The Libertines - The Bootleg version of the Libertines Reunion
Alisha Ahmed & Federica Frezza 09/09/2010
We're in the second row in front of the main stage at Leeds, waiting for the coolest band of the moment to come up and we're all about to die.
This is the pure and unaltered truth of the two weeks building up to The Libertines' reunion. Some things will sound outrageous, some might seem unrealistic, but that sets a good excuse to tell you up front this is not going to be your regular report of just another something happening in the sparkling world of music. This is a takeover of the Libertines way of life. This is a diagram of what it felt like to be there (“there” being from London to Leeds, via Reading and some western forest).
So what brought us to the verge of a violent death?
Like every great investigation since the beginning of time the first step of our case started with someone's naiveté, and for that we thank you Mr. Doherty, because hadn't you felt the need to share the tangling sensation of excitement building up during rehearsal, hadn't you switched on your laptop in that very room, we wouldn't have been able to tell, through a very brief comparison with
official sources, that the Libertines were locked up for two weeks at the Joint, just a few yards from King's Cross, where you were often spotted strolling casually.
Your secret has been safe with us, and not many impatient fans found out what we did.
Certainly none of them bravely walked by every single day with the hope to catch the glimpse of a note, dreaming that somehow, a few meters away, you could feel their love. And after all, even if they had, only the tiniest bit would have emerged, weary cars driving in and out and lights being switched off at very late hours. Not a Libertine in sight. Not a sound.
It sure helped that all eyes were pointed elsewhere: on the 6th news was out directly from the fingers of Mr. Barât who light heartedly put the tweet out: there will be a very special announcement next Tuesday via my Twitter etc about a show for "a little London four piece”. Gossip about a warm up gig had started since early July, it was some sort of open secret. He also felt the need, In the very D-day, to stress his point and remind those eagerly anticipating: “remember, 10 am this morning folks”. Hundreds waited patiently, but something must have gone wrong. Maybe the alarm didn't go off, and to cut a long story short an hour and a half later people were driven up the walls as no announcement came. God bless the people at NME, for they filled in for him coming clean on the system that had been chosen to allocate the tickets for the gig of a lifetime: HMV Forum 25th of August, Libertines original line-up. A ballot was to be held, among everyone who'd registered on the Libertines' website. The battle was on.
We understand the dreaded ballot came into being out of pure and noble intentions, but men are greedy; in fact all everyone was doing at that point was opening more and more email accounts to try their luck wishing to stars and offering sacrifices to pagan gods. In the whole messy riot the Joint, the
rehearsal, the lock-up, were forgotten.
But starting week two, on Monday 16th, Hell broke loose on every single social media as the few lucky bastards started receiving emails notifying their winning. It was time for the frenzy. You could just feel the opportunity to be
there slipping away from your fingers, you were faced with the most likely chance of, from then on, having to live with the knowledge you'd been inches from music history and had distractedly looked the other way. You probably started estimating how much you would have been willing to give up for one of those tickets, many begged Mr. Barât via Twitter over and over again, desperation rising to unexplored heights.
Touts tried to prove themselves as the cleverest of all by trying and selling their winning codes via eBay, neglecting the teeny tiny detail that each and every code had been issued to the very person who had entered the ballot, and ID requests would have made it impossible to transfer them.
Fans promptly realized this and did their best to propel the prices sky high and have the auctions flagged.
All remaining hopes were resting upon the small print at the end of the non winning emails which advised you to “keep an eye on your email [because] if the winners [didn't] book all the tickets allocated to them by the deadline of 10 am Wednesday 18th of August [Ticketmaster] might [have been] in touch to offer you a second chance”.
A second chance did arise, and come the actual date a third and a fourth on a first come first served basis. People were fighting tooth and nail, so much so that Levi's decided to take advantage of their misery holding a contest on their Facebook page for the last remaining nine pairs of tickets. And oh such a bad
contest it was: during a couple of hours, at non specific intervals, a line from a Libertines song would pop up and you had to fill in the blanks. First correct comment would get the tickets. We estimated circa five hundred people hanging on to hope up until the last question, their fingers probably bleeding by then, eyes watery.
During the lock up we witnessed a voluntary exile, the Libertines were nowhere to be seen. No sightings, no news, no more helpful footage after that first hint.
