sr., was from the Irish working class and pushed his way through the ranks of the British Army to major, while his mother Jacqueline was a nurse and lance corporal. At an early age, Doherty develops an obsession with football team the Queens Park Rangers and 1950s television program Hancock's Half Hour.
By the mid-'90s, Britpop and the era of "Cool Britannia" ushered in by the excess and excessive Britishness of bands like Blur, Pulp and Oasis fizzles out as the mainstream is infiltrated with acts like the Spice Girls and boy bands on one side, and nu metal on the other.
1997 to 1999
While at university, Barât shares a flat in Richmond with Amy-Jo Doherty. He meets his roommate's 17-year-old brother Peter and the two bond over a shared love of music — though their tastes are initially quite different. On one of his early visits, Doherty asks the guitar aficionado flatmate his sister has talked so much about to play "This Charming Man," and Barât launches into Blur's "Charmless Man." Apparently, he'd never heard of the Smiths, instead drawing musical inspiration from the likes of the Doors and the Velvet Underground. What the pair do have in common is a shared sense of pride in an antiquated vision of Britain. They immerse themselves in the classic lore and culture of everything English — William Blake and Thomas Chatterton for Doherty, Saki and British films for Barât, though they find common ground in the works of Oscar Wilde.
Doherty, who at the age of 16 had won a poetry competition that took him on a British Council-supported tour of Russia, enrols to study literature at Queen Mary University of London. But after continued visits to his sister and Barât's flat that turn into intoxicating all-nighters of philosophical conversations and playing music, Doherty drops out after one year. Barât also leaves school, two years into his program. The pair make a pact to, as described by NME writer and friend Anthony Thornton in his 2006 retrospective book Bound Together, "throw themselves into eternity." Out of this emerges the pair's mutually created mythology of sailing the good ship Albion to Arcadia — an imagined utopia that promises an idyllic future for Britain based on her glorious past. The romanticized philosophy will play a role throughout their musical career, appearing frequently in lyrics and often mentioned in interviews.
Barât and Doherty move into a basement flat in Camden dubbed "The Delaney Mansions." Speaking to the NME in 2006 for the magazine's student guide, Barât detailed the less than ideal living conditions: "It was £60 a week for a '60s bedsit and the only access was through a back window — and it was broken… Me and Pete slept top-to-tail on a single mattress and there were some cyberpunks upstairs. You know, those people in Camden who have got plastic straws for hair and are all on speed at seven in the morning? Them lot."
It's here that Doherty and Barât form their first band, enlisting their neighbour Steve Bedlow (known as Scarborough Steve) to sing their songs, while Barât plays lead guitar and Doherty fills in on rhythm. Originally called the Strand, they're soon renamed the Libertines after Marquis de Sade's "Lust of the Libertines" from 120 Days of Sodom. "Lust of the Libertines" will be one of the songs recorded during the band's very first recording sessions at Odessa Studios, though an official version won't be released until nearly two decades later.
John Hassall and Johnny Borrell attend school together and are introduced to Doherty and Barât through Scarborough Steve in the summer of 1997. They play their first gig together in "The Delaney Mansions," but most of the songs are only half-finished and the electricity cuts out mid-way through the set. Borrell drifts out of the band for now, but will return before going on to form Razorlight. A few weeks after the power-cutting gig, the Libertines book time at Odessa Studios in east London to record their first set of demos. Scarborough Steve is away at Glastonbury and a drummer they'd recruited at a pub the night before fails to show, leaving Doherty and Barât to share vocals, while Hassall plays bass. 54-year-old jazz musician Paul DuFour (nicknamed Mr. Razzcocks by Barât for reasons unknown) agrees to fill in on drums for £50. "They say never work with children or animals," DuFour later tells Thornton (Bound Together: the Definitive Story of Peter Doherty and Carl Barat and How They Changed British Music. Time Warner Books, London, 2009. pg. 19). "The Libertines were both." He sticks with the band, and they enlist a cellist named Vicky Chapman, who stays with the group for about a year.
In Pete Welsh's 2009 book Kids in the Riot: High and Low with the Libertines, Doherty reflects on this early incarnation: "We were like the Bootleg Beatles with a 70-year-old drummer and a fucking weird cellist. Razzers was looking for wedding gigs. We'd play god knows where, old people's homes. We were going to play 'Hey you, get off of my cloud' to the old folks. John was into that."
By late 1999, in addition to regular pub shows at Filthy Mcnasty's (where Doherty worked as a bartender), the Libertines began to branch out, booking gigs at the aforementioned retirement homes, kebab shops, and even at the Prince Charles Cinema (another one of Doherty's part-time employers) before the premiere of The Blair Witch Project. The live act at this point features the band dressed up in suits, delivering comedic banter back and forth, and a setlist of romantic Beatles-esque songs like "Breck Road Lover" and "Music When the Lights Go Out." The Libertines get their first live review in the NME from Roger Morton, who calls the band "fresh, wry and savage" and writes: "Their style of smart-arse tweedy funk is an abomination, yet the Libertines make it seem like the most alluring thing since sucking opium lollipops." The group accepts Morton's offer to manage the band, though he gives up after less than a year and will later take charge of Borrell's career.
