Ex-Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things frontman turned solo artist, author and actor, Carl Barât talks to JODIE JEYNES about growing-up in Hampshire, spreading his creative wings and working with Pete Doherty again.
The Libertines will ‘almost definitely not’ be performing at Glastonbury Festival this year says Carl Barât.
After they reformed for two blistering sets at the Reading and Leeds festivals last summer, fans and media have been debating when the headline-grabbing band might reunite again.
Rumours have been rife that former best-friends Carl Barât and Pete Doherty will play together again at Glasto and, last month, The Sun reported that sources had confirmed it.
But when I speak to co-frontman Carl on Monday, he reveals it’s not true.
‘I’m sorry I can’t give you the scoop and say “yes” but it’s highly unlikely,’ he admits.
That’s not a definite ‘no’, but then who can ever say anything for definite with The Libertines?
Probably the biggest rock ‘n’ roll story of their generation, the indie guitar band came together in 1997 and their 2002 debut, Up The Bracket, displayed a spirit not heard since the days of Britpop.
Founded on the relationship between co-frontmen Carl and Pete, The Libertines became such a volatile and tumultuous band that bodyguards were needed at their recording sessions.
However, when I call Carl earlier this week, he’s anything but argumentative and difficult (I think we all suspected that Pete – or Pete’s well-publicised drug problem – was at the heart of troubles in the band).
Carl is polite, courteous, helpful, apologetic and incredibly easy to get along with.
‘Jodie, would it be imprudent to ask for another 20 minutes? I’m just trying to get a taxi from King’s Cross,’ he explains hurriedly, when I first call.
He’s spent the day with The Guardian, talking about a documentary he’s narrated (The Rime of the Modern Mariner) screening at the SXSW Film Festival.
After a couple of pints of Guinness at the pub, he’s now heading home to North London to cook dinner for his girlfriend and son.
‘She’s just looking at some recipes. I told her she can choose and I’ll cook it.
‘I’m trying to make the most of the brief time I’m at home. What I get, I go headlong into,’ says the 32-year-old.
It’s no wonder he’s finding himself short of time with his young family. While Doherty has been prolifically hitting the headlines, Barât has just been prolific.
He’s been in three bands, produced and toured a solo album and appeared in movies, documentaries and stage plays, plus he’s published his first memoir.
On top of all this, the musician who previously recorded for EMI and Universal Music, has signed a new ‘multi-revenue stream’ funding deal with Power Amp, an investment firm specialising in the music industry.
He’s so busy, it’s not hard to understand why he’s so eager to fit our chat in during his cab ride home.
As we talk, he directs his driver and stops at the bank. For me, it’s an aural adventure of traffic, car doors slamming and cashpoint keytones.
I compliment him on his multitasking, but he says: ‘Actually, I’m not great at it.
‘If you hear a big traffic accident you’ll realise,’ jokes the singer who is partially deaf after the removal of a tumour near his ear.
He also confesses he’s a bit out of practice with interviews, having been too busy with his various projects to find time to talk to the press about them.
The reason he’s talking to me is that he’s coming to Portsmouth at the end of the month for the second night of his solo tour.
It’s almost five weeks later than planned, with the original Wedgewood Rooms date on February 24 having been postponed.
At the time of cancellation, Carl’s publicists did not explain his reason. But he tells me now that it was because ‘fatherhood threw up a few surprises I’d not really pre-empted’.
His first child, Eli, was born in December and Carl assures me that all is well.
‘He’s as bouncing as a baby can bounce. He’s doubled in size since birth and already shows a predilection towards unsociable hours and female company.’
With the first couple of months of fatherhood successfully negotiated, Carl says he’s looking forward to getting back out on the road for his second solo tour.
‘I always love touring. Playing live gets eclipsed by everything else, but that is the essence of what we do,’ says the star.
When I ask him about playing in Portsmouth in the past he says he knows the town well, having grown up in Whitchurch near Basingstoke.
‘I don’t know about playing in Portsmouth but I played around in Portsmouth when I was a kid – illegally appropriating cars, getting into fights with sailors, that kind of thing. I used to go there drinking quite a lot.
‘You know when you’re at school and your mates first get cars, you want to spread your wings and explore. Portsmouth was the last stop on my vomiting route.
‘It’s a tough town, I remember. But then there’s Southsea – the jewel in its crown,’ says Carl whose dad still lives in Hampshire.
