The Libertines career was short-lived and modest but could have been more… if not for Peter Doherty’s ongoing drug abuse.
Doherty and guitarist/vocalist Carlos Barat started as an acoustic duo playing in London’s King’s Cross-area. In ’02, they added bassist John Hassall and drummer Gary Powell.
The Libertines got picked up by the Rough Trade imprint where they released the double-sided U.K. hit single “What A Waster/I Get Along.” That success attracted Mick Jones, former guitarist with The Clash, who produced the group’s rough-edged neo-Punk, ’03 debut album, “Up The Bracket.”
During the “Up The Bracket” sessions Doherty’s drug use became pronounced – and troublesome. The Libertines traveled to New York to record their second effort but the so-called “Babyshambles” sessions were abandoned.
Back in the U.K., Doherty was feeling decidedly snubbed. He’d planned a birthday party for Barat as sort of a “peace offering” but Barat passed on the event (on advice from friends to steer clear of Doherty’s unpredictable drug-induced ways). In retaliation, Doherty failed to show up for the band’s European tour. A guitar tech filled in.
Barat soon refused to allow Doherty to perform with the band until he cleaned himself up.
Now feeling distraught and angry, Doherty broke into Barat’s flat, was later arrested, and charged with burglary.
Meanwhile, the Libertines single “Don’t Look Back Into The Sun” became the band’s highest charting U.K. effort as they continued to perform without Doherty – using guitarist Anthony Rossomando (who later became a member of the Dirty Pretty Things).
Doherty was sentenced to six months in prison but that was reduced to two. Barat was waiting outside the prison when Doherty was released. Later that day, the group played an emotional reunion show at a pub in Chatham, Kent. It was later named NME‘s Gig Of The Year. That was followed by a successful U. K. tour. Everything back on track? Don’t count on it.
Doherty and Barat were involved in several heated arguments during the group’s sessions for their second album, “The Libertines,” and had to be physically restrained on occasion by security personnel.
One of the more notable sidebars was Doherty’s vocals on the Peter “Wolfman” Wolfe single “For Lovers.” The track charted higher than any Libertines single.
With the second album completed Doherty went into rehab, then left, only to later return. One evening Doherty announced to the group he was headed for Thailand to get clean.
But a Thailand cure proved elusive. Doherty soon left the monastery where he was living and ventured to Bangkok to find drugs.
The Libertines, again with Rossomando, played concerts to promote the album and fulfill commitments.
In England once again, Doherty’s troubles continued. He was arrested for possession of an engraved flick knife (an illegal weapon) purchased in Thailand as a birthday gift for Barat. Doherty pleaded not guilty and was given a suspended sentence.
The Libertines were less tolerant, still not allowing Doherty onstage with them. However, they added that “when he cleans up his addictions he will be immediately welcomed back into the band.”
That didn’t appear to be much of an incentive since Doherty, it appeared, was doing just fine as the frontman of Babyshambles.
From the group’s sophomore set, came the singles “Can’t Stand Me Now” which chronicled the breakdown of the Doherty/Barat relationship, and “What Became Of The Likely Lads.” The former went to #2 and the latter peaked at #9 on the U.K. charts.
Despite the success and critical praise, Barat, unwilling to continue with the Libertines without Doherty, disbanded the group and moved on to become the leader of Dirty Pretty Things.
They said it would never happen – and so did Doherty and Barat. But there was a Libertines reunion in ’10 – six years after the band’s reckless and unfortunate break-up.
Onstage at the Forum in Kentish Town The Libertines performed a 21-song set before an audience of 300. The show served as a “warm-up” for the band’s concerts at the Leeds and Reading festivals just a few days later.
The Libertines reformed in ’14 and rolled out “Anthems For Doomed Youth” the following year. It was their first album in over a decade.