2000 to 2001
Smitten with their charisma and sound, music lawyer Banny Poostchi becomes the group's manager. "They had the character, looks, style, wit, humour, originality and they could play," she says in Thornton's book. "But could they be accepted by the culture of Britain in 2000? They were trying to resurrect a romanticized Britain which, in a sense, was in their heads. It was a life where people could be original and free-spirited. These were genuine artist, genuine poets. They lived their lives by their own rules... I tried to get them signed based on that." (Thornton 21)
Poostchi compiles an eight-song collection of the band's demos into a set dubbed the Legs XI sessions. Thornton refers to these songs as "the Holy Grail" for Libertines fans. Later freely made available online, the collection is the band at their most saccharine and romantic. Featuring Beatles-esque melodies sung by Doherty at his sweetest and most emotive, three-part harmonies, and plenty of acoustic guitar and strings, none of these songs will make it on to the band's debut album. "Music When the Lights Go Out" and "France" will appear on the band's self-titled second LP in 2004, while "Hooray! for the 21st Century," "Love on the Dole," "Bucket Shop," "Anything But Love," "7 Deadly Frenchmen" and the Hassall-sung "Sister Sister" become cherished rarities amongst the band's online following.
In December of 2000, the still-unsigned band are double-booked to play their regular Filthy Mcnasty's gig and one at the Monarch — a venue where bands frequently attract attention from industry folk. In what will become a typical pattern of decision-making, Doherty opts to play the pub show to a crowd of friends and familiar faces. Frustrated, Poostchi quits her manager role and Hassall and DuFour leave the band.
On January 29, 2001, a greased-up garage rock five-piece out of New York called the Strokes release The Modern Age EP. Their sound is heralded as a rock'n'roll renaissance that gains traction with UK listeners and starts a bidding war between labels. By June, Poostchi is working on a publishing contract for the Strokes and, reinvigorated by the buzz around the American band, she goes back to Doherty and Barât with what she dubs Plan A. It's an action plan with the basic premise of: "Do what I say, and I'll get you signed to Rough Trade in six months." Her first major operation is a line-up overhaul. Deeming DuFour too old for the group's image, a New Jersey-based drummer named Gary Powell is brought in. His resume includes stints with Eddy Grant and a current spot in the Minor Birds. Borrell is roped back in to play bass.
Doherty and Barât write a slew of aggressive new songs, displaying a previously unheard rawness — reflecting their frustration with the fruitlessness of the past few years, and an aggressive indignation at their spot in the British music world being filled by a gang of Americans. Amongst the new songs are "Time for Heroes" (in which the songwriting duo declare: "There are fewer more distressing sights than that of an Englishman in a baseball cap"), "Horrorshow," "Up the Bracket," "Boys in the Band" and "I Get Along," all of which will eventually appear on their debut album — and all of which, ironically enough, bear more similarity to Strokes' songs than their own early demos.
On October 1, 2001, the Libertines play a showcase for former Loop member and Rough Trade higher-up James Endeacott. Borrell fails to show up, but they nevertheless blast through the Plan A-penned tracks and an impressed Endeacott asks for a demo CD. The only one on hand features the bizarre honky-tonk hootenanny jam "Mocking Bird," sung by what Thornton describes as "a growly Irishman who looked like Gimli the Dwarf," (Thornton 29) and the soft, poetic Legs XI-esque "Thru the Looking Glass" with vocals courtesy of Scarborough Steve.
Poostchi convinces Endeacott to see the band play at one of their "Arcadian nights" at the Rhythm Factory in Whitechapel; she's terrified they're going to play for too long and cater to their regular gang of friends and onlookers (Hassall is even in the crowd that night), ruining their chance with the label. But the electricity miraculously blows out after the explosive opening set of Plan A songs, leaving a positive impression on Endeacott. He invites the Libertines to play for Rough Trade heads Geoff Travis and Jeanette Lee on December 11. This time they come armed with freshly recorded demos (later released online as the Nomis Recordings, aptly named after the London studio where they were made). After hearing them, Travis remarks: "At Rough Trade, we only sign the best. And you are the best." (Thornton 30) Lee's initial impression of Doherty and Barât is that "they're like the Artful Dodger and Captain Jack Sparrow."
Successfully fulfilling the goal of Plan A, the Libertines sign a deal with Rough Trade on December 21. They bring Hassall back on board as bassist. Doherty and Barât move into an apartment at 112A Teesdale Street in London's Bethnal Green, which will come to be known as "The Albion Rooms" and play host to countless impromptu concerts (and ensuing complaints from neighbours).
Under Poostchi's supervision, the band begin rehearsing daily and continue to gig — they'll play a total of more than 100 shows over the course of the year. A show at the Cherry Jam gets them another live review in the NME, in which James Oldham observes, "You don't know whether they're going to make it to the end of the song or just start punching each other."
In a culmination of indie rock's rising stars, the band is booked to open for the Strokes on February 24 in Birmingham. The Libertines are star struck and delighted to meet the American saviours of British rock, but things hit a sour note when Doherty casually asks around for crack backstage. Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas reportedly responded with a "What are you doing that stuff for? That stuff's retarded." Recalling the incident in Bound Together, drummer Powell says: "That kind of cooled it a little bit because, in their eyes we had crack amongst us. And if one guy's doing it, then you guys are letting him do it. That kind of sullied it a bit." (Thornton 39-42) Doherty's drug use at this point was far from public spectacle, though, and would remain out of the tabloids for a while longer.
