Carl Barat: ‘The Libertines have unfinished business’
PUBLISHED: 08:00 11 May 2017
Alex Bellotti talks to Carl Barat about heavy metal, themed hotels and the electric spirit of Camden Town ahead of Camden Rocks
After 15 years in the public eye, it’s a wonder that Carl Barat can still throw up the odd surprise. His success with The Libertines is well documented: alongside co-frontman Pete Doherty, he became a champion of the mid-noughties indie scene, with their whisky-soaked, Albion-invoking garage rock picking up the baton from such stalwarts as The Clash, The Smiths and Blur.
So when he references heavy metal as the inspiration behind his latest project, it catches you off-guard. “Oh yeah, Pantera, Megadeth, I grew up on all of that,” the 38-year-old laughs. It has, apparently, proved the perfect grounding for Carl Barat and the Jackals, the comparatively heavy four-piece rock band he held open auditions for in 2014, attracting more than a thousand applicants and much media intrigue.
“It was fun,” he says now of the process. “Obviously what none of them knew was that I was looking at it in terms of the long haul – it was more of a personality test. Like breeding racehorses, for want of a better analogy. I still think I got the cream of the crop.”
Less drama, too, you would hope. By comparison to The Libertines, where Doherty’s infamous drug problems saw him burgle Barat’s flat in 2003, go to prison and prompt a six-year hiatus, this must be plain sailing.
“I didn’t want a life of complication, any more than it already is,” Barat admits. “Although I suppose if that’s your angle, don’t get into a band.”
Since releasing their well-received debut record, Let in Reign, in 2015, the Jackals have been on hold while their singer returned to The Libertines to promote their long-awaited third album. Now, however, they are back on the road, ahead of a new EP, Harder They Fall, and a date at Camden Rocks festival.
As Barat notes, it’s nice to play a home show. Although currently a Stoke Newington resident, his history with NW5 dates back to his early days guerrilla gigging with Doherty in the Camden Road flat they christened ‘The Delaney Mansions’ (“The chaos is all my memory will allow me”). Indeed, he’s appeared at the festival for most of its previous incarnations since 2009.
“Camden’s pretty much the same beast, it hasn’t changed much over the years,” he says. “Well it has in many ways – you can do as much wailing and gnashing of one’s teeth as you like, it’s not going to stop the developers unfortunately.
“But there is still a spirit to celebrate that I believe is immovable by bulldozer. In terms of band circuits, movements, being a creative home for people coming to London, it hasn’t lost that. It’s got an electricity which I think Camden Rocks brings together.”
It’s clear that Barat is relishing the widening of his portfolio in recent years. After the break up of Dirty Pretty Things – the band he set up in the wake of The Libertines’s split – he spoke of his disillusionment at playing within his “comfort zone”.
Since then he has released an orchestrally ambitious solo album, formed the Jackals, returned with The Libertines, acted as Gene Vincent in the film Telstar and written an autobiography, alongside production work for new groups including BlackWater, who also appear at Camden Rocks. He must feel suitably challenged.
“I suppose it’s difficult to ever call The Libertines a comfort zone anyway. Honestly I want to do everything, be everything, all the time, so it’s very hard for me to set out with one mistress, as it were. Sorry, that’s sounds a bit smutty, doesn’t it?”
Next on the list – and this sounds a good one – is a Libertines hotel. “Subject to the hoops to jump through, planning and whatnot, we’re all together on it. Essentially we need for the old… I was going to say old bones of the soldiers of Arcady, but that’s a bit rich – we need a home for our creativity. All four of us [including bassist John Hassall and drummer Gary Powell] are spread out across Europe: Denmark, Paris, Stoke Newington and Clapton.”
Once this is locked down, Barat suggests, The Libertines will look to their next chapter. I wonder if, with more time now spent apart from each other, they appreciate getting back into the studio more.
“This is the wonderful thing about going off in our own direction,” says Barat. “When we get back together again, the prodigal sons… sorry I’m getting a bit wordy again, I’ve just been watching Taboo. But whatever we bring to it from our other ongoings is always healthy – the point being that it’s therefore hard to predict what we’ll get up to until we’re there.”
After everything they’ve been through, it seemed very unlikely a decade ago that we’d ever be talking of new albums, tours and hotels. Did Barat always sense deep down that the group would make it? “They weren’t going to let us not get back together,” he says of the fans. “That’s all anyone ever mentions to us during our time apart. I think The Libertines have unfinished business. I suppose when people stop asking us when we’ll be back together then we’ll know our job is done.”
Camden Rocks is a huge multi-venue music event hosting 250 bands in 25 venues throughout Camden Town on a single day.
For a shade under £40, you can hear the likes of Feeder, Reverend and the Makers, The Coral, Pulled Apart by Horses and The Damned raise the roof of venues like Koko, Electric Ballroom, Underworld, Dingwalls, Proud and Camden Assembly on June 3.
Scores of emerging talent will also play the area’s pubs and bars including Black Heart, Monarch, The Crowndale, Dublin Castle, Hawley Arms, Good Mixer, Brew-Dog, and Devonshire Arms, while music will also be rocking across Camden Market’s amphitheatre.
Festival organiser ex of Creation Records, Chris McCormack stages 300 gigs throughout the year under the Camden Rocks Presents banner to scout new talent for the festival, which has steadily expanded since 2009.
He said: “The festival is a total celebration of what Camden is all about as the creative hub of the UK music scene.
“The clubs and venues continue to host some of the now-biggest names in music in their fledging stages. In the past we’ve had Catfish & The Bottlemen playing the Barfly to 100 people. So many great bands have cut their teeth here and it’s a pleasure to continue to fly the flag high for new, up and coming bands alongside the big names each year.”
For a full line up on June 3 go to Camdenrocksfestival.com
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