Brothers In Arms: The Libertines Interviewed

Pete Doherty and Carl Barat in conversation...

“What writers do you like at the moment then?” Pete Doherty asks me.

“Do you mean lyricists, journalists, poets, or any of the above?”

“Any” he says.

I feel anxious to respond seeing as the first writer that pops into my head that I love is Pete himself. “Can I think about my answer as I don’t want to just blurt something out?”

“Nah, go on. Blurt something out,” Pete responds in his delicate but firm voice. “Imagine you’re in a lift and it’s falling, or the world is crashing and…”

“Well if that’s the case, I don’t think writers are what would be on my mind. I’d probably ring my Mum?”

“Why, does she know some good writers?”

I’m sat with Pete Doherty and Carl Barat in The Albion Rooms in Margate a week ahead of their fourth album release, ‘All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade’. “I’m more interested in [this album] than the other records,” Pete says. “The others, like, I’d let them let them go and do their thing. This one, I feel like I’m I’m riding alongside it.” He then suggests the best way to listen to the new album is “preferably in an attic, on your back, eyes closed, especially when it gets to ‘Songs They Never Play on the Radio’’. 

The ‘Music When the Lights Go Out’ lyric “I’ll confess all of my sins after several large gins” reeks of truth today as the band don’t allow an empty glass to be within eye sight. Keeping my drink full and theirs even fuller, ashtrays and mugs filled with half drunk coffee and cigarette butts follow them around like adoring fans. This is everything you’d expect from an afternoon spent with The Libertines. The bar is smokey, with Pete and Carl ushering someone to get me an ash tray so that I can smoke in the bar with them. Making sure everyone feels as if they are at home, being in The Albion Rooms feels like a warm hug that is reluctant to let you go. The duo’s endearing charm and attentive nature welcomes you into their space and into their family, even if only for the day.

We slowly move our way into the studio, with Pete and Carl getting distracted like moths to a flame by anything and anyone they pass. Both of them are drinking whiskey and rum out of tumbler glasses, bouncing off of each other’s words. They flirt with each other making inside jokes and then cutting back to being deadly serious. It’s hard to keep up with the erratic direction change but when Pete starts opening up about a band called The Bandits and his eyes fill with tears, this is a sure sign that we have entered serious territory.

“I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this because when I think about it I get quite emotional. I weep sometimes when I think about it” Pete begins. “When we were touring Spain after Up The Bracket came out, we had a band called The Bandits supporting us- they were so good, so brilliant. They were all good mates from school and I remember one of them saying to me, ‘It’s great that you and Carl are such good mates, you’ve got each other’s backs and you’re doing the band together’. Then after a few gigs they noticed, well, it was a time where [we] were tearing each other apart and fighting backstage…”

“It was volatile,” Carl adds.

“He was like ‘What are you doing? You’ve got the whole world out there, you can fucking have it all. Why are you tearing each other apart?’ and I didn’t think about it. Then I remember one of them said to me point blank, ‘You know what, if this is what it does, I don’t fancy it’. And then the day their album came out, they split up and they walked away,” Pete pauses. “We were on a suicide fuckin’ mission. I don’t know if I imagined all of that or if it happened, but the fact they called their album and walked away the day it was released…” Pete takes a moment in silence and then gathers his thoughts. “It was a spankin’ album. It was great. It was called Chaos In The Courtroom.”

Initially, it feels like Pete is crying because he feels bad that the band broke up because of them. But, as we dive deeper, it feels more like he’s crying because of the beauty within The Bandits’ friendship and how that was the most important thing to them. Pete then suddenly snaps out of his emotive mood and his tears dry. He bursts into song and serenades me with ‘Take It and Run’ by The Bandits as if our previous conversation never happened. 

With their relationship having been rocky in the past, it seems now they have never been stronger. The new album opens with the lyric, “It’s a lifelong project of a life on the lash. I forgotten how to care but I’ll remember for cash”, something I question whether it applies to their relationship. Carl responds, “You’ve got to solve it as well. I wouldn’t want to fuck it up for you. The beautiful thing is people want to find their own answers. I once told someone who was in quite a big band that our lyrics were a load of old bollocks and…”

“Who?” Pete asks.

