2022 saw the 20th anniversary of one of British alternative music’s landmark releases, the one and only ‘Up The Bracket’ by The Libertines. A record that grabbed the baton tossed on by The Jam, The Smiths and Oasis. What made it a landmark release? Try and picture the scene: The drabness of the early 21st century music landscape has been well documented, Britpop’s last party having taken place yonks before, Melody Maker magazine sinking under the mammoth responsibility of building something tangible out of the Manics, Mansun, Placebo, King Adora and JJ72, and a lacklustre new breed of Radiohead/Jeff Buckley fanatics were trying to get heard. Thank fuck, then, for The Strokes, Interpol, The White Stripes, The Vines and Yeah Yeah Yeahs for igniting a million young guitar loving hearts. But up until 2002 Britain was still missing out on the fun.
When The Libertines bounded onto the scene with their debut long player the party this side of the Atlantic truly began in a sweaty furore of Camden Town toilet venue gigs and sticky floored clubnights. The 20th Anniversary edition of ‘Up The Bracket’ documents the party well, with a pristinely remastered version of the original release, a record that took the rawness of 70s punk rock and fused it with elements of Romani-Belgian jazz, dub and sixties melody, whilst the band still managed to come across as barely able to play three chords on their Epiphone Coronets. Lyrically the album plundered William Burroughs, Tony Hancock and Jean Genet to sound criminally drugged up, comedic yet erudite, spinning romanticised yarns of rock’n’roll, riots, heroin, sickness and a lust for life, all played out in the back streets and whisky cafes of East London. In the half-arsed first half of the 2000s the oomph of The Libertines and ‘Up The Bracket’ was desperately needed.
‘Live at The 100 Club’
So we’ve gushed enough about the LP itself and its notability, what about the boxset? Our first stop in the big container of audible goodies is the ‘Live at The 100 Club’ disc: Hearing the best bands through the intricately honed artform of a studio album is only ever half of the story and to fully understand the brilliance of The Libertines you need to know what they were like onstage between 2002-2005. Their gig at Oxford Street basement venue the 100 Club on 4th October 2002, scene of the Sex Pistols era-defining shows three decades earlier, is The Libertines at their top-throttle finest.
We’ll need to set the scene visually for you, the boys looking the stylish street urchin part in uniform of torn t-shirts, leather jackets and drain pipe jeans held together at the knee with gaffa-tape, scruffed up floppy barnets and cigarettes permanently hanging from their lips as the sweat of three hundred and fifty pogoing souls drips off the venue’s iconic red walls. Choosing to swiftly hammer through their early sets, the show clocks in at a sprightly 26 minutes, The Libs showcasing the best of their still-to-be-released debut album, kicking off with a rendition of ‘Horrorshow’ peppered with barks and stop-start guitar.
Non-album b-side, and one of their best tracks, ‘The Delaney’ gets a rowdily canorous outing with Pete Doherty sounding as if he’s having a go at devouring the mic at the same time as singing into it. Carl Barat wrangles the vocals for a hearty, feedback dappled execution of ‘Begging’, with lead duties passing back and forth between the duo throughout the whole tumultuously spirited performance, backed by the assuredness of Gary Powell’s deliberately rudimentary drumming and John Hassall’s stalwart presence on the bass. The LP’s stand-out single ‘Time For Heroes’ gets dedicated to Scottish poet and early Libertines drinking buddy Jock Scot, ‘Boys in the Band’ a suggestive celebration of the perks of being in a band that feels forever on a knife edge, and ‘I Get Along’ descends into a clamour of nosediving microphones, cheers and whoops as the set fades to a close. The Libertines epochal live show committed to wax.
‘Up The Bracket: Studio Outtakes’
It’s well known that ‘Up The Bracket’s producer, Mick Jones of punk icons The Clash, had the band take a live approach to recording sessions, getting the group to play the tracks shoulder to shoulder, capturing the whole caboodle on tape and picking the best of the crop for the final track list. The existence of leftover tracks from the cutting room floor fell into Libertines fandom folklore from that day to this, helped along by a scribbled out inclusion of early song ‘Breck Road Lover’ on the release’s back cover, so to have this goldmine included as another disc in the box set is, crudely put, every hardcore Lib’s fan’s wet dream. We’ve picked out out favourite noticeable tracks from the set that you should really get your ears around:
Ha Ha Wall – Although present in a few Libertines setlists around the 2002-2003 era, it wasn’t until their second, eponymously titled album that ‘The Ha Ha Wall’ received a full release. This version is largely an instrumental with bare bone lyrics and an alternative second verse. A version of an eventual classic in it’s infancy.
Bangkok – Cropping up in demo form on the b-side of ‘Time For Heroes’, this version of ‘Bangkok’ is speeded up further than the original with lyrical changes and additional guitar noodling. Arguably the definitive version, although a rerecorded version from the second album sessions is floating about the internet somewhere.
What A Waster – Originally produced by ex-Suede guitarist and solo legend Bernard Butler and put out as The Libertines first single, ‘What A Waster’ has gone down in musical infamy. The UTB version is more in keeping with their debut LP’s rough n ready stylings, removing Butler’s conventional sheen and is the only Mick Jones produced version of the song available.