By June, the band are poised to become Britain's new indie rock heroes. They release their debut single "What a Waster" as a double A-side with "I Get Along." Despite having the prestige of production by Suede's Bernard Butler, the single only charts at number 37 and gets rather limited airplay — probably as a result of repeated f-bombs and the casually flung-about phrases like "two-bob cunt."
The week the single comes out, the band appear on the cover of the NME for the first time. In what will come to exemplify true Libertines fashion, Doherty and Barât stumble into the interview fresh out of a May Day riot where Barât had just been whacked with a truncheon. They proceed to excitedly fill writer James Oldham in on their self-created philosophies and romantic ideals of sailing the good ship Albion to Arcadia — publicly declaring their determination to revamp and reclaim Britishness. For the photo shoot, Hassall and Powell show up on time, while Doherty and Barât arrive two hours late, each trying to best the other in a show of tardiness. When they finally turn up, Doherty has been up for more than 48 hours straight, and collapses onto the rented Union Jack flag, spilling red wine all over it.
Having built up momentum in the British music press, the band head to the studio to make their first record, Up the Bracket. Butler is unavailable and Nigel Goderich is considered, though he ultimately doesn't have time due to Radiohead-related duties. Lee at Rough Trade suggests pairing the band up with Mick Jones of the Clash. "Where Bernard is a perfectionist who wants to get everything right — even the wild abandon of feedback is something that is only dropped in at the right places," writes Thornton, "Mick would pick a recording with a couple bum notes over a recording played perfectly because of the spirit, oomph and vim, a sound as live as possible." (Thornton 56)
In addition to the band's rambunctious sound — which is now more reminiscent of the Clash or Sex Pistols than the Beatles — Jones manages to capture the dynamic dichotomy between Doherty and Barât. The former comes across as ever the dreamer, indulging in whimsy and poetry ("Radio America," "The Good Old Days") but always ready to explode into erratic energy and manic wails ("Up the Bracket," "The Boy Looked at Johnny"), while the latter takes a more studied and technical approach to getting the guitar work right and opting for more of a mumbly drawl when it's his turn lead on vocals — except for a few stand-out moments like a pause of silence followed by the rousing, authoritative (or more correctly, anti-authoritative) shout of "Fuck 'em" on the anthemic "I Get Along." Now classics like "Time For Heroes" and "Boys in the Band," meanwhile, encapsulate the perfect balance (always teetering on the edge of total imbalance), back-and-forth and camaraderie between the two singer-songwriters.
The tension between Doherty and Barât that makes the record so vibrant and volatile also begins to affect band relations. While the album is being mixed at Whitfield studios, a play-fight between Doherty and Barât escalates and ends with Doherty taking off. He still hasn't returned by the time the band is slated to play the H2002 festival in Scarborough on August 8, and the band go on and play without him. "I think feelings were hurt more than bodies," Barât later tells Thornton. "That's the way with friends: get violent, innit?" (Thornton 66)
The pair physically fight on stage during their August 24 appearance at Reading Festival after Barât's amp malfunctions and Doherty covers with an impromptu solo performance of a half-finished song called the "Ha Ha Wall."
The band nevertheless continue to follow a rigorous live schedule, and by September, an online community in the forum section of thelibertines.org begins to grow. Doherty communicates with fans through the site, posting show announcements, updates about the band's time of the road, demo recordings and pages from his journals The Books of Albion, which are later collected and published.
Up the Bracket is released on October 21.
Having gained a reputation as one of Britain's best — and most unpredictable — live acts, the Libertines fill in for the Vines' cancelled headlining slot at the 2003 NME Awards in February. They deliver a blazing, buzzed-about set and end up taking home the award for Best New Band.
By March, Barât is preparing to move out of the storied "Albion Rooms," and a farewell show draws a huge crowd. It's indicative of the band's growing and increasingly rabid fan base; the band (usually Doherty) would announce guerrilla gigs on thelibertines.org forum, with fervent fans storming the apartments, pubs and public spaces where the shows took place, while those who had missed the announcements or couldn't make it to the gigs commiserated together in the forum.
"We broke it down again and again afterwards in the way we involved fans and were happy to pull out guitars at a moment's notice, on steps or walking through town," Barât later tells Thornton, reflecting on the band's now legendary guerrilla gigs and tearing down the barrier between performer and audience. "Just playing anywhere and any when, just for the love of playing. And letting everyone be a part of it — letting people know it was special for people."
Despite projecting the public image of a troupe of charming, Dickensian street urchin-esque troubadours palling around with their fans, however, things grew chaotic behind the scenes and on the road. By the time the Libertines reached Japan in April, Doherty's use of heroin and crack had significantly increased, and an inability to find drugs on tour began to take its toll. Dark, disturbing diary entries detailing Doherty's withdrawal and depression flood the libertines.org forum; he posts under the username "heavyhorse." Their gig at Penny Lane 24 in Sapporo on April 17 starts with Doherty smashing up amps, guitars and trying to light a Union Jack flag on fire within the first 30 seconds of the set. The rest of the band storm off, though Carl eventually returns to the stage followed by a reluctant Powell and Hassall.