Carl first met Pete Doherty when they were both studying Drama at Brunel University. He taught Pete to play guitar and a friendship and influential band blossomed.
But things turned sour when Pete’s drug problems escalated.
When his habits got in the way of the band’s commitments, they went on tour without him and Carl famously returned to the country on one occasion to find that Doherty had broken into his flat (and offence for which the singer was jailed).
So they each concentrated on their respective side projects, Barât with Dirty Pretty Things and Doherty with Babyshambles.
The Libertines officially split at the end of 2004, but the pair resolved their differences and have played together a few times since, most notably at last year’s festivals.
Carl says he enjoyed his Libertines summer shows ‘more than I’ve enjoyed anything in a long time’. But there are no more reunion shows in the pipeline at present.
‘It comes in waves,’ he explains. ‘And we all keep changing our minds.’
‘We may well decide to do more shows one day, if and when there is a creative output. If we write together again, there will inevitably be more gigs.
‘One day I’d like to work with them again. But right now, we’re all doing different things.’
As well as achieving success with Dirty Pretty Things (who themselves split in 2008) and also appearing in supergroups The Chavs and The Bottletop Band, Carl featured as actor in the film Telstar: The Joe Meek Story and the play Fool For Love and he published an autobiography Threepenny Memoir: The Lives of a Libertine in the Autumn, around the same time as he released his first self-titled solo album (his fifth album, in total).
Although he admits he prefers working with other people because he’s not good with his own company, Carl says life as a solo artist has been ‘grand, so far’.
‘It’s given me the freedom and confidence to have a go at things, but there’s also pressure, because you can’t hide behind anyone else.
‘My favourite things I write, I normally write on my own.
‘It’s funny because you’re favourite work isn’t often your most successful. Peter Sellers did that film about the gardener [Being There]. That’s the one the public don’t really get but he was most happy with.’
For the record, Carl’s favourite of his songs are So Long My Lover (solo) and Death On The Stairs (Libertines). But he says he’s ‘still chasing that perfect song’.
‘I’ve got no grand plan, no chart on my wall. I just want to write songs that people connect with.
‘I want to try new things, experiment with guitars, drums and bass. I’m always struggling to make that next album,’ he explains.
He reveals that he’s writing another solo album at the moment.
‘I’m really enjoying where that’s going. I’m dabbling with a concept. I have this idea for an accompanying screenplay. It’s really far fetched. At the moment I’m just trying to make it not silly.’
As well as the screenplay, Carl says he intends to write more books.
‘I saw Threepenny Memoir as the start of an ongoing thing,’ says Carl who plans to write further chapters of his life story as long as he’s ‘doing things worthy of recording, of writing down and making something creative out of’.
‘I’m quite lucky. I’ve only just realised that, because it’s always felt like an uphill battle. But I’ve had a lot of opportunities.’
The next opportunity for Carl could well be more acting. ‘It’s looking like an extreme possibility,’ divulges the artist, who is off to Paris the day after we speak ‘to discuss some theatrical pursuits’, but won’t say any more than that at this stage.
So, back to the question of Glasto. If The Libertines aren’t performing, might Carl play solo at the Somerset festival?
‘Yeah. I’m up for it. We’ll see.’
Carl Barât comes to the Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea on Wednesday, March 30, with special guests Foreign Office from 8pm.
Tickets remain valid from the originally planned February 24 show or cost £14 from (023) 9286 3911 or wedgewood-rooms.co.uk.
His next EP, Death Fires Burn at Night, is out on April 4.
A new documentary about The Libertines will premiere on the opening day of the East End Film Festival in London next month.
Carl Barât on...
...his relationship with Pete Doherty now
It’s fine and dandy as far as I know, but we’re not best friends as such.
...becoming a dad
It’s given me a bit more sense of purpose and focus and it’s tapped into some long-forgotten reservoirs of love.
...why he went solo
I’d had it with bands on a number of levels, chiefly the democracy thing. I wanted to do it my own way, to test myself rather than working to a shared vision or compromise.
...his self-titled solo album
If you’ve been working to the idea that it doesn’t have to sell anything, which I have, it makes it a lot easier, you can really just go with your heart. I always knew in my soul that this album was the truth and I genuinely love this record. I’ve never said that about a record I’ve made. I’m happier and more complete as a person for having made it.