Photo by Jamie-James Medina
Things started to get really dark for The Libertines around about the time they were making the debut album with Mick Jones in London towards the end of 2002. I’d originally met them in autumn 2001 when their old manager turned up in a limo outside my office and gave me beer and crisps and nuts and took me out to a grotty pub somewhere in South London. They band played me four songs and I really liked it but then—in true Libertines style—they disappeared. I never heard anything from them for a month until I got a message that they were going to be playing the Rhythm Factory in Whitechapel, round the corner from lead Libertine Pete’s flat. They didn’t come on until 2am and so I was completely twatted by that time but I swear to god it was like watching The Beatles in Hamburg 1961. Just totally fucking incredible—an amazing, chaotic mess. Pete looked like Sid Vicious reincarnated as a some weird French poet guy from a Henry Miller novel and all their fans were these grubby, beautiful young indie kids that you never saw at mainstream indie rock gigs. The whole scene was just punk and glamorous and grubby as anything I’ve ever seen. There were 17-year-old girls doing inch high bumps of coke in the men’s toilets and copping off with random strangers while their boyfriends fought each other in the pit and slid around in beer and vomit. The gig blew my mind so I signed them soon after to Rough Trade (I’m an A&R guy, okay?). I got to know them pretty well and started to hang out with them and a gang of their friends who made up a scene that revolved around Filthy McNasty’s pub (which people like Nick Cave, Mark E. Smith and Shane MacGowan made famous by beating people up at while drinking ten bottles of whiskey in a sitting). Pete and Carl were part of a bigger gang of real artistic, freaky kids from Filthy’s who were all in bands, or acting, and taking or selling drugs. I took an instant liking to them because they were so charming and inspirational and were always telling jokes and making up these crazy stories about this perfect fantasy world called Arcadia they’d created for themselves. The British indie rock scene is so boring and useless and self-satisfied that Pete and Carl didn’t find it hard to make names for themselves. British music is mostly just bad Oasis cast offs, emotional Coldplay bullshit, crappy dance music or weird, too-much-pot Beta Band frippery, but The Libertines music sounded like a primitive, fucked-up version of The Clash and The Jam. One of the main reasons why British guitar music was so shit before The Libertines was because my fellow A&R men are sheep who follow whatever new trend is going on at the particular time. Most of them are too scared of losing their jobs to take risks when it comes to signing new stuff, so 90 per cent of them will wait to see the way musical trends develop before they’ll get a deal done. When Coldplay got huge, a load of shit “emotional indie rock” bands like Snow Patrol, Keane and Athlete all started to get huge major label deals just because they look and sound the same (ie: wedding cake string sections / gay love lyrics / acoustic guitar / mummy’s boy clothes / no booze on the rider). It’s so predictable and safe it makes you want to puke. Anyway, as The Libertines started to play more gigs and develop their fanbase they started to pick up coverage from the NME and stories would circulate about the amount of girls and drugs that were constantly hanging around the band. Pete and Carl are two good looking young boys with high levels of semen in them, and they need it taken out of their body, you know? As they became more famous, the excesses got more excessive. They surround themselves with certain types of people. We call them Iovers and dreamers, other people would calll them heroin addicts and thieves. They like the underworld. When most people go to a new town, they won’t go to any of the bars around the train station because that’s where the underbelly of most places originates. Well, that’s The Libertines world. At one point, just after they were finishing the album, Pete and Carl were falling out a lot because there was a lot of drugs going round and guitars went missing from guitar shops and cars started disappearing from their owners and eventually, Pete ended up going to prison for breaking into Carl’s flat. That was the lowest of the low. What was really horrible about it all was the inevitability of the situation. Everybody knew that it was either going to be death or prison for somebody in the band. That was the most stressful year of my working life. There was no record and not even any sign of a band and I suppose, for a second or two, I thought about whether this job was worth all the stress. Thing is, I think they’re two of the greatest songwriters this country has produced and it’s magical being with them. All the worries and concerns you have drop away in their company—they are two of the most charming and inspiring people I’ve worked with. I think they have the power to change British music forever. Right now they’re in the middle of doing a big UK tour and travelling back and forth to Montmartre in Paris, where they’re writing songs for the new album. If you’re under 26 it’s really cheap to get to Paris and back, so Pete, Carl and their mates go there all the time. They usually shack up with a gang of friends to hang out, make music, and get fucked up. There’s less chance for Pete to get drugs in Paris, but there’s always gallons of absinthe everywhere, and models popping out of every corner. The Libertines are the band that all the girls want to fuck and all the boys want to get fucked up with and, to me, that’s what makes it such a pleasure working with them.