Immediately upon the band's return to the UK, Doherty meets with London poet Peter "Wolfman" Wolfe, soon assuring the world via public posts on the internet that his substance-related cravings have been satisfied.
Things are looking up by spring, with the band scheduled to travel to America. The first American show is cancelled, though, due to the death of Doherty's grandmother. After the funeral, the band are scheduled to make their North American debut at Coachella — but due to a late-running set from Groove Armada, the band outplay the curfew and the plugs are literally pulled after two songs. They play a third without the PA system.
Their American adventure brings the band to New York in May, where they play iconic rock club CBGBs and perform "I Get Along" on The Late Show with David Letterman; Barât changes the usually crowd-screamed a cappella shout of "Fuck 'em" to a television audience-friendly "Your mother." While in New York, the band record what come to be dubbed The Babyshambles Sessions. Three discs worth of material, including new songs like "Road to Ruin," "Last Post on the Bugle," "What Katie Did" and "The Man Who Would Be King," which will all appear on the band's next album, and "Don't Look Back Into the Sun," which will get released as a single in the interim between LPs. There are also a number of tracks recorded at this time that will go on to become staples for Doherty's side project Babyshambles ("Albion," "Babyshambles," "Killamangiro"), as well as his own solo material ("New Love Grows on Trees").
During this time Barât becomes disillusioned with the people and substances Doherty is spending time with. In addition to reportedly roaming the streets of the Bowery trying to score drugs off of homeless folk, Doherty's hotel room becomes a revolving door of hangers-on and "parasites." After walking in on one such character about to inject his bandmate with a needle, an exasperated Barât "freaks out," asks the record company to keep an eye on Doherty and flies back to the UK, leaving Doherty alone to finish the recordings. "Things changed then, pretty much irreparably," Barât later tells Thornton. "I may have smashed up a handful of syringes and scared some guy but as soon as I'm out of the room it doesn't matter any more. Pete's only in there because he wants to be in there." (Thornton 113)
Doherty gives The Babyshambles Sessions to a New York fan named Helen Hsu and allegedly instructs her to share them online. Doherty returns to the UK and continues to host guerrilla gigs, though Barât begins showing up to them increasingly infrequently. Hsu posts the demos to thelibertines.org forum with the message: "It's not about making and selling records, it's about communication, opening the door to the attic and letting us all in. We are offered a glimpse into their mad world, an invitation to visit for a while, a tender postcard from their journeys thus far. In the vast landscape of cynicism and ultra cool, they have redeemed hope, housed in Arcadia, trafficked on the Albion. And I thank them." (Thornton 119)
Once back in the UK, the band enter the studio to record the "Don't Look Back Into the Sun" single with Bernard Butler. Tensions rise as Doherty's drug use reaches dangerous heights and his attendance record hits a new low. Butler issues a no drugs in the studio policy and the final version of the single is pieced together using what they had of Doherty's vocals with Butler playing his guitar parts.
Tensions reach their breaking point on June 5, the night before Barât's birthday. Doherty announces a celebratory guerrilla gig as a birthday gift to Barât and as a means of smoothing things over with the band. Barât, at another party organized for him, doesn't make it to the gig; Doherty takes it as a personal betrayal and retaliates by not showing up for the band's European tour the next day. Barât, Hassall and Powell fulfill their live commitments with a guitar tech filling in on the songs he can learn, while others are entirely dropped from the setlist. Throughout the tour, the band is met onstage with audience chants of "Pete, Pete, Pete."
"I had to make the phone call flanked by Gary and John, who said I had to do it even though I didn't want to," says Barât, describing the first time he told Doherty that he couldn't play in the band until he cleaned up. "They had their hands on my shoulders for the major call — this is terrible — Peter freaking out on the other end, fucking jumping out of windows and god knows what — y'know the burden was unbearable. But it was something that had to be done as far as I was concerned." (Thornton 129)
A public message on the band's website states: "Peter is unwell and the band are very concerned for his well being, they have told him out of concern for his health that he needs to get better before he can rejoin them. They also want it to be known they fully support him through this difficult time." (Thornton 130)
Doherty, meanwhile, writes and records demos under the moniker Babyshambles, unleashing The Sailor Sessions online (followed by a creative spurt that includes The Chicken Shack Sessions, The Branding Sessions, HQ Bethnal Green Sessions, HQ Second Wave and the Whitechapel Demos), but starts failing to show up at the solo gigs he himself organizes. He enters rehab for the first time, but leaves after five days.
On July 25, while the Libertines are on tour in Japan with American guitarist Anthony Rossomando filling in, a distraught Doherty kicks down the door to Barât's apartment and steals a laptop, antique guitar, money, CD player, video recorder and a mouth organ. He confesses to Lisa Moorish (the mother of his newborn child) and she reports it to the police. On August 11 Doherty pleads guilty to charges of burglary; on September 7, he is sentenced to six months in Wandsworth prison.
The band return to North American soil on tour, this time making their Canadian live debut at the Opera House in Toronto on August 12. Exclaim!'s review notes that while "the cadent harmonies of 'What a Waster' and 'Up the Bracket' were a touch spare sans Doherty," Barât nevertheless "dug his heels in, doing enough shag-wagging and shuffling to make up for it."
