The Libertines had a rocky path to fame and fortune, and when at last they found it, things weren’t quite so groovy within the group as first glance might have suggested. The band formed in London in 1997 when Carl Barât and Pete Doherty grew close after being introduced to each other by Doherty’s elder sister, Amy-Jo Doherty, with whom Barât was living at the time. The two budding songwriters moved into a flat together after a while and began to write music together.
Through the late 1990s, the band had struggled to find gigs in the bustle of London and often had to do a lot of the leg-work themselves, regularly finding themselves playing to an underwhelming congregation at the pub in Islington where Doherty worked pouring pints. But soon came a little more recognition as they added more worthy songs to their repertoire and gained chemistry together as performers.
By 2000, they had a solid line-up with Gary Powell recruited on percussion and John Hassal on bass. The gigs began to build traction in the London indie scene and they were soon recognised by contemporaries. When finally in a position where they could spend more time in the recording studio, they had a wealth of interest from the likes of Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, who produced ‘What a Waster’, and Mick Jones of The Clash who produced much of the band’s first album Up the Bracket in 2002.
The first album saw the band launch into stardom with sold-out gigs and regular support slots alongside The Strokes. All the while, though, the band had been fraying at the seams as Doherty’s romance with drugs had begun to spiral out of control with money less of an object and partying with the London elite at his fingertips. By 2003, Doherty’s antics would see him miss studio sessions and rehearsals adding to the growing tension within the group. The Libertines had no choice but to continue without the estranged Doherty for much of the year, a dark period for Doherty that would see him end up in prison.
The Libertines (2004) remains the band’s masterpiece to this day with many heralding it as one of the finest indie records of the 2000s. The cover art itself reveals so much about the band and froze in history a poignant moment in their history. The photo was taken on October 8th, 2003, backstage in the Tap ‘n’ Tin Club, Kent where the band played a passionate and historic gig, later to be named ‘The Freedom Gig’. The show commenced only a few hours after Doherty had been released from prison in the wake of his sentence. Strangely enough, earlier in the year, he had been sentenced for breaking into Barât’s flat and stealing his computer and a few other valuables to fuel his wayward addictions; this was initially, and unsurprisingly, a spanner in the works of their friendship, but during Doherty’s time in prison they somehow managed to bury the hatchet.
The photo shows Barât embracing his bandmate as if in absolution. Barât looks toward the camera with an air of power as if defending a frail and vulnerable looking Doherty, who appears either caught up in the emotion of the moment or on the fringes of a chemically induced stupor. The pair seem to be exhibiting their matching tattoos of the band’s name in Barât’s handwriting. They had got these tattoos as a symbol of their allegiance to the band and of their enduring companionship through thick and thin.
It appears that Barât has been very patient and understanding of Doherty’s turbulent behavioural issues over the years. Of course, there were times when the arguments tore the band apart, but they always seem to have found a way to patch up their differences and reunite after years of separation. This is the mark of a true bond in friendship which for me symbolises the band, and no other photograph reflects this than the one used for the artwork for The Libertines.