Wind the clock back a decade and the odds of all members of The Libertines being alive in 2016 - let alone playing a well-received arena tour - would have seemed defiantly slim-to-nothing. But here we are: they’ve released a new album better than expected, Pete’s turning up to all the gigs, and while they’re not quite the wispy spring chickens of yore the fans are just happy they’re not strung out like the bad old days.
We had two of our writers at gigs last weeks, tasked with finding out how the band got on, and what they told us about the future of their beloved indie. Turned out there was some pretty different views.
David Handley - Saw them at Birmingham NEC
We know that there are some really exciting new bands coming through. I’ve been loving Blossoms - who opened up half the tour dates - and in Birmingham we were treated to the excellent The Sherlocks who recently became the first unsigned band since Arctic Monkeys to completely sell out The Leadmill. They explode with an urgent mix of The Courteeners, The Clash and those early Arctic Monkeys records. After they leave the Libertines tour they will be embarking on their own 23 date tour of The UK,
Regarding The Libertines: following a lacklustre return in 2010 - which they have since admitted was a money-driven exercise - expectation was incredibly high for the latest Libertines album, Anthems For Doomed Youth. And what effect would that new album have on the band's live show? I was concerned that the in your face, often chaotic live performances which became the bands trademark wouldn’t translate to an arena show which is more used to housing acts like Ellie Goulding, or Justin Bieber.
But from the moment they stepped on stage - following an introductory poetry session from Jack Jones of Welsh indie band Trampolene that went over the heads of almost everyone in the crowd - the band nailed it. They were tight, melodic and the songs sounded as good as they ever had. The new songs went down well, with ‘Gunga Din’ and a piano-led ‘You’re My Waterloo’ proving particular highlights. However, as you’d expect, it was the classics which really sent the atmosphere soaring, ‘The Delaney' was screamed back at the stage and ‘Time For Heroes’ saw circle pits exploding around the arena floor.
Emerging for the encore solo, Pete launched into an acoustic version of early Babyshambles track ‘Albion’, which brought the crowd lurching unsteadily toward the barrier, arms aloft. He was re-joined by the rest of the band as the track segued seamlessly into Libertines classic ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’. ‘Up The Bracket’ followed, before a rousing ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ sent everyone out into the night happy.
A blend of old and new songs, alongside the sight of the four of them looking as happy and healthy as they have for a long time, ensured that The Libertines’ first ever arena tour felt like a real event. Something which old and new fans alike will remember for a long time to come. Proving that, this time around, The Libertines are much more than a touring novelty act, happy to pick up the cheque and bang out the hits: they are back (for now) and better than ever.
David Hillier- Saw them at Bournemouth NIC
I loved the gig. I’m an arch music sentimentalist, so the chance to see these songs again was a glorious nostalgia trip. They played the hits, they played the best of the new stuff, they finished on ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’. Lovely.
Tellingly though, out of my mates that went - all of whom were huge fans of The Libertines first time round - half didn't enjoy it. They said the songs didn’t translate in the venue, were noodly, bloated, and they reckoned there were too many cunts in the crowd (the latter point being largely inspired by the storm of pint glasses that rained down on the young poet introducing the band).
I might have loved the gig, but I could see their point. The Libertines were never as much a band for glorified sports halls as they were pre-gentrification Whitechapel clubs, or gnarly Chatham boozers. That’s not to say they’ve not earned their right to a second life but I’m not sure where their place - and the place of the indie scene they remain spiritual figureheads of - is on Britain’s musical map in 2016.
A cursory look through the nation’s Twitter feeds will tell you that grime and hip-hop are currently the country’s true musical flag bearers. It’s Air Force Ones rather than Converse, snapbacks rather than trilbys. And that’s a good thing: music, like fashion, is cyclical. Tastes change and the memory of going clubbing in a skinny tie still brings me out in night sweats.
The last act that got the working class male, football casual-indebted support that the great indie bands all have was Sleaford Mods, who sadly supported The Libertines every night on the tour except ours. The Nottingham act twinned Jason Williamson’s furious, spitting lyrics with jittery, lo-fi hip hop and drum & bass. Their originality, anger and directness resonated with a country truly fucked off with its leaders; a country looking for something a little more meaningful that Catfish and the Leather Jacket. Fittingly, Sleaford’s performance on Jools last year was one of the 2015’s definitive musical moments.
This year, all the indie press is going on about Blossoms being the next great hope, basically because they’re signed to a major - Virgin EMI like The Libertines -
thus have a marketing budget. Don’t get me wrong: I quite like Blossoms and ‘Charlemagne’ is a banger but they’re blander than a bowl of your auntie’s Bran Flakes. The great indie bands - zeitgeist cultivating monoliths like The Smiths, Stone Roses, Oasis, The Libertines and (to a lesser extent) Arctic Monkeys - twinned personalities to love and adore, with songs that felt like they were written for you. I couldn’t tell you who is in Blossoms, or who they’re out there playing for.
This loops us nicely back to The Libertines, because the thing that resonated most in the days since the gig is just how enduringly great Pete Doherty is. Obviously Carl, Gary and John are all chiefs but, Pete is the throbbing soul of the band. Obviously I'm only talking as someone standing on the other side of the stage and, really, what do I know? But it seems that now more than ever.
He’s one of those one-offs who manages to combine erudite intellectualism with a knockabout humor that us normals can all understand. When he improvises a chorus of Neil Young’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ the place goes nuts and I told my mate I was glad he was still on the planet. Meanwhile the rest of the indie world waits for someone like him to come along to stir some hearts again. That's not to say there's not a lot of brilliant UK bands making music with guitars- people like Beaty Heart, PINS, Spector, Savages, Pleasure Beach, Foals, Field Music, Wild Nothing, there's literally hundreds - but these all exist in a different sphere and are never going to get on the Ten O' Clock news. For those of us waiting for the next culture-defining, country-unifying act to break though, I'd definitely be looking somewhere other than indie.
If you do want to go check out some of the new breed of indie bands, The Sherlocks are on tour. Get tickets here