"Don't Look Back Into the Sun" single is released on August 18 and reaches number 11, the band's highest charting single so far.
Doherty's sentence is reduced and he is released from prison on October 8. Barât meets him at the Wandsworth gates and the pair proceed to spend the afternoon getting trashed before turning up and playing a triumphant reunion show at the Tap'n'Tin pub in Chatham. Referred to in Libertines folklore as "The Freedom Gig," it will be named "gig of the year" for 2003 by the NME.
By November, Poostchi resigns as the band's manager and is replaced by Creation Records founder Alan McGee, who has previously managed bands like Oasis, Primal Scream, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine. In 2013, The Guardian interviews McGee about his memoir Creation Stories. When asked which of his bands was the most difficult to manage, he replies: "The Libertines, by a mile. I couldn't control it. Everything else, I've been able to control the scenarios. The Libertines were completely out of control."
One of McGee's first orders of business was putting Doherty up in an apartment that was too small to host gigs, though Doherty will continue to invite fans around for house shows. Doherty begins using drugs again, while Barât's behaviour begins to set off red flags as well. After a whisky and fight-filled writing session at McGee's house in Wales, Barât retreats to the bathroom and repeatedly bashes his own head against the sink, mutilating his face and nearly blinding himself. "That was totally true," McGee recalls. "His eye was hanging out of his head. There was so much blood it was unbelievable. He managed to do £400-worth of damage to a big marble sink." In a post on thelibertines.org, Doherty refers to him as a "sex symbol in an eye patch."
Doherty persistently tries to visit Barât while he's recovering from emergency eye surgery, but Barât's girlfriend refuses to let him in to the apartment because of the kicking-down-the-door-and-stealing-things incident. Once Barât heals, though, the Libertines close out 2003 with a victorious live comeback, playing three sold-out nights at the London Forum. Reviewing the second of three shows for The Guardian, Maddy Costa observes: "It's Doherty who throws the guitar, and it's Doherty who proves most riveting to watch, if only because it's such a pleasure that he is still in the band. Barât, you feel, could succeed alone through sheer force of ambition. But it's the interplay between the two frontmen, prowling about as though squaring up for a fight, that makes this gig so shiveringly exciting."
Before the end of the year, two security guards are hired to protect the band — as much from each other as from crazed fans.
Doherty and Barât start the year with a trip to France, where they pen two new songs: "Can't Stand Me Now" and "The Saga." Both are wrought with references to the pair's tumultuous relationship and Doherty's drug use, and will eventually appear on the band's second album.
Despite only releasing "Don't Look Back Into the Sun" as a single in the previous year, the Libertines win Best Band at the NME Awards on February 12. Doherty and Barât accept the award by reciting back-and-forth lines from British war poet Siegfried Sassoon's "Suicide in the Trenches."
On the opening night (February 29) of the band's latest UK tour the band debut the new songs to a wild Birmingham crowd, proving to sceptics that they've become a live force to be reckoned with. But following the show Doherty takes off with a friend of Wolfman's claiming that he's going back to London "to get a guitar." He turns up for the band's next shows, but while on stage at London's Brixton Academy on March 7, he smashes his guitar, storms off the stage and proceeds to slash his chest open with a razor. He comes back out to a fuming Barât, Hassall and Powell, none of whom will speak to Doherty for days.
The band appear on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross on March 19, performing new single "Can't Stand Me Now." The song will come to symbolize the deterioration of the relationship between Doherty and Barât, featuring emotional verses flung back and forth between the co-frontmen — cathartically airing their dirty laundry for a national television audience to see. Barât accusingly croons, "Your light fingers through the dark, shattered the lamp and into the darkness cast us" and is met with a defensive Doherty: "No, you've got it the wrong way around/ You cut me out and tried to blame it on the brown."
The Libertines enter the studio two days later (March 21) to record with Jones following previously scrapped sessions with Butler. By this point, Doherty's using crack and heroin again and hanging around with noted junkie and former the Only Ones frontman Peter Perret, who Powell describes as "an absolute boner." (Thornton 205) The two security guards hired at the end of the previous year are ever-present in the studio to "keep people out, them [the band] in and unwelcome visitors away," according to McGee. (Thornton 207)
They will have to step in during a massive blow-out between Doherty and Barât. The incident begins as an argument over a digital recorder McGee had given to Doherty, but when someone asks what's going on, Barât allegedly responds, "Oh, nothing. Pete just can't handle the brown." Doherty later tells Thornton, "I went absolutely mental and jumped across the glass table and started leathering him." (Thornton 206) Despite exaggerated media reports of ongoing fisticuffs, the recording sessions returned to a fairly calm and productive state after that, resulting in what will be the band's self-titled second — and for the next decade presumed to be final — album.
Doherty releases his first single with side project Babyshambles — the confusingly titled "Babyshambles" — through Rough Trade imprint High Society. On April 13, Wolfman releases his "For Lovers" single, featuring vocals from Doherty. The track reaches number 7 on the charts, and the pair are slated to play on Top of the Pops. Despite his disapproval of Wolfman and his drug connections to Doherty, Barât ends up playing guitar on the single's B-side "Back From the Dead." On April 23, Doherty and Wolfman's TOTP episode airs, and the Libertines gather to watch it in the studio. Doherty doesn't show up for the celebratory gathering and will not return to the studio from then on. Mixing and overdubs are left to Barât, Hassall and Powell.