Anyone would fear the worse at this point, especially since half of the band seemed to be otherwise occupied: on Thursday the 12th a sharply dressed Carl Barât was in Soho for the first album listening and consequent press for his forthcoming solo project. To speak the truth one of the interviewers did ask about the imminent Libertines reunion, and how the rehearsal was going, but Mr. Barât didn't let anything slip, thus fuelling doubts and questions along the lines of: “they're not in it for the money, are they?”
Never has Twitter been so quiet Libertines-wise as in those days and probably the only ones who could have had any insight whatsoever were the occasional costumers at the Elbow Rooms, where the boys unexpectedly turned up a few times for a pool game and a pint.
Meanwhile on Wednesday 18th the less gossipy half of the Libertines abandoned the safe haven of the Joint in favour of the Monarch in Camden, where Gary Powell could unleash his skills on the violent rhythms of The Invasion Of... .John Hassall was standing there in the front row supporting his friend and proving that given the right circumstances he can actually smile and move.
What news from the Joint then?
Only one thing is certain: the light on the first floor is on, the grid is still open and an unusually emotional Carl Barât tweets how it's been a “heartrending rehearsal”.
By the end of the week rehearsal time is done, the exile is lifted and the studio vacated as Mr. Doherty in the flesh gets spotted somewhere in Camden.
What everyone is prepared for is a truce of forty eight hours, but on Tuesday morning whisperings begin concerning a “secret” pre-warm-up gig for family and friends only, set for the same night, 24th August, which would explain the restlessness reigning at very early hours equally in Muswell Hill and Savernake Forest alike.
On that very night we undertook the first of a long streak of leaps of faith and cruised towards the Forum, ticketless, scheme less, but never hopeless.
Upon arrival an unexpected sight presents itself: there are a few people outside, but for some reason they're not crying their eyes out desperate to get in, they're not trying to find contempt in Can't Stand Me Now that's filtering through the doors, they have actually popped outside for a fag.
Judging from their faces you wonder whether they know what's happening inside is nothing short of a miracle, then we realize it's industry we're talking about, they're playing it cool and in choosing to do so testifying they're not enjoying life and shouldn't be entitled to witness magic, incapable as they are to see it.
But we have no room in our hearts for the green spite of envy because every time an unworthy comes out we can hear what's going on inside a little better, and all we can think about is an enthusiast blabber that goes something like “it's all happening”.
And then it DOES happen. One of the guards, the one with kind eyes, eventually takes pity on us and with the faintest nod signals us it's now or never, he gives us a very meaningful look and suggests we dare an attack, we rush to the door and then his much more strict colleague is about to stop us but he stands in the line for us and all of a sudden... we're in.
Let me lay this down clearly: we're into a half empty HMV Forum feasting our eyes on the Libertines playing Good Old Days.
Most of the audience to be honest is detached. They ooze around like it's a corporate party and it's all oh so boring and yeah a band's playing and it just so happens that they're the Libertines; hence they're sucking the energy that pours onto them from the stage but can't be bothered to give much in return.
Time For Heroes
Radio America, Up The Bracket
What A Waster
By I Get Along (encore) it's crystal clear: “those who get it get it, the others fuck'em.” And even they can't hold back completely, many cave in and wobble their heads, and that's enough, as long as in the crowd there are Geoffs (Travis) and Jameses (Endeacott) who are fully aware that, on a cold October night almost ten years ago, what they saw really was the Beatles in Hamburg in 1962, and who are not ashamed to show it.
Celebrations are held separately, Gary and John leaving early, Carl Barât in Camden catching up with Amy Winehouse and Peter Doherty hanging around the Forum until late, playing Monopoly according to the Sun.
The following night James Golden God Endeacott looses the few restraints left and turns everybody on with his live report minute by minute from the dressing room first as the boys come in (some later than others) and in the crowd afterwards, culminating his overlook on the whole reunion thing in a flood of tears, hard-ons and relieved laughter.
In the few hours before the show rumour had it a super cool after party was to be thrown. Those not invited knew nothing of the where, when or even the if.
But had you looked close enough you would have probably noticed the one single tweet dated 20th August that claimed a very good authority had leaked about the Libertines at the Lock Tavern in Camden on Wednesday night.
What was a faint lead turns into certainty by the time we discover the Lock Tavern is in fact to be closed early for a private party, guest list only.
Wristbands are involved and Levi's has offered eight pairs of them in the afternoon with the same dreaded method used for the HMV tickets. The winners sport them proudly and quite rightly so.
