The Libertines on new album 'Anthems for Doomed Youth', Clockenflap and gay fan fiction

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After years of making tabloid headlines for all the wrong reasons, The Libertines are back with a new album and a headline slot at Clockenflap. Time Out talks to them about reuniting, a night out in Hong Kong and gay fan fiction

A lot has happened since Pete Doherty and Carl Barât, along with bassist John Hassall and drummer Gary Powell first stuck a needle in the arm of British rock ’n’ roll. The press loved them from the off: in 2002 Britain’s NME put them on the cover before they’d put a record out. But from the start they carried the shadow of their own destruction. They were – initially in the best possible way, subsequently in the very worst possible way – a shambles. Within two years of the release of their acclaimed debut, Up the Bracket, they had disintegrated in a mess of drugs, amateur burglary and prison.

Now they’re back, with a third album, Anthems for Doomed Youth, which they recorded in Thailand. After triumphant sets across the festival circuit this year, they head to Hong Kong for our very own Clockenflap. Their return is a breath of smoky air to 2015’s clean-living music scene. Maybe we need their uncompromising devotion to the spirit of rock ’n’ roll more than ever…

You’re headlining Clockenflap festival, in many ways, THE biggest gig of the year in Hong Kong. What are your thoughts on that?
Hassall: We’re really looking forward to it. It’s been a long time since we played together in Asia, and are totally excited to experience the concert with the HK audience.

You’ve been to Hong Kong before. Can you regale us with a tale from one of your nights out in the city?
H: I went with my old band Yeti. The guitar player, Andy Deian, was of Chinese descent and all his family lived there. I remember we had a great night on the town and ended up at his sister’s apartment on the 40th floor with terrible hangovers and vertigo.

Was there a moment when the band’s relationship clicked again after the initial awkwardness of getting back together?

Barât: By the time we were in Thailand there was no awkwardness. We were just really eager to get on with [recording the album].

Is there a pressure on you returning to the fans after a 10 year hiatus?
B: A lot of them weren’t there then. You see a lot of 15-year-olds in the front row. We’ve just got to do what we do. If what we do is true but it isn’t good enough, then that’s a whole different issue.

Have you read any of The Libertines fan fiction out there?
Doherty: Don’t mention that! He gets really annoyed.
B: I wouldn’t even know where to look for it.
D: He’s lying. Someone pointed us in the direction of it. It’s fucking weird, man, isn’t it? A lot of effort has gone into it. There’ll be a poetic stream of consciousness and then suddenly, BANG! My cock will appear in Carl’s ear. I think it must be written by someone close to us, because apart from the actual sex side of things, which obviously isn’t true, some of it’s quite close to life.

In the past, how did you deal being in the tabloids all the time?

B: I’ve always been more interested in the crossword.
D: The tabloids can fucking kiss it, man. As soon as I get 12 number ones I’ll buy them out and have a huge bonfire. All the fucking journalists will be tied up, gagged and bound in flammable gaffer tape. All the people writing ‘Pete Doherty’s put on weight’, they’ll see! I’ll lose a stone as the sweat pours from me while their carcasses go up in flames. The squeals of their last breaths…
H: It’s been a long day.

You’ve denied comparisons between your new Thailand-recorded album and Blur’s latest, HK-recorded album, The Magic Whip. But how would this album have sounded different if you recorded it in London?

H: I guess the openhearted and good-natured people and surroundings definitely had a positive effect on us. Also, the fact that we couldn’t be distracted made a big difference. If we’d done it in London, I guess we would have had to really fight to find that discipline and tranquillity in ourselves, which may or may not have happened.

What advice would you give to a young band just starting out?
D: Just don’t listen to the naysayers who say that it’s a crap idea to put on this certain event at this certain place. Just do it. Play the really dodgy pub at the end of the street. You could meet a songwriting partner. You could get a blowjob. I don’t know.
B: You could get both, if you read the fan fiction.

Do you still get nerves before playing big shows?
D: ‘Nerves’ ain’t even the word, mate. Heebie-jeebies.
B: Fucking fear. Terror.

The Libertines Harbourflap Stage, Sat Nov 28, 9.45pm.

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