In May, the Libertines are scheduled to play at a fashion event for designer John Richmond. Fans, Alan McGee and his bandmates alike are shocked by Doherty's physical appearance, fearing his drug abuse has reached an all-time high. A couple days later, on May 14, McGee checks Doherty into the Priory rehab facility. The band cancel their upcoming gigs, hoping that Doherty will rejoin them in time for Glastonbury. Doherty leaves the Priory early, claiming that the staff wouldn't let him watch the FA Cup Final. He sells a story to UK tabloid The Sun detailing his time in rehab and announcing that he's quit the Libertines.
"It's got to the point where Carl and I don't speak except on stage," he tells The Sun. (Thornton 222) "It breaks my heart. He treats me badly and every time I come running back like a battered housewife… If he comes and grabs me by the hand, maybe we can reclaim the empire together. But for now I'm out of the band."
After discovering that his mother is suffering from breast cancer, Doherty agrees to check back in to the Priory in early June. He will once again leave early, this time showing up to Barât's weekly club night Dirty Pretty Things (where Hassall and Powell are also present) to tell his bandmates that he's going to Thailand to get clean. Doherty leads the crowd in a round of "Happy Birthday" for Barât and they perform a six-song set. It marks the last show that the four would play together for six years, and Doherty and Barât do not speak for the next nine months.
Doherty leaves the Thai monastery after three days and flees to Bangkok where he binges on the city's most notorious indulgences — heroin and prostitutes. He returns to London on June 17, and is arrested for possessing a flick knife he'd brought back from Thailand as a gift for Barât. Evident that Doherty is still battling addiction, and now legal issues, the band cancel Glastonbury as a sign of respect, but still have tour commitments to meet for the upcoming release of The Libertines. They begin rehearsing with Rossomando again.
The NME's July 24 issue features alternate covers — one starring Doherty and one with Barât. Doherty is interviewed by Thornton, who reminds the singer-songwriter that the band will take him back the instant he gives up drugs. "That's not fair," Doherty says. "If they take me back I will pack it in." On the night before the new, Doherty-free lineup is set to play Scotland's T in the Park festival, Barât is interviewed by for the NME by Alex Needham. He discusses the band's publicly issued ultimatum to Doherty. "It's the hardest thing, making him understand," Barât says. "We're doing it for him. I don't want to be playing these gigs. It feels wrong — I'm singing his songs and doing his album — of course he should be here. But we couldn't just carry on the way it was going. Peter was going to die or someone was going to get killed."
In the midst of the band's tabloid fodder turmoil, The Libertines is released on August 30. "'Can't Stand Me Now' is a gloriously harmonious illustration of the scrappy friendship between singers Doherty and Carl Barât," writes Cam Lindsay for Exclaim! "The band even hit their stride as songwriters on the infectious 'Last Post On the Bugle,' the pub sing-along, 'What Katie Did,' and possibly their best track to date, the all-too-revealing 'The Man Who Would Be King.' If they could learn to discard waste like 'Don't Be Shy' and 'Music When the Lights Go Out' and clean up Doherty's act, they could be everything they're aspiring to be: Britain's most important band since the Smiths."
A couple weeks later, an initial Babyshambles lineup featuring Doherty backed by Patrick Walden on guitar, Drew McConnell on bass and Gemma Clarke on drums make their radio debut on Zane Lowe's BBC Radio 1 program, performing a raw, anthemic rendition of future single "Fuck Forever." Throughout the fall, Babyshambles begin to play live shows, though Doherty's attendance rate is sporadic at best and there's always a lingering fear that if he does turn up, he will be too intoxicated to perform. Sets are frequently cut short, and when Doherty doesn't show up at the London Astoria, fans invade the stage, destroy equipment and riot.
Meanwhile, still performing under the Libertines moniker, Barât, Hassall, Powell and Rossomando fulfill North American tour obligations throughout the fall. In an interview with Rockpile magazine conducted backstage before the group's appearance on Conan O'Brien's show, Hassall reiterates the band's stance towards Doherty. "I would love to be in a band with Peter, and I say that sincerely," he says. "But not when he's on drugs. He's a friend of mine. I don't like having to see my best friends killing themselves in front of me."
Back in Britain, Babyshambles release their next single, "Killamangiro." A biting, confessional takedown of Barât and McGee called "Gang of Gin" is recorded as the B-side. The lyrics are hardly euphemistic:
"Well I showed no decorum
Spilled my heart out on the forum
Looked like a snapshot
Of the most tragic day
I'll tell you my story
The treachery it bores me
Carl and McGee both promised me
It would not happen this way
Carl is kept sedated
The frontman elevated
And McGee doing all he can to ruin my band
And keep me out the way"
It doesn't make the official single due to legal threats from McGee, but the song leaks online and Lowe plays it on his Radio 1 show.
As the year comes to an end, the Libertines wrap up touring commitments in conjunction with the new record. After a final show in Paris on December 17, the band are done. Barât is no longer willing to record or tour as the Libertines without Doherty.