We are waiting outside under the thinnest rain for God knows what. A glimpse of them? The pub has thick drapes pulled over the windows. Another sympathetic bouncer? They don't look softies, and even though people are going in and out swapping wristbands, we can't think of cheating like that. Besides none of the lads has shown up yet. Time goes by slowly, reports from
our loyal Mr. Endeacott tell us they're on the move. More than an hour later Carl arrives and is rushed inside. He'll be the only one of them there, in the end.
At this point it suddenly turns out God does know what we're waiting for: HIM in the shape of a pretty girl with a black bob. She comes up to us and casually asks: “Do you have wristbands?”. We sadly admit we don't. She promptly hands two of them to us with a cheerful “There you go!” and vanishes, without giving us the time to thank her properly. It takes us a few moments to realize what's just happened and what it means for the development of our night, but somehow we manage to put the damn strips on our wrists and walk inside, triumphal.
Amazing discovery n#1: free bar (making the whole wait so worth it).
Amazing discovery n#2: everyone wants a piece of Carl, who would have guessed it!, but even diehard groupies can't find him. Which is funny, because he's not hiding or anything, he's just amiably chit chatting right in front of us, relaxed and all smiles.
By 2:30 am it's obvious none of the others are going to join him. Carl probably realizes the same thing and leaves. To be honest Mr. Endeacott had warned everyone in the SE6 area, so it's not a surprise to us when the following morning reports locate Amy Winehouse at the Malmaison in East London, drinking the night away, where it's reasonable to be believe the real VIP after
On Thursday everyone is getting ready for the festival weekend, except those who are keen on seeing how a libertine can pull off a gig at the Levi's store in Regents Street. Does it get any less guerrilla than that? Faithful Golden God doesn't sound too excited either. Nevertheless we stand in the rain for FIVE hours, in and out of the store for smokers' needs, without tickets per usual, nor names on the bloody guest list.
Again, if we were to say what we were hoping for, we couldn't. Some say smoking has some sort of social relevance, and we start to share the same opinion as, with almost an hour to go, one of the bouncers, turns out the actual head of security, needs a lighter.
As a thank you he gives us an upgrade of the meaningful nod: he gives us his word he's going to let us in, all we have to do is to be there at the door opening, and it's not like we have any place else to be, our car is loaded with our luggage for Leeds a few streets away, the only missing thing now is Mr. Barât, we'll leave when he says so.
The last hour is made of sixty stingy painful minutes, the rain just won't stop and people start to queue. Our inside man lets us hang with a few glances, definitely meaningless, and we start to fear maybe our lucky star has faded, exhausted after the Forum and the after party stunts.
The Barât Party, Golden God included, storms in through the front entrance as your regular group of common human beings, so much so that not many in the queue have the time to realize that's exactly who they think they've seen, and then disappears downstairs.
Was our faith misplaced?
No it wasn't.
When the guest list people are all in, our time comes ("and they said it would never come for us"), we get the stamp on our hands and everything and we're allowed to the second blessed free bar of this story. It's there and then, with a glass of white wine each, that we gaze on two reasons why young generations can look at the future with trust: James Endeacott's boys are being very well raised, t-shirts and headphones look so right you can just tell they're learning from one of the best.
When we're rushed upstairs we find half of the crowd has already taken its place around what is the smallest stage Mr. Barât has ever performed on, and he's seen plenty.
After a couple of false starts Carl finally takes the... stage (step, more like), embraces his guitar and strums away, playing his own songs for the delight of everyone who's there for him, rearranging Libertines songs to console those who've been left heartbroken having missed them the previous two nights.
In between songs the Q&A is breezy and well directed, Carl is more talkative than expected and dedicates songs to young french girls with sly grins.
There's no time to hang around after the gig. Leeds is far away, we have to get cracking.
This is the Libertines way alright, but the Girlie Approach: no tents for us. We're staying at the local Hilton Hotel, and thank God for that, when we get on site it's clear we could have never survived a night in a tent. We're listed as weekend guests thanks to God Is In The TV, we get our wristbands and enjoy the feeling of entitlement they give us. No longer shall we be misfits! No more waiting with puppy eyes as everyone, his wife and the pet goldfish gets in!
Also, as if it were some sort of Area 51, we find out about the existence of a guest area, with a bar, wooden tables and, HEAR OH HEAR proper bathrooms.
Can it get any better than this?
