Investigating The Libertines Alley, a Piece of Dying Musical History
All photos by Jake Lewis
Somehow 15 years have passed since VICE arrived in London and the editors would have to push piles of magazines around the city asking pubs to please take them. Since then we've grown, conceiving tiny content babies that have grown into leading industry voices (see us, here – Noisey – recklessly tooting our own horn). To mark this anniversary, this week VICE UK is throwing a bunch of events and we're running a series of content about a time in British music that most of us shouldn't, but weirdly do, struggle to remember.
Thanks to popular usage, a few phrases in the English language have become interminably tethered to a thing. Some of these are slogans: I’m loving it and McDonalds. Others relate to the workplace: the proverbial “breaking of the ice” in an air-conditioned, HR sanctioned meeting. Rarely however, do they relate to a band in the way “gin in teacups”, “up the Albion” and “last of the likely lads” have been married to the Libertines, soldered together into music history.
Time was, The Libertines were the greatest band in Britain. Pete, Carl, John and Gary with their red military jackets and their trilbies were – at least in some circles – the epitome of cool in 2002. For others they were simply shit. Remove any opinion however and you have the facts: The Libertines were an extremely popular and socially welcoming band, so much so they would often hold gigs in the flat where Pete and Carl lived in London’s Bethnal Green.
Look up their debut video “Up The Bracket” on YouTube and you’ll see the place, used as a location for the shoot. Prior to that – in the video’s introduction – you’ll also see an alleyway, then simply a road but now a piece of so-called musical history. As The Libertines rose and fell and rose again, sailing through the music press like a battered wooden ship, that alleyway has become a winkle-pickered mecca for fans of the band. Fan-made videos litter YouTube, detailing the pilgrimages made by fans. One upload as recent as April of this year reads in its description: “I was there for two hours”.
To these tight-jeaned travellers, the place is something of a dirtied Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It is covered with graffiti and has been for years, the walls scrawled with Libertines related witterings. But what about the rest of the world? Do they know they’re standing on a piece of musical history? Are they aware of this brief, Albion-like respite from the modern world? Or do they live in peaceful bliss? 15 years since the release of “Up The Bracket” and I’m here to find out.
Noisey: Wow, here we are. So, is this place important to you?
Andrea: Yeah. My gym is here.
What about artistically? Y’know, music, culture, etc?
There's a big mural over there under the bridge that I like.
Do you mean The Libertines graffiti?
I feel ignorant now. I don't know who that is.
Where are you from?
I guess the good ship Albion never sailed the Adriatic Sea, then?
No I don't think so.
Julian, pub landlord of The Hare
Noisey: Hello sir. Please, tell me of the history of this road.
Julian: I call it Dogshit Alley. I'm the publican at the pub right there and I've lived here for 16 years, but I'm not sure what its name is.
Beautiful! Can I ask you what your favourite band is?
Earth, Wind and Fire, you ever heard of them?
Yes. But please: let me conduct the interview. Do you know The Libertines?
I'm a bit old for all that. I'm more into old school soul stuff. I’ve noticed the graffiti here but I’m anti-graffiti. All these middle-class kids are moving to this area and they think it’s cool to splatter the place in paint. I don’t think it’s cool. In fact – it’s arseholeish.
Noisey: Hi, I see you're a postman! Presumably you work in the Post Office at the end of this alleyway?
Postman: I do yes. I’ve worked here for 43 years.
My man! So you know what the history behind this alleyway is?
Pete Doherty and whatever.
Whatever?! Were you not a fan.
No! [starts to walk off] I'll tell you what though, a mate of mine is, used to go parties with him over in Hoxton.
Come back! When was that?
Probably about ten years ago?
When he was really, really partying. I know he's been to a couple of parties with him, just on the off chance that he knew where he was hanging out and he was living round here.
What's your name?
I'm not telling you my name! [Starts walking away again] I'm not allowed to give things like that away! [While walking away] He did his first video down here. My mate's told me about 20,000 times. I've never even seen the video, I've never bothered looking on Youtube or nothing. Loads of people come down here and write messages on the walls.
I guess that’s an even more inconvenient form of analogue messaging than the postal service. Competition, some may say, but immortalised. Anyway: tara!
Noisey: You there! Are you aware you're standing on a site of British musical history?
John: Uh… no.
Okay. Another question. Do you like The Libertines?
Oh, I like some of the music but I wasn't a massive fan.
Well anyway, they filmed one of their first music videos down here and it's become a bit of a pilgrimage site for hardcore Libertines fans. Do you walk down here often?
[laughs] Yeah! I'll definitely appreciate it more now.
Richard (and friend)
Noisey: I'll make it quick – do you know what happened down this alley?
I don't wanna talk about The Libertines, I hear about it too much round here.
Everyone talks about it, it's annoying. What are you doing anyway?
Yes. Can you help with our study? Do you like The Libertines?
No. I'm just not really that bothered to be honest.
So what you’re saying is… none of the graffiti is yours?
The Last Likely Lad???
Excuse me, could I stop you for a second?
[man wearing trilby, black overcoat, scruffy tote bag and boots, looking like Pete Doherty incarnate, the holy grail of this quest] No sorry I’m in a rush.
Just one second!
[He’s already gone]