2005 to 2008
Doherty meets supermodel Kate Moss at her birthday party in January, and the pair begin an on-again off-again relationship, attracting a ridiculous amount of tabloid attention in the UK and increasingly abroad.
In July, adding to his growing list of celebrity pals, Doherty comes out as a guest performer during Elton John's Live 8 set. He slurs and sways his way through a duet performance of T. Rex's "Children of the Revolution." Later that month, Babyshambles are booked to open for Oasis on tour. Doherty fails to show up to the first show because he was attending a party with Moss. The band are kicked off the tour.
In September, Moss is photographed snorting cocaine at a Babyshambles recording session. A scandal ensues, and the model is dropped from fashion campaigns by H&M, Chanel and Burberry. She issues an apology and publicly splits with Doherty in November, after the Babyshambles frontman fails at another rehab attempt. They will rekindle their relationship a few months later, and in January 2007, the pair enter rehab together, then announce their engagement in April. By that July, Moss kicks Doherty out of her London home and the relationship is over after two years and myriad tabloid stories.
Back in September 2005, Barât announces that he's formed a new band called Dirty Pretty Things. Fronting the outfit on vocals and guitar, he's backed by Libertines drummer Powell, their touring guitarist Anthony Rossomando and Didz Hammond from the Cooper Temple Clause.
Babyshambles release their debut album Down in Albion on November 14. It is produced by Jones, and even features Moss providing guest vocals on opening track "La Belle et la Bête." Ultimately, it's an inconsistent collection that strips away the sincerity and sweetness of many of the songs (most notably "Abion") which had been released online as acoustic demos over the years. Then there's the bewildering travesty "Pentonville" — a fusion of reggae and almost-rapping that documents Doherty's stay in the titular prison. "Still, for a guy who likely had a needle in his arm for most of these songs," reads Exclaim!'s review, "it's an exceptional start, and hopefully he lives long enough for this not to be the end."
Dirty Pretty Things will deliver their debut studio album Waterloo to Anywhere on May 8, 2006. It hears a decidedly more jaded Barât coming into his own as a songwriter and frontman — and with significantly less drama surrounding the project, the lasting impression is one of solid, gutsy rock'n'roll rather than personal drama. "I found it very hard at first, but then I realised that was only because of my confidence," he tells Exclaim! "And the most important thing about partnership to me, I realised, was not really someone contributing, but someone helping you with direction and telling you if it's shit or not. That's what I needed and that's what Didz did a lot with me on this record."
That summer Doherty contributes a guest verse to the Streets' The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living single "Prangin' Out." Confessional and poetic (though perhaps not indicative of a future in rap music), Doherty delivers lines like, "It seems I can withstand the prang and get it together to sing, as I once sang" and "I appear in the morning too minging to sing / And there's not much worse than that / Except perhaps death." The NME arranges an interview between Doherty and the Streets' Mike Skinner, and Doherty half-jokingly says the experience of working with Skinner was "better drugs counselling than a month in the Priory."
Following his much-publicized break-up with Moss, Doherty's Babyshambles release their Stephen Street-produced sophomore album Shotter's Nation on October 1, 2007. Later that month, a retrospective Libertines compilation titled Time For Heroes: The Best of the Libertines is released; it features primarily tracks from Up the Bracket and The Libertines, though EP cuts and B-sides like "Mayday," "The Delaney" and Butler's version of "Death on the Stairs" make the list as well.
Ridiculous headlines about Doherty fly fast and furious across tabloid magazines and online publications, indicating that drug use is still a prevalent part of his life. In April 2008, he unveils his first visual art exhibition "Art of the Albion," which includes some pieces that are painted using his own blood. A few weeks later, a disturbing viral video emerges of Doherty and his new friend Amy Winehouse playing with newborn mice. That same year, Winehouse discusses her relationship with Doherty in a Rolling Stone profile. "We're just good friends," she says. "I asked Pete to do a concept EP, and he made this face, he looked at me like I'd pooed on the floor. He wouldn't do it. We're just really close." Years later (2012) a painting titled "Ladylike," which is smeared with the blood of both Doherty and Winehouse, will sell at auction for £35,000.
Also in the summer of 2008, the John Hassall-led outfit Yeti release their debut full-length The Legend of Yeti Gonzales. It follows an EP from 2006, and a Japanese compilation of Yeti tracks titled Yume! that was released in 2007. Yeti will quietly disband towards the end of 2008.
The next week, Dirty Pretty Things release Romance at Short Notice to lackluster reviews. A few weeks later, Barât announces that the group is disbanding "to try new things."
Before 2008 is over, Doherty speaks to The Daily Mail about the media attention he's been attracting. "You can only be so thick-skinned," he says. "You can only pretend not to care for so long before you have to admit that you hate being made to look like an idiot. I hate seeing myself misquoted. I hate being linked romantically with girls I've been close to for years but never slept with. It's just upsetting, isn't it? My nan reads and believes these things. I say, 'Hiya Nan, how are you getting on?' and she'll say, 'Are you all right? What about that cat you injected with crack?'"
