It started with a blood-curdling scream: “GEEEETTAAOUTTOFIT!” Pete Doherty’s visceral howl opens “Up The Bracket”, the lead single from The Libertines’ debut album of the same name. Released 20 years ago, on 21 October 2002, the record was an unruly, triumphant beast that revived British guitar music from its post-Britpop doldrums and gave the country an answer to the New Rock Revolution being led in the United States by The Strokes and The White Stripes. The accompanying music video made bright red military tunics an instant indie fashion staple, while a nondescript alleyway in Bethnal Green became a site of pilgrimage for dedicated fans. “That’s still going on now,” notes Carl Barât, whose volatile partnership with Doherty formed the nucleus of the band. “I think the council cover over [the graffiti] every year, but it keeps coming back. What a funny time that was. The video concept was, ‘We’ll bring the cameras round and leap around the house pretending to play guitars.’ Halcyon days!”
Barât is sat in the bar at The Libertines’ hotel and studio The Albion Rooms in Margate, sipping from a mug of tea. On “Death of the Stairs”, Up The Bracket’s second track – and still his favourite – he once sang: “Don’t bang on about yesterday, I wouldn’t know about that anyway”. Today, though, he’s in the mood to reminisce about Up The Bracket, which remains The Libertines’ finest half-hour. Marrying urgent, garage-rock guitar riffs with the idiosyncratic lyrical wit of The Kinks and The Jam, the record was delightfully ramshackle and boisterous, the sound of a band giddy on youthful rebellion. Their songs about drinkers, smokers and “good-time girls” gripped the cultural zeitgeist, cigarette in hand, and were full of endlessly quotable lines. Take “Time For Heroes”, on which Doherty observes that there are “few more distressing sights than that / Of an Englishman in a baseball cap”. Twenty years on, it still draws a wry smile of recognition.
The story of Up The Bracket began half a decade before its release. In the mid-Nineties, Barât heard about Doherty before he met him. While he was a drama student at Brunel University, he lived in student halls in Richmond and became close friends with Doherty’s sister Amy-Jo. “She kept saying how much he admired me and couldn’t wait to meet me,” recalls Barât. “I was expecting this little introvert, I didn’t expect him to be six foot three! I met this really enormous, towering, argumentative kid. We ended up bickering and sniping at each other, which obviously became a lifelong, beautiful friendship.” Their friendship, and their rivalry, was sealed at that first meeting when Barât said he had to go to an audition. “Pete said, ‘I’ll come with you’, then he auditioned and got the f***ing part!” says Barât with a laugh. “Then he announced that he didn’t go to the university, and everyone was roundly disappointed. Except me.”