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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 June, 2004, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Britain's brightest rock hopes?
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

The Libertines
The band have achieved a mythic reputation
The Libertines, whose singer Pete Doherty has flown to Thailand in a last-ditch attempt to kick drugs, are not a band who have crept quietly on to the British music scene.

The London four-piece, led by the songwriting partnership of Carl Barat and Pete Doherty, emerged to almost instant acclaim in 2002.

Coming into a rock scene ruled by the garage-rock sensibilities of bands such The White Stripes, The Strokes and The Hives, The Libertines were seized on by a British rock press keen for local heroes amidst the sudden hunger for the new wave of US rock.

Their championing echoed the fervour with which the British rock press hailed Suede and Blur in the early 90s, seeing those bands an antidote to the domination of grunge.

The Libertines' arrival - complete with John Hassall on bass and Gary Powell on drums - came with the promise of legends-in-the-making, thanks not to record company machinations and heavyweight marketing, but to the band building a fanbase through shows and through the internet.

It was a really underground thing, very much in keeping with the DIY punk ethic
Jody Thompson, BBC 6 Music

The relationship between guitarist/singers Barat and Doherty became the band's focus. Some critics likened the relationship to that between The Clash's songwriting nucleus, Mick Jones and Joe Strummer.

When the band signed a deal they signed to Rough Trade, the fiercely independent record label that signed The Smiths in the 1980s.

Their track I Get Along was a BBC Radio 1 Single of the Week, and the likes of the NME were quick to promote The Libertines' aura of The Next Big Thing.

After their first manager Banny Poostchi left in October 2003, they turned to Alan McGee, the Scottish mogul who as head of Creation Records launched Oasis on an unsuspecting music scene.

Their debut album, Up The Bracket, released in October 2002, was produced by Mick Jones.

The Libertines' Carl Barat (left) and Pete Doherty
Pete Doherty (right) admitted burgling Carl Barat (left)

But along with the band's excitable live shows - which often ended with the audience storming the stage, or post-gig parties in fans' houses - there was a dark edge too.

Both Barat and Doherty admitted to drug problems - the latter living with an addiction to both heroin and crack cocaine.

Their often stormy relationship came to a head last year when Doherty broke into Barat's flat and stole some of his belongings, for which he served two months in prison.

On his release he rejoined the band but the reconciliation has been fraught with arguments, and continuing drug problems.

'Albion celebration'

He has already tried - and failed - detoxing at London's famous Priory clinic, and at a centre in France.

"The thing about The Libertines is that they used the internet and their fanclub, and it was a really underground thing, very much in keeping with the DIY punk ethic," said Jody Thompson, a BBC 6 Music reporter and former news editor of the NME.

"They understand their fans, and their fans understand them. The demarcation between being the band and being a fan is sometimes a little strange."

Ms Thompson described the band as having a relationship with their fans with was similar to the early incarnation of the Manic Street Preachers.

"With the Manics there was a whole Welsh thing, and with The Libertines there's this Albion celebration of Britishness that has nothing to do with racism."

It is not just Mick Jones who has noticed the band's talents.

Paul Weller
Paul Weller: "It's his demons not ours"

This week Paul Weller told 6 Music presenters Julie Cullen and Mark Sutherland: "I think the Libertines are pretty special and I think Pete Doherty's a great singer and a great artist all round.

His advice for the troubled Doherty?

"Don't take crack and smack's probably the best advice," he said.

"But hopefully he'll come through it because it'd be a waste of real talent. But it's his demons not ours. It's not for us to talk, really."

Former Smiths frontman Morrissey has also been impressed.

The band were due to appear in the Meltdown season he is curating at London's South Bank Centre this month, before pulling out due to Doherty's problems.

Ms Thompson said it would be interesting to see the band without Doherty, who has collaborated with other groups as The Libertines prepare their second album.

"I think they will be able to continue without him. He is becoming more of a hindrance than a help."

But she said whatever Doherty's future in the group, the important thing was that he beat his drug problems.

"There isn't any glory in rock stars dying from drug overdoses. That's not rock 'n' roll."

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