2009 to 2013
Doherty re-teams with Shotter's Nation producer Stephen Street to record his solo debut, Grace/Wastelands; it's released in March 2009. Blur guitarist and longtime Street collaborator Graham Coxon plays on much of the album, which Exclaim! describes as "a deftly handled record peppered with intriguing moments of blinding light and harsh darkness." A tad bit more liberal with their praise, the NME's review of the record reads: "These are the types of strummykins numbers he specialises in, previously only enjoyed in damp corners of the internet, with Dictaphone crackle intact, occasionally enlivened by the sound of him stopping to turn the pages of his diary. By God they're louche, stuffed with jazz chords and lyrics, less interested in tunes than in poetry with guitar attached. Even in Babyshambles, Adam Ficek was always stood behind to lock him into 4/4 — now, he's free to indulge his romantic whimsy."
One year later, on March 29, the Libertines — that is, Powell, Hassall, Barât and, yes, Doherty — announce that they are reforming to play the 2010 Reading and Leeds festivals. The pair of concerts mark the band's first scheduled shows since 2004. "We're reforming the band to play the songs that people want to hear," Barât tells the NME. "We're going to get together, play songs which have been collecting dust in the garage. People want to hear them, so we're going to give them a run. We'll be playing them like we're playing them for the last ever time." Doherty adds: "I can't really believe it yet. I haven't quite digested it. It's been a bit of a pipe dream." Two days later, a press conference at London pub the Boogaloo erupts into one of the group's signature spur of the moment guerrilla gigs.
On August 27 and 28, the Libertines headline Leeds and Reading, respectively. It wouldn't be a Libertines gig without controversy, but despite the Leeds set being stopped three songs in to control the raucous crowd, the "Boys in the Band" come back and play a triumphant hour-long show. After another crowd-control-related pause in the set, they pull off a back-to-back victory the following evening at Reading, but announce no future plans for the band and will vehemently deny any future for the Libertines over the next few years.
During the comedown from a glorious Libertines reunion, Barât releases his self-titled solo debut on October 4, 2010. It's met with middling reviews from those who pay attention at all. "Carl always seemed like the Lib most likely to have secretly been into metal as a teenager," reads a review from the NME. "Yet here they are, seemingly locked in a competition to out-louche each other."
Babyshambles return with their third LP Sequel to the Prequel on September 3, 2013, once again enlisting Street on production duties. "I don't want this to be half arsed," Doherty tells the NME. "I want to get up there and really fucking smash it out. Babyshambles aren't back — this band have always been here."
2014 to 2015
Another reunion, another round of safety concerns amidst the crush of the crowd. The Libertines play what is supposedly another one-off reunion show at Hyde Park on July 5, 2014, where, as The Guardian reports, "The audience were asked to stop throwing fireworks and flares during the first few minutes of the set." They follow up Hyde Park with three dates at London's Alexandria Palace in September, sparking rumours that the band might be back for a longer stay this time.
In October, Doherty attends the hope Rehab Centre in Thailand and will stay there until his treatment is complete in December. The program's founder Simon Mott tells Noisey that Doherty "seemed far more motivated and more ready to do what is necessary to stay stopped this time."
In November, Doherty pens a personal op-ed for The Independent detailing his struggle with addiction and his stay in rehab. "Before all this, I had been desperate," he writes. "There were dark times, but I would just pick up my guitar and write a song and I'd think yeah that solves my problems, you can't tell me anything. But eventually that stopped working. Doing gigs was a nightmare, and all the songs were so dark, how would I be able to perform if I wasn't fucked up?"
He finally acknowledges the effects that his drug use had on the Libertines: "[Barât] couldn't stand crack or heroin, and he didn't like the people I was hanging out with. So the band split up. I loved making music with Carl but the drugs became my be-all and end-all of everything; soon, then more people gave me ultimatums — them or the drugs; I couldn't understand it at that time; I just thought I was having 'fun,' I didn't think I had a problem; I never even considered that I was an addict."
With his treatment complete, Doherty is joined by Barât, Hassall and Powell in Thailand, where they sign a deal to record a third album — a feat that seemed nearly impossible to the band and fans alike for more than a decade. It's revealed that the new LP will be titled Anthems for Doomed Youth and arrive on September 11. Recorded in Thailand, Hassall hints at a "progressive" new sound, but assures the old guard: "No, don't get scared. It's still the Libertines."
Despite new Libertines material on the horizon, Barât and Doherty remain active in other musical pursuits. The former releases Let It Reign with his latest project under the moniker Carl Barât and the Jackals. Perhaps a promising sign of things to come, Exclaim!'s review of the album reads: "The Libertines' standard is a tough one to meet, but Barât does admirably here; the best songs on Let It Reign prove Barât still has that rough and tumble vigour in him, an irresistible combo of jaunty riffs and fierce delivery of lyrics with a disenchanted attitude and charming British accent." Doherty, meanwhile, releases a tragic, sentimental tribute single to his now late friend Winehouse. Proceeds from "Flags of the Old Regime" go to the since-established Amy Winehouse Foundation, which offers support to young people struggling with addiction.
At Glastonbury on June 26, the Libertines are revealed to be the secret guest on the festival's Pyramid Stage; they continue to prove their prowess for conquering comeback gigs. The following month, after a show at the Ibiza Rocks Hotel, Doherty reportedly scrawls Nirvana lyrics across the walls of the hotel. At least for now, he's traded in blood for spraypaint as his artistic medium of choice.
Anthems for Doomed Youth is released on September 11, 2015.