Pete Doherty (left) and Carl Barat of The Libertines perform on the Other Stage during the Glastonbury festival near the village of Pilton in Somerset, southwest England.--AFP
Pete Doherty (left) and Carl Barat of The Libertines perform on the Other Stage during the Glastonbury festival near the village of Pilton in Somerset, southwest England.--AFP
The Libertines recall their happiest and darkest days in Paris

There were many times when the idea of an album by The Libertines in 2024 would have seemed an impossible proposition, and yet here they are—and only a little late. “Sorry. We’re an hour behind schedule,” the band’s manager tells AFP ahead of an interview with band leaders Peter Doherty and Carl Barat. “But, hey, it used to be day or a week late,” he adds with a chuckle. In town to promote new album “All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade”, out on Friday, there is another delay when Doherty is told he can’t enter the venue with his dog, Gladys.

But the softly spoken singer smiles and produces a doctor’s note: “He’s an emotional support dog,” he says, and all is well. Gladys—who often appears on-stage with the band—is part of the very public rehabilitation of the former enfant terrible of British indie rock, now several years clear of his addiction to hard drugs. Times have certainly changed since the band’s chaotic origins around their debut, 2002’s “Up the Bracket”, when concerts would often degenerate into mini-riots. Doherty was not a reliable figure in those days—and it was a no-show in Paris in December 2004 that led the band to break up.

His memories of that night are blurry. “They told me you were in a cross-Channel ferry cos you hung up the phone,” Doherty says to Barat as they recall the moment for AFP. “They said you’d lost reception cos you were going through a storm. “That was the last time we spoke for six or seven years.” Barat corrects him. They were in the dressing room where Doherty had failed to show. “The worst gigs were when Pete wasn’t coming, which was a painful experience,” Barat says.

‘Tattered standard’

Earlier memories of running around Paris are happier. “We had matching brown brogues, second-hand Burberry macs and Palestine scarves, running up and down the cobbled streets utterly in a reverie of the flaneur life, those little green book stalls by the river, completely over-stimulated,” says Doherty. “Carl has always been obsessed with the Moulin Rouge so it was just two kids in a candy store.” And there were dark moments.

“I’ve done some gigs where I just needed money at the last minute so I arranged to play somewhere and you’d end up with no PA system, guitar wasn’t working, I’d fall unconscious halfway through the gig and the crowd would destroy the bistro or whatever and you’d end up in jail for the night,” says Doherty. “Turned out to be quite good anecdotes but horrible nights.” The first single on their new album, “Run Run Run”, recounts the tale of an ageing boozer still enjoying nights on the lash, suggesting they aren’t ready to give up their care-free youth just yet.

But there are political flashes—a pointed song about the vexed question of immigration, “Merry Old England”, and references to a passing Queen on “Shiver” (“The old girl’s gone away, As the tattered standard hits the ground”). An unlikely influence was a bonding trip the band undertook to Jamaica at the start of the album-writing process.

“Jamaica was far away from all the influences and all the good noises and bad noises,” says Barat. “As it happened, it was the Queen of England’s funeral while we were there. It was very surreal to see that from an ex-colony.” As well as some ecstatic moments of music in a local church (“incredible drummers and people enraptured”), it was also the simple pleasure of reuniting after years of separation and uncertainty. “We were just reconnecting as old mates,” Doherty concludes wistfully. — AFP

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