Starry eyed, full of joyful hope, all our lives in front of us, we head towards the main stage, thinking with careless ingenuity we're going to get ourselves two nice spots in the front row, wait something like four or five hours, which is totally fine because it's the perfect festival weather, and then get what we rightfully deserve: the Libertines, finally, in all their glory.
Turns out it's a long and bumpy ride. Things get really scary with the Maccabees, spiral out of control with Modest Mouse, become an obvious hazard with the Cribs.
Inches away from a potential pint of piss and a broken neck caused by crowd surfing we have to look ourselves in the eye and admit the truth: we do love the boys in the band, but we'd like to keep on doing it, and for this survival is key. We then elbow our way out of the front lines and fall back in retreat.
The Sun is setting, when the time finally comes, and we're standing out of the mayhem, our eyes run back and forth from the stage to the huge screens at the sides of it. Fighting back warm tears of joy we see The Libertines starting their set nervously, they seem slightly tensed.
The setlist is the same that was compiled for the HMV gigs, obviously, it's so good to hear properly the songs we missed on the 24th, to finally see them perform the way they can when everything is right. Peter's guitar sounds somewhat crackling, which is annoying, but the point is it's Carl and Pete again, sharing mics and glances and looks that communicate much more than words ever could.
Three songs into the set, right after Vertigo, Peter Doherty storms offstage.
Carl follows him quickly. In a split second your whole life as a Libertines fan flashes in front of your eyes: maybe something was off and pissed Mr. Doherty to the point not even a 1.2 million pounds penalty could force him to keep on playing? Has Carl given him another of his mean looks? Was it all a scam? A fly in his drink? An unexpected phone call he just had to take?
Gary and John improvise an impromptu backtrack to keep the audience warm.
And it's a few seconds of pure panic before the shot on the screens shows what's been going on in the front rows: the crowd has been crashing in violent waves against the barriers and the band had to be stopped for safety issues, lead singers rushed off stage to try and calm their even too excited fanbase.
You could probably hear a sigh of relief miles away, as the boys come back on stage and decide to make an even stronger point, proving that music is still what they're best at.
When Don't Look Back Into The Sun starts we give in to the shedding, because it's now clear, we've lost so many great songs in these last six years, and with a night like this it's hard to tolerate the thought there's no forthcoming album nor tour, and this might just be a two nights' stand.
Can't Stand Me Now sees the launch of Peter's harmonica into the crowd, later to be followed by Gary's drumsticks. We don't even dare to imagine the fights endured to get hold of those tokens.
I Get Along has a bittersweet taste, especially for us, knowing it's the last one of the set. To make sure it is Peter knocks his microphone stand once, it's repositioned by a roadie, he knocks it down again and then proceeds to knocking down Carl's too, thus rushing the song to a quick end.
The boys hug and cuddle for a second, then descend.
We stumble back to the guest area, dreaming of fateful meetings, of slightly drunken occasional chats, but obviously they don't appear.
After all it's Reading tomorrow, have they opted for an early night in?
We're not registered for Reading, naturally. And we're not even contemplating the idea of driving all the way there, dedicated as we are to just review Leeds as a festival on its own.
This stands up until breakfast.
By elevenses we're going nuts at the image of the Libertines playing Reading and us being so far away, given what's happened in Leeds, all those little unexpected details we would've missed hadn't we been there, all of this guarantees Reading won't be a simple replica of yesterday night; this is the reunion of the decade, maybe we need to shift our priorities. And by 2 p.m. we do: we're back in the car, heading south.
Once again we find ourselves ticketless, scheme less and out of ideas except for one, which is what you're reading now, a comprehensive account of the whole Libertines' Comeback adventure. A still of the moment when the band who reshaped British music of the naughties decided to reclaim its crown.
216 miles later we're in the town of the tideless Thames and everything revolves around the festival. It's very different from Leeds, the site is right in the middle of town and much more condensed, it's not stretched out like Leeds' site is. It's probably because most of the Reading crowd is from London, and usually if you're from London you don't do walking.
Right. How are we going to get in?
It's sort of tricky, considering we're supposed to be in Leeds, at the moment. It's getting late, no touts in sight even if we wanted to, the Sun is setting once again to be bid farewell by Horrorshow.
Despair creeps into our hearts, because if we don't find a way in we won't be able to write the report we're fantasizing about, we would have royally fucked the Leeds' report, basically our journalists' careers would be screwed.
We need strength, we need courage. We need to be so bold. We need to focus instead of dying inside as we realize we can't hear Last Post On The Bugle as well as we thought we would.
It takes us eight songs to go berserk.
