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The Strictly Hall Of Fame – Inductee #3: The Libertines

Even the most dyed in the wool, tattered leather jackets and windmills, rock neanderthal would struggle to the deny the sheer strength of sentiment exuding from the Main Stage in 2010. When Pete Doherty and Carl Barat stared into each others eyes, shared a mic, and all but kissed each other flush on the lips – those two men, singing decidedly out of tune with off time guitars at their back, held the biggest Main Stage crowd since Rage Against The Machine in the palm of their hands.

The Libertines triumphant two night only (Reading & Leeds) comeback, in cliché football terminology, was a seething cauldron of emotion. The Libertines aesthetic adhered to a classic narrative: the faye good boy, with the looks if not the wits, but definitely talent, descends dramatically into the gutter. He leaves his friends in the lurch, falling off the horse time and time again, taking an ever-dwindling fanbase for despairing ride – only to come good in the end.

The thing is, as attractive as that narrative is, The Libertines weren’t really cool in a traditional sense. They may have redefined the Camden look and sound, but in their absence becoming a fan retrospectively was never really en vogue. When they took the stage at Reading, it was stunning to see such a giant gathering of the wholly converted. The scenesters who normally appear for reformations, the “oh yeah I love the Rolling Stones, Satisfaction and all that” crowd were noticeable by their absence. Instead, when Pete and Carl launched into “Horrorshow” and “The Delany” the crowd surged and bellowed bizarre words about brown horses and boys who can’t play guitar in unison.

The myth of The Libertines lived and breathed at Reading and Leeds, 100,000 fans entirely focused on one band’s story and music. Perhaps it was the look, perhaps it was the raw ammatuerish nature of their best tunes, maybe it was the tension between the two songwriters, or maybe it was the fact that The Libertines were the UK’s very own Strokes – who knows? Whatever the reason, The Libertines made an unmistakable connection with a generation of rock fans.

More specifically Reading and Leeds fans – this isn’t just Strictly patting our favourite festival on the back – look at the energy and passion of the crowds at Reading and then contrast that with their appearances at other festivals. There was no waiting for the hits, this was all or nothing: a crowd giving everything they had to one specific moment – and it was bloody magical.

Of course, The Libertines didn’t just arrive fully formed in 2010 – the road to reunion was built on ruins, squandered potential and crushing letdowns. Reading wasn’t immune to the band’s most destructive instincts. 2004 (coincidentally my first Reading) saw The Libertines occupying the third from top slot. They were arguably the hottest band on the line up that year, “Can’t Stand You Now” had stormed the charts and their self-titled sophomore album was due for release right after the Festival.

It was one of the best main stage line-ups in memory (The Roots, Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines, Morrissey’s return, and The Friggin’ White Stripes) and for Reading 2004 to go down well all that bands had to do was turn up…oh…right…turning up, on time, when billed…The Libertines Achilles heel. Pete Doherty no showed, allegedly quitting the band and leaving Carl Barat to solider on alone. He did rather well, and compared to 50 Cent’s bottling and Sunday’s sound issues, The Libertines managed to dodge the headlines with a workman like but ultimately underwhelming performance.

You have to wonder how Carl Barat remained so calm and professional. The biggest break of your career and your songwriting partner and band’s poster pin up, doesn’t even bother to show up – how do you prepare yourself for that? Oh yeah, that’s right, he had plenty of practice, because the exact same thing happened in 2003. Modern fans don’t realize how lucky they are, Reading Festival is incredibly professional these days, the idea of Jay-Z, The White Stripes (Jack had a really good reason) and Pete Doherty pulling out seems entirely alien.

The set, again, wasn’t a disaster. Carl played karaoke as the band wore decidedly fucked-off facial expressions. The crowd were equally lethargic. At times they chanted Carl’s name, but more often they amused themselves by belting out “We Want Pete” and “Where Is Pete”.

By comparison their 2002 Radio One Tent was a cakewalk. A tease of their potential, the promise that in future Reading could expect bigger and better performances from the boys in the band.

All this strife and frustration might have you wondering: why exactly are The Libertines entering the Strictly Hall Of Fame when they’ve treated Reading so badly?

Quite simply, they’re the bad relationship that’s impossible to break up. They’re the partner that perennially lets us down; leaving us at the alter only to turn up wasted at 3am expecting us to lend them some cash. Reading and Leeds should have given up on them back in 2003, definitely in 2004, but there was that lingering thought in the back of our heads: what if they get it together? What if the likely lads come good? It could be bigger and better than before: everyone would see what we see and feel what we feel.

It’s bad counterintuitive logic, it’s the fairy tale myth that never comes true, it’s the lie that ruins lives and sours relationships – but The Libertines only went and did it. Coming good on the biggest stage of all and delivering one of the most memorable, spell binding and flat out brilliant sets in Reading History. David Hayter

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Author: david

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