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As The Libertines head to the Secret Garden Party 2023, Carl Barât tells of ‘brotherhood’ feeling

One of the biggest bands of the early 21st century, The Libertines will be coming to the Secret Garden Party, in the countryside near Huntingdon, later this month.

The Libertines. Picture: Roger Sargent
The Libertines. Picture: Roger Sargent

Despite the much-publicised personal issues of Libertines co-frontman Peter Doherty, the band not only negotiated and survived those turbulent-yet-highly-successful early years of the 21st century, but happily they are still together today, with a bond that’s stronger than ever.

Carl Barât, who shares bandleader duties with Peter, his great friend and co-songwriter, was speaking to the Cambridge Independent from The Albion Rooms hotel in Margate, which he and his bandmates – Peter, bass player John Hassall and drummer Gary Powell – co-own.

The charming guest house with sea views echoes the name given to the flats in London where Carl and Peter previously lived.

“Albion is one of the ancient words which once referred to England,” explains Carl, 45, who now lives in Margate with his family, “and it’s something we sort of took hold of as an embodiment of our vessel, as it were, of all our dreams and our exodus to get to that land of milk and honey, so yeah, that seems to crop up everywhere.

“I mean my house in London was in Albion Road – I think every town’s got a bunch of Albions so there’s not that much to it, but it’s been a constant thing with the band.”

The Libertines. Picture: Secret Garden Party
The Libertines. Picture: Secret Garden Party

The Secret Garden Party, which takes place in countryside at Abbots Ripton from Thursday, July 20, to Sunday, July 23, is a popular independent event, offering four days of entertainment and camping, with the focus on championing new and creative ideas.

As well as headliners The Libertines, the 2023 line-up includes Underworld, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Roisin Murphy, Leftfield, De La Soul, Peaches and Grandmaster Flash. Carl says he is “very much” looking forward to playing the festival.

“We’re not doing very much, we’re sort of keeping our powder dry for the album year, which means we get to focus a bit more on the things we are doing,” he notes.

“I’ve been looking at it [The Secret Garden Party] on the website. I’m excited to see Grandmaster Flash, and there’s a lot of other acts that are really talented that I want to check out as well.”

What can festival-goers expect from The Libertines’ set? “We’re very bad at not playing new songs,” says Carl, “so we generally want to give people everything they want, and a bit of what we want, which will probably be the newer stuff, for sure.

“So a little glimpse into our next record, and essentially we’re going to be really giving it everything because we’ve not got many festivals, as I said, this year.

“We’re making the most of it and as it says on the festival website ‘live now pay never’ and I like that. That’s what we’ll be doing.”

It does indeed say ‘live now pay never’ in The Libertines’ biography on The Secret Garden Party website, as part of a paragraph which speaks of the celebrated quartet’s “ragged tunes, red military tunics, opiated poetry and ‘live now pay never’ lifestyle” adding that this “came to define the millennial angst of the early noughties”.

The Libertines. Picture: Roger Sargent
The Libertines. Picture: Roger Sargent

The band really were huge at the time, with hit singles such as Up the Bracket, Don’t Look Back into the Sun, Can’t Stand Me Now, and What Became of the Likely Lads to their name.

“I’ve always liked [album track] Death on the Stairs,” says Carl, who studied drama at Brunel University, “but weirdly it kind of depends on the weather.”

Elaborating on this, he observes, for example, that “if it’s stormy and romantic, then obviously the more sort of visceral, bitter songs with spiky energy”. He cites one of my favourite Libertines songs, What Katie Did, as a “nice one for a sunny day”.

The band’s most recent album, 2015’s Anthems for Doomed Youth, contains two songs, Gunga Din and Heart of the Matter which, Carl says, tend to generate a positive response from the crowd, as do most of the tracks from their debut LP, 2002’s wildly acclaimed Up the Bracket – a seminal release that has made numerous Greatest Albums lists.

The Libertines. Picture: Roger Sargent
The Libertines. Picture: Roger Sargent

One of the things that gave The Libertines such gravitas when they first exploded onto the scene was the sheer level of energy they exuded. Carl says he was “heavily into Rage Against the Machine, in terms of explosive energy” as a teenager.

“I was into Nirvana and all of that scene,” he adds, “so yeah, pretty normal for that age group, I suppose. I got quite into 90s hip hop as well – I used to listen to the UK equivalents, like Gunshot, I used to love them...”

Was Carl Blur or Oasis? “I loved Oasis,” he replies, “but Blur probably, I’d say out of the two, just because they were the more cerebral, which I could relate to, whereas Oasis were more about feeling.

“It’s hard to choose between the two but Oasis felt like a feeling, whereas Blur felt like a mindset.”

On the subject of 90s nostalgia, I was delighted to be able to discuss the new episodes of Beavis and Butt-Head with Carl.

“I really like them,” he says, “I’m not a big fan of watching the YouTube videos because I find those so abhorrent anyway, so I fast-forward those bits, but I love the bit where they get stuck in a toilet thinking it’s an escape room...

“It [Beavis and Butt-Head] still seems relevant, as much as it did then really, but I didn’t find their characters redeemable at all.

“I find them a little bit unlikeable because they are such nasty bastards, whereas The Simpsons there was a lot more heart there. But I was glad to see them return, I do like it.”

Looking back on those heady days, it seemed The Libertines were the name on everyone’s lips when it came to the hottest acts on the British music scene.

Carl reflects: “I think living the life before we got signed, traipsing round, the try-hard, the hope, the spirit, the brotherhood – that should be the best bit in any long-term band.

“Then the things that come after that, holding it together, that’s the real job of work. Travelling across London together in stolen vans, there was a real sort of brotherhood feeling, and that still exists today – we’re lucky enough with the band that our chemistry is bigger than the sum of our parts.”

The Libertines. Picture: Roger Sargent
The Libertines. Picture: Roger Sargent

Following their initial run, The Libertines broke up in 2004, before reuniting for one-off performances at the Reading and Leeds Festivals in 2010 and then for good in 2014.

It must feel good to have come out the other side, given the intense publicity that tended to surround Peter Doherty and his drug addiction problems in particular.

“Yeah, I mean I still sleep with one eye open,” jokes Carl, “but it’s great. Mick Jones of The Clash, who produced our first two albums, said to us when we were making the first and second records, ‘You need to enjoy this, this is it, if you don’t enjoy it, it’s all pointless’ and try as I might I could never really enjoy it – and that’s something I’m slowly starting to learn now – to actually enjoy it.”

Carl reveals that the new album has been written and recorded and that “we’re all very excited and looking forward to getting it out there”.

He says that they plan to start releasing singles from it this year but the actual release date for the album is yet to be confirmed.

Carl Barat. Picture: Darren Gerrish
Carl Barat. Picture: Darren Gerrish

The Libertines will be headlining this year’s Secret Garden Party in Huntingdonshire, which runs from Thursday, July 20, to Sunday, July 23. For details and tickets, visit secretgardenparty.com. For more on the band, go to thelibertines.com.

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