Something superior gets a hold of us, at this point. We have a plan and we're fearless, as we approach the lady in the press box. She's the first one to know about our project, our complete report. And against all odds, and rules while we're at it, we're given wristbands and we run, we run like there's no tomorrow, we run like we've got hellhounds chewing on our shins, we run like we've never run before because there's Don't Look Back Into The Sun starting just as we enter the guest area... yet again.
We join the crowd and yes, let me stress this one too: we were at Leeds yesterday, we're at Reading now.
The atmosphere is palpably different, be it the proximity to London, be the second day of the festival, the last official gig of the reunion, or be what it may, but they're more relaxed and having much more fun. Stares are locked, and one of the mic stands is practically superfluous.
When it's Time For Heroes we realize we were right, we know for sure we couldn't miss this second gig, and not because they're sweatier and cuddlier than yesterday, but because when the Libs come on stage you can never truly tell what's bound to happen. Because half way into the song, just as Carl's solo is about to start, the power is cut off, the guitar riffs die and Peter walks away AGAIN, followed by Carl a few moments later. This time the screens clarify what's going on promptly, there's a proper riot exploding and it's getting massive.
Legends about the same episode happening yesterday were circulating already, so the well-informed understand what they're going through is a take two along the same lines, and thankfully this keeps everyone from freaking out.
Learning from experience that is, the rude boys (and girls) on the oars have endured six long years, they're tough, but have missed the Libertines. The band is probably learning from experience too, is this the magnified version of the gigs they used to conjure up at the Albion Rooms? Are these the Good Old Days? Fact is, they've missed the Libertines as well, it's for all eyes to see.
So much that, as I Get Along approaches and everyone, boys included, feel it's all about to be over, Peter and Carl linger for a moment of intimacy in the shadows of the back of the stage. It's there and then that Peter mouths what everyone is thinking, and utters "Let's keep going. I love you, I love you so much".
Carl is left stunned for a moment, then can't help himself, throws his arms around him, whispers "I love you too", grazes a kiss on Pete's neck and then goes a tad too far, by adding "Right, get it off" and rips Peter's shirt open.
We're not making this up, it's no fanfiction, it's up to you to give any kind of meaning to these facts.
The song is performed with a slightly accelerated BPM, and after it's done the whole four of them come closer to the edge of the main stage to be acclaimed and part ways. Carl is somewhat impatient and tries to drag Peter offstage ahead of everyone else, but fails as he's busy throwing one of his shoes in the crowd, finishing his drink, hugging the others as well, and this gives Carl the time to realize he's got something else to do too: he goes back to the mic and, with a sincere look, he addresses the crowd with a heartfelt "Reading! Thank you."
As we head back to the privileged guest area we can only tell you of legends about what is going on backstage, with hordes of unmistakable Libs fans being smuggled in and out the exclusive area, which makes us rightfully suspect something akin a proper party is going on back there. But, as 216 miles still await us on our way back to Leeds, with still one festival day to witness, we prepare for the retreat -and the journey- while our thoughts go to our beloved Mr. Endeacott, strangely missing from the festival sites but desperately calling for news about the boys on his weapon of choice, a.k.a. Twitter.
We did return to Leeds, eventually; we did partake at the third and final day there, thus adding to our kaleidoscopic knowledge of Mr. Barât the notion he has such cool friends of the likes of Adam Green.
The Libertines' way of life Girlie Approach sails on, and we do hope the Albion is bound to do the same; in the aftermath of the festival weekend no official statement has been issued, Carl is busy promoting his solo project, Peter is stranded somewhere in Wiltshire, Gary is engaged with The Invasion Of... (their debut album is coming out on the 4th of October just like Mr. Barât's) and John is quiet as usual. Whispers of new material run through Twitter every now and then, light hints in interviews here and there, but obviously nothing is certain, there are no facts as per now. Luckily, since it's the Libertines we're talking about, feelings normally matter much more than facts do.
Stranded in London ourselves, we can understand what it feels like when the Libertines Merry Go Round has stopped, and why everybody's always trying just not to go home.
We're trying to focus on the thinnest of hopes, thinking that if all this happened unexpected as it did, something more might be in store. Were this to happen there's no doubt whatsoever the Libertines' army will rise again, we certainly hope we'll get the chance to, so that the next time we'll hear the peculiar yet familiar question "Did you see the stylish kids in the riot?" we'll be proudly able to say "Yes. That was us."