“I told one of the guys from The View that one of our songs was a load of old gogildy goop…”

“What song?” Pete says looking concerned.

“No, no. I’ll tell you later…”

“Tell us now. It wasn’t ‘Death on the Stairs’ was it?”

“Of course it wasn’t! It was ‘Don’t Look Back into the Sun’. I was talking about the rhymes, you know?”

“Yeah, that’s fair enough,” Pete agrees, relieved, sitting back in his chair.

“It took on meaning later though, like a lot of these things do,” Carl concludes.

Throughout the years, their relationship has been as interesting to the media as the music itself. But you can tell the two of them are bonded for life, like twins speaking in telepathy, a bond like no other. A bond where, no matter what comes between them, they will always gravitate back towards each other with a drink in hand. “I think there’s been so much openness in the lyrics that says it all,” Pete says about their friendship. “After all these years, we can be doing an acoustic set and I’ll look at Carl and wonder what the hell he’s thinking. Is that a twinkle in his eye? Is that smile real? And then I think I’d prefer if he wasn’t looking and me, and I’ll look up and he’s not. Then I wonder, ‘Why isn’t he looking at me?’”. Carl continues, “Now the friendship is in the strength and having been by each other’s sides for that many years. I think there’s a reason we’ve been so open and why people relate to us on that level. Someone will come up to me and say ‘I’ve got a brother, I’ve got a friend, I’ve got a band mate’…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah” Pete nods and agrees. “They say ‘we’re just like you and Carl’”.

With their connection stronger than ever, the pair talk about a time where they didn’t speak for almost half a decade. Something that should be a difficult topic seems to not be as straining for them to talk about as it has been in the past. “When we weren’t talking for four years, I just kept seeing you in a pants advert in Old Street” Pete quips. 

“Times did get so desperate that occasionally I had to take on some modelling jobs in underpants,” Carl says with a smile.

“I’d be trying to put you and all of that out of my head and I’d turn around and have Carl’s crotch in my face!” Pete laughs.

With Carl currently living in Margate and Pete in France, the pair disclose that they can only write when they are together. “Preferably on a hilltop,” Pete admits. But their new album is heavily inspired by Margate with the record taking its name from the road the studio resides on, the cover art being shot out the front of the building, and some of characters within the release being inspired by the residents of the area. Revealing that years ago they drove to Margate from Camden and got out the van only to look around and revel in its beauty, the pair saw the potential of the place instantly. “Someone said that the ocean will find you, but we had to drive to find it,” Pete says. “I guarantee the sunset will be beautiful today. I don’t know where it comes from,” Carl adds.

The new record is packed with colourful characters each inspired by people that the guys have met throughout their lives, such as Sister Mary who is inspired by a woman they met in Jamaica who’d been touched by the Lord. I mention to the guys how I visited some places in Margate that feature in the new music videos, such as The Parade and The Lido, as well as how nice the people are within the town-specifically a train conductor at the station. “Did he have big sideburns? That’s Dave. He’s also one of the characters,” Pete says excitedly.

We move outside to take some final pictures of the guys, and it’s been about two minutes since Pete’s last cigarette. Naturally, he comes up to me and asks for a drag of mine. Taking the cigarette in his mouth, he pauses the shoot to walk over to a nearby car and pick up a bin bag that’s stuck underneath it.

“What are you doing?” Carl asks.

“Putting this in the bin!” Pete responds whilst picking up the rubbish. 

In that moment it becomes clear. No matter how dirty their history and no matter how dirty the cigarette-filled mugs are in the building, the pair won’t allow anyone to ruin the beauty of their studio, the beauty of their road, and the beauty of their Margate. With consistent drinks flowing and a couple jokes about partying throughout the day, the band may never clean up their act. But as Pete walks the bag over to the bin, it’s obvious that they sure as hell won’t let anyone leave traces of dirt on their Margate. I think back to the lyric from ‘What Became Of The Likely Lads’, “blood runs thicker, oh, we’re thick as thieves, you know”. Today Pete and Carl are living proof that their blood does run thick and they are in fact still as thick as thieves…

‘All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade’ is out on April 5th.

Words: Jazz Hodge
Images: Paul Grace

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