Breck Road Lover – A clear near-inclusion on the album’s final tracklist, ‘Breck Road Lover’ was pilfered from the Libertines pre-Rough Trade Filthy McNastys era output, a 1999 version with Pete in full David Bowie mode having leaked in the late 2000s. The swooning background “Ahhhhhs” from Mick Jones and lilting guitar solo evidence why the song was so close to being part of the record.
The Domestic – Another of the pre-Rough Trade songs but one that never wrangled it’s way onto the internet and so remained largely unheard to the Libertines fandom until now. ‘The Domestic’ is a darker, bluesier, Doors-like song than we’re used to from the boys in the band, earnestly debating how to dispose of a corpse from some ‘domestic incident’, choosing to chuck the old sod to the waves of “old father Thames”.
Don’t Talk To Me – “Mick, we’ve just written a song”… what follows is the blueprint for ‘Up The Bracket’ b-side ‘Skag & Bone Man’ with radically embryonic words, even scrappier sounding than the legendary finished product, ending with Carl asking Gary if he’s embarrassed cos he took his t-shirt off – if only Gary knew they’d barely keep their tops on for the next ten years.
The Wolfman – In their early days The Libertines weren’t just a band, they were a whole cast of Dickensian characters woven into a tale told through NME interviews, internet message board posts and gig support slots. The most high profile of this gang was poet and singer Wolfman, featured in Libs-lore like some mesmerising and lovable doped-up pantomime villain. The song bearing his name was much performed in Wolfman’s own sets and early Babyshambles shows but The Libertines version had been shrouded until now. An 8 minute epic including a lot of howling and verse from the artist himself.
Radio America – The prettiest, most fragile tune on ‘Up The Bracket’ and a version that doesn’t feature a worse for wear Carl Barat falling over into his mic stand half way through. Their ‘Stay Free’.
7 Deadly Sins – The Libertines at their most Django Reinhardt, a beautiful acoustic strum of a number about being damned if you do and damned if you don’t with some tender guitar picking and a more delicate vocal take from Barat than the demo version on the other side of the ‘Time For Heroes’ 7” vinyl.
‘Up The Bracket: Early Demos‘
When The Strokes burst onto the scene The Libertines upped their game from writing romantic 60s indebted lullabies, deciding instead to semi-consciously splice their Velvet Underground leanings onto a punk aesthetic, challenging their New York counterparts head-on, a process that gave birth to songs that would get them signed to Rough Trade and made up their debut album. The early demos collected here span the December 2001 – March 2002 time frame, an essential insight into the genesis of the band they would become.
We’re especially fascinated by the March 2002 demos. Referred to at one time as the ‘Ruff Enuff Stuff’ demos, they were recorded during a hinterland period where the lads were sans-drummer, so feature a drum machine all through ‘Time For Heroes’, ‘I Get Along’, ‘Horrow Show’, ‘Boys In The Band’ and ‘General Smuts’, the version of ‘General Smuts’ ending up as the nuttiest thing The Libertines have ever put their name on.
‘Up The Bracket: Demos, Radio Sessions, B-Sides & Live‘
A ragtag selection of sundry others, kicked off with undated demos, including a version of ‘All At Sea (Misty)’ – a gorgeously airy ditty that popped up in various unofficial forms throughout the Libertines history, until receiving a proper release on Peter Doherty & The Puta Madres album way off in the future of 2019.
A slew of Radio 1 Evening Session and Live Lounge features follow covering the LP’s singles, topped off by the curiously titled ‘Christmas Time’ – a contrarily festive rendition of Seigfried Sassoon’s sombre wartime poem ‘Suicide In The Trenches’ backed with chirruping harmonica and a chuckling Doherty and Barat. A total gem, followed by their iconic performance of Dame Vera Lynn’s wartime mood-lifter ‘We’ll Meet Again’.
All of the b-sides from the album’s single releases get thrown in, as well as three incendiary live tracks showcasing The Libertines at their punky, speed-freak, oblivion-hurtling finest – ‘Up The Bracket’ – live at the ICA, ‘Mayday’ – Radio 1 Live in Nottingham and, beginning with Doherty taunting the crowd, and now the boxset listening audience in 2022, asking “D’you want some more?”, a rambunctious, full blast rendering of ‘The Boy Looked At Johnny’ live from The Libertines second home of Paris – venue unspecified.
The 20th Anniversary Box Set edition of ‘Up The Bracket’ was released on 20th October 2022 and you can still get your grubby little mitts on it in several formats including a 60 page booklet with a forward by Apple Music DJ and music journalist Matt Wilkinson, new interviews with the band from their official biographer, author of ‘Bound Together’ Anthony Thornton and many unseen photos and memorabilia by heading over to the Rough Trade website now.
All tracks mentioned in this feature are also available on Spotify and all the streaming services.
Find a live version of ‘What A Waster’ from the ICA in 2002 released by the band to launch the 20th anniversary below: