For many, The Libertines represented the last breath of British rock music, with their stonking 2002 debut Up the Bracket bringing the notoriously belligerent Brit-pop age kicking and screaming into the early years of the ’00s. Alas, it wasn’t to be. By 2003 and the release of their single ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’, Doherty’s drug problems had opened up fissures in the band dynamic that mere super glue couldn’t repair.
And yet, in just a few years, The Libertines managed to leave a legacy of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery that remains to this day. So many years later, songs like that ‘Time For Heroes,’ ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ and ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’, have the power to evoke the rampant vitality of an age that has long since passed, but which for those three minutes lives on in all its swaggering glory. It’s a great pleasure, then, to have come across the isolated recording of Gary Powell’s rambunctious drum track for that 2003 single. Let’s take a closer look.
Before Carl Barat and Pete Doherty had even written anything of value, they had their eyes set firmly on success. “We’d get up on empty buildings and play to imaginary crowds, and then we’d go out and demand that people listen,” Doherty remembered back in a 2015 interview. “The things we’d plot and sing about, they weren’t real. But if you write about them enough, they eventually become true.” This fervent ambition would lead an early incarnation of The Libertines to sign to Rough Trade in 2001. That same year, Gary Powell was introduced to Barat and Doherty by Banny Poostchi, their then manager. Over the next few months, The Libertines wrote much of the material that would find its way onto their debut album and subsequently win them widespread critical acclaim.
The Libertines succeeded in combining the roughshod pop balladry of bands like The Housemartins with the frantic energy of Iggy and The Stooges, all while manifesting the illusion that they dwelled within a sort of imagined version of the UK, one shaped as much by the work of William Blake as it was by The Beatles. It’s no wonder that before they became The Libertines, Barat and Doherty tossed around the idea of going under the name Albion.
In this isolated recording, it’s clear how much energy Gary Powell’s drumming added to the overall sound The Libertines achieved; a performance style that seemed always on the cusp of falling apart like some Buster Keaton clown car. Powell, who also drummed for the likes of Dirty Pretty Things, New York Dolls, and Eddy Grant, acted as the immovable centre of the group’s sound, around which Doherty and Barret were able to spin chaotically in a whirlwind of punk guitar lines and uncontrollable feedback. Make sure you check out the recording below.