The Libertines' Shocking Comeback: Behind 2014's Messiest Reunion

The U.K. band survived drugs, jail and a breakup. Now they're making big plans

The Libertines
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Peter Doherty of the Libertines
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It took all of six minutes for the Libertines' big reunion show to devolve into chaos. On July 5th, as the band launched into its rowdy rocker "Boys in the Band," the crowd of 65,000 at London's Hyde Park surged toward the stage; the Libertines spent the next several minutes begging fans to stop crushing one another. "People were just losing their shit, going fucking mental," says co-frontman Carl Barât. "I didn't realize how dangerous it was."

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The show eventually resumed, but 38 fans were injured and eight hospitalized. It was a predictably messy comeback for the U.K. group, who, since breaking up in 2004, spent the past decade embroiled in addictions, legal trouble and bad blood. "As you say in America, 'It was emotional, man,'" says singer-guitarist Pete Doherty. "We're lucky to still be around and to be forgiven by each other and everybody."

The Hyde Park set leaned heavily on 2002's Up the Bracket, the Libertines' ramshackle garage-punk classic, which Barât and Doherty began writing as teenagers. "It was fucking exciting, like a waking dream," says Doherty of the band's early days.

The Libertines made the Strokes look like choirboys, and the fun soon got out of hand. Doherty's erratic behavior and heroin and crack abuse forced the band to tour without him; in 2003, he served two months in prison for breaking into Barât's apartment and stealing a guitar, a laptop and other items. "We weren't compatible, and it's as simple as that," says Doherty. "We couldn't stand to be together."

Barât had problems of his own. During tense sessions for the Libertines' second LP in late 2003, he was hospitalized after drunkenly slipping in a bathroom, hitting his head on a sink and severely damaging his eye.

Doherty was arrested more than 20 times in the following years, on charges­ ranging from suspected car theft to allegedly providing drugs to a woman who died of an overdose. While being fined for reckless driving in 2009, Doherty brought heroin into a courtroom and was busted for that, too. He dated Kate Moss, played sporadic tours with his band Babyshambles and made quick cash selling paintings created from his own blood. "I was definitely worried about him," says Barât. "He was a dear, dear friend. It was a very strange time, you know? We would only communicate through little barbs in our songs and interviews."

Barât first heard about the possibility of a Libertines reunion after Doherty mentioned the idea to an Israeli newspaper last spring. Soon, the duo were meeting for mojitos to talk it over. "There were a few quick fixes," says Barât of their relationship. In June, the band gathered in a Hamburg studio to rehearse. Playing together felt right immediately. "It was undeniable," says Barât. "You could see it on everyone's faces. It's like an old storybook covered in dust. You pull it out, and it's everything you've ever wanted."

Barât and Doherty have started writing songs again for a new album that they hope to finish next year. "They're as melodic as ever – bouncy and buoyant, but with those ever-present doom-laden undertones," says Doherty of the new material, though he refuses to get too romantic about the reunion. "You know what we're like," he says. "We're all over the place, we're a mess, but we've got a few things going for us – and that is these melodies that weave our fucking songs together."

The Libertines will tour Europe this fall, and hope to hit the U.S. next year for the first time since 2003. "I don't know what your immigration people's policy is on my band," says Barât with a laugh. "But we'd love to." (Doherty was denied entry into the U.S. after flying to New York for a gig with Sean Lennon in 2010.) They're even writing a script for a planned sitcom about their early days. "You couldn't make some of it up," says Barât.

Barât cut back on drinking and drugs after becoming a father in 2010; Doherty never settled down. In June, he told a U.K. paper, "I would like to get rid of the damn drugs. It's no longer fun. But it's difficult to stop."

"He's got this Breaking Bad-style RV, which he's just driving around Europe," Barât says. "I don't get involved with what his intake may or may not be. What I know is he's happy, and he wants to do things together. If I concern myself with the rest of it, then we'll find ourselves where we were the last time."

From The Archives Issue 1215: August 14, 2014