Setting the record straight, The Libertines way
Throughout their time in the public eye, The Libertines have seemed to be doing their best to live up to the ideals of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.
So when drummer Gary Powell confides that he’s perfectly happy doing the school run or popping to Sainsbury’s on the bus, it shatters a few illusions straight away.
‘I don’t even know what rock’n’roll is any more’ he chuckles.
But as the man keeping time behind Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, he has had a front row seat to one of the most intriguing musical soap operas of the past 15 years.
When Anthems For Doomed Youth was released last September, it was hard to believe that it’s only the band’s third album.
‘Things have been going great,’ says Gary. ‘The anticipation for us, considering there’s been a 200-year Tutankhamun-like relapse – it’s like we’ve been dug up from some tomb somewhere and people are still interested – it’s quite phenomenal.’
And Gary admits that the band had planned to release rather more than they ultimately have.
‘Considering we had all these intentions of being so prolific back in the early days, we were always recording, and it was going to be singles, EP, Pete dumping stuff on the internet - the tracks were just non-stop.
‘When we started moving into a somewhat professional mode, it tailed off, and that was primarily because they shoved us in every show they possibly could do. We were just constantly on the road.’
As has been well-documented, Doherty has had repeated problems with drug addiction, which have seen him entangled with the law on numerous occasions.
Gary says: ‘We never really had the opportunity to keep our eye on the prize and everything became one big party. I’m not going to lie, I was well up for that party.
‘I’m not going to lie and say I was in the background shaking my head at the others – I was joining in!
‘But it’s one of those things, you live and learn.’
‘And we’re now in a position where, by the grace of God or whoever – the public – we’ve been given another chance to set the record straight.’
With it being nine years since the second album, the self-titled The Libertines, there’s an almost missionary zeal about Gary’s desire to prove to the world that the band can be world-beaters, and not just tabloid fodder.
Following on from a headlining show in Hyde Park in 2014, and a surprise slot at Glastonbury last year, the band seem to mean business again.
‘I think we’ve come back with an album that’s surprised a few people and the intensity of the shows has allowed us to sit back and say: “Right, now we’ve got the opportunity”.
‘We’re not changing who we are, and the pressure is on now, even more so than if we’d done an all right-to-mediocre album. Now we’ve done something that strikes a chord with people and has merits, we’ve got to improve on it. We’ve got to let everyone know we are the real article.
‘The pressure’s on us, and that’s the way it should be.’
It also sees them performing in the largest venues of their career.
‘The upcoming dates are going to be interesting. There was a conversation as to whether we should be performing in arenas.
‘I’ve been told so many times before that we’re a medium-sized venue band at best, but then we did Hyde Park, and that was our version of a small venue – everyone crammed into a relatively small space, and it proved we can perform to the larger crowd and hold our own. That was a one-off, now we have to see if we can do it on a tour.’
‘If you’ll excuse the vernacular, I don’t want to be like Coldplay. I don’t want to be the band that has to go out and play to like 90m people every time they go out. I want to have that kind of emotional contact with our fans.
‘That could all change with an arena tour, I guess – it depends how we approach it.’
Of course they wouldn’t be The Libertines if they weren’t still getting attention from the tabloids. The day before we spoke there was a story doing the rounds about Doherty getting punched at an after-party in Hong Kong by Swervedriver’s singer.
‘The altercation with Swervedriver, that happened, he wanted to talk about it, and people wanted to listen, and then they wanted to promote it.
‘There was nothing to talk about apart from the music up until that one show where that happened. Pete didn’t do anything, Carl didn’t do anything, John and I rarely do anything anyway.
‘What press was there to talk about? When something of that nature happens, it’s always going to be press-worthy.’
But is that attention a distraction?
‘It is, but it would be for anybody, it’s how we deal with it, that’s the question
‘ Do we deal with it in a way that’s so creatively positive that it then detracts from the press we’ve just received, or do we continue on the same path that we were already on, I’m hoping for the former.’
Ever the optimist, Gary reckons that now is the time for his band to seize the nettle, and be the band they could have been before all the other things got in the way.
‘All of the bad press, that negative press, that Pete had, if we weren’t doing anything else, Pete’s epitaph would be: “Dated Kate Moss, did lots of drugs and went to jail”.
‘No-one would talk about the fact that’s he’s this very creative singer, the emotional context of everything he writes, it grabs people’s attention, it’s almost visceral.
‘And now he has the opportunity to not only be this multi-creative member of a band with a jagged past, which is always interesting - it gives it an almost phoenix from the flames feel.
‘I’m a member of the band, but unless I do something like rob a bank, no-one’s interested in me on a daily basis and I’m fine with that, it would make my life very difficult otherwise.
‘Every band needs something them that catapults people. We’re in an age where the media is so prevalent, they need something. Everybody needs an angle, within reason, to help propel the music into people’s imaginations.