Has music lost brilliantly flawed friendships like that of The Libertines' Pete Doherty and Carl Barât? Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Are Pete Doherty and Carl Barât the last of British music’s tempestuous best friendships?

As once estranged Libertines frontmen passionately reunite, they highlight the dearth of stormy musical partnerships in today’s music.

We're a unit now.  And Carl's my brother. There was a time when I'd have died for him, and that turned into a time when I wanted to kill him. But now I'm ready to die for him again.

These are the words of Libertines frontman and the early Noughties’ favourite baby-faced mess Pete Doherty about his bandmate Carl Barât. Speaking to the NME following a reunion gig at Hyde Park on Saturday, Doherty claimed that the tempestuous pair have rediscovered their best friendship.

And what a best friendship it is. Watching the two of them perform their first show since their 2010 Reading and Leeds reunion gigs to a crowd of 60,000 as the sun went down on Hyde Park, the frenzied audience was treated to a plain display of them rediscovering their love.

Merrily jangling out chords and coruscating riffs, glancing over at one another and grinning. Desperately sharing the mic, singing into one another’s mouths. Draping their arms around each other, and at one point tumbling to the floor in a clammy embrace. Like two affectionate drunks at closing time, but wearing guitars and luxurious overcoats, they were clearly reigniting the flame of a once fruitful and captivating musical alliance. They’ve since even hinted at releasing a third album next year (their last album came out ten years ago).

During a friendship splintered by drugs, absenteeism, estrangement and even prison – when Doherty burgled Barât’s flat in a fit of jealous rage – The Libertines faded away into separate bands headed by each of the wounded frontmen.

But while Doherty and Barât rekindling the flame, or at least relighting the roll-up, is a joy for Libertines fans – mainly boys in self-conscious trilbies, and twenty-something women nostalgic for teenage years spent smitten by Doherty’s boyish vulnerability – it also highlights the sad fact that British music is perilously low on tumultuous partnerships.

The inspired moments from bands like Oasis, The Smiths, The Clash and The Beatles – not to mention non-British outfits like Simon and Garfunkel – come from brilliant yet fractured partnerships between two lead songwriters whose love for one another gradually transforms into rage. A bit of hatred and heartache between band members is usually a sign of excellent music – songs forged by an unhealthy level of passion, commitment and feeling. And some creatively angry chord sequences.

Will Doherty and Barât be the last of this strain of tempestuous musical partnership? It’s hard to imagine any of our latest crop of pop groups putting that much love and pain into their efforts. And even if they did, it wouldn’t be the same. It would just be Zayn Malik stepping on Harry Styles’ hair straighteners or something. Although that might result in a few pleasing bars of falsetto.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Ben Whishaw as Hamlet by Derry Moore, 2004 © Derry Moore
Show Hide image

The art of coming out: how the National Portrait Gallery depicts the big reveal

Portraits of gay celebrities, politicians and sports stars line the walls in a new exhibition called Speak Its Name!, marking 50 years of advances in gay rights.

I have a million questions for the doctor friend I’ve brought with me to the National Portrait Gallery. A million questions that, if I really think about it, boil down to: “Why were the Tudors so godforsakenly ugly?”

Inbreeding? Lead makeup? An all-peacock diet?

I don’t know why I assume she’ll know. She’s a neonatologist, not a historian. But I’m desperate for some of the science behind why these 500-year-old royals look, if these imposing paintings of them are anything to go by, like the sorts of creatures that – having spent millennia in pitch black caves – have evolved into off-white, scrotal blobs.

My friend talks about the importance of clean drinking water and the invention of hygiene. We move onto an extremely highbrow game I’ve invented, where – in rooms lined with paintings of bug-eyed, raw sausage-skinned men – we have to choose which one we’d bang. The fact we’re both gay women lends us a certain amount of objectivity, I think.


Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow by David LaChapelle, 1996 © David LaChapelle Courtesy Fred Torres Collaborations

Our gayness, weirdly, is also the reason we’re at the gallery in the first place. We’re here to see the NPG’s Speak its Name! display; photographic portraits of a selection of out-and-proud celebrities, accompanied by inspirational quotes about coming out as gay or bi. The kind of thing irritating people share on Facebook as a substitute for having an opinion.

Managing to tear ourselves away from walls and walls of TILFs (Tudors I’d… you know the rest), we arrive at the recently more Angela Eagle-ish part of the gallery. Eagle, the second ever British MP to come out as lesbian, occupies a wall in the NPG, along with Will Young, Tom Daley, Jackie Kay, Ben Whishaw, Saffron Burrows and Alexander McQueen.

Speak its Name!, referring to what was described by Oscar Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred Douglas as “the love that dare not speak its name”, commemorates 50 years (in 2017) since the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales.

“Exhibition” is maybe a grandiose term for a little queer wall in an old building full, for the most part, of paintings of probably bigoted straight white guys who are turning like skeletal rotisserie chickens in their graves at the thought of their portraits inhabiting the same space as known homosexual diver Tom Daley.


Tom Daley By Bettina von Zwehl, 2010 © Bettina von Zwehl

When you’re gay, or LBTQ, you make little pilgrimages to “exhibitions” like this. You probably don’t expect anything mind-blowing or world-changing, but you appreciate the effort. Unless you’re one of those “fuck The Establishment and literally everything to do with it” queers. In which case, fair. Don’t come to this exhibition. You’ll hate it. But you probably know that already.

But I think I like having Tudors and known homosexuals in the same hallowed space. Of course, Angela Eagle et al aren’t the NPG’s first queer inhabitants. Being non-hetero, you see, isn’t a modern invention. From David Hockney to Radclyffe Hall, the NPG’s collection is not entirely devoid of Gay. But sometimes context is important. Albeit one rather tiny wall dedicated to the bravery of coming out is – I hate to say it – sort of heart-warming.


Angela Eagle by Victoria Carew Hunt, 1998 © Victoria Carew Hunt / National Portrait Gallery, London

Plus, look at Eagle up there on the “yay for gay” wall. All smiley like that whole “running for Labour leader and getting called a treacherous dyke by zealots” thing never happened.

I can’t say I feel particularly inspired. The quotes are mostly the usual “coming out was scary”-type fare, which people like me have read, lived and continue to live almost every day. This is all quite mundane to queers, but you can pretty much guarantee that some straight visitors to the NPG will be scandalised by Speak its Name! And I guess that’s the whole point.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.