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

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On the trail of Keith Jarrett's melodies

Lose focus for a second and you can quickly drop the thread of Jarrett's complex improvisational techniques.

“So, this is a piano,” said Keith Jarrett, sitting down at the one that had been placed centre stage for him in the Royal Festival Hall on 20 November. Blowing on his hands to warm them, he acted as if he had never encountered such an instrument before, raising a chuckle from the hundreds of fans who had turned out to see the man in the flesh. For 40 years, Jarrett has been giving concerts like this – alone with the piano, playing his improvised music to a room full of rapt devotees. Notoriously grumpy – and now as well known for his tirades against cameras and coughing audience members as for his early days playing with Miles Davis – he has an almost eerie focus onstage, relieving the tension only very occasionally with his barbed observations about the excellence of the instrument, or the shuffling in the auditorium.

Jarrett gave us a series of short pieces, each rendering separate and distinctive musical ideas. He began with an intricately woven flash of notes in both hands, criss-crossing the melodies that were by turns dark and haunting, or light and dancing. At particularly complex moments, when his arms were crossed over and the notes were flowing from his fingers faster than anyone could imagine them into existence, he leaned his ear down towards the keys, as if physical closeness could help his ideas more swiftly become sound.

A couple of folk-inflected ballads followed; heart-achingly sweet melodies picked out above rumbling, sour arpeggios. Like Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist best known for his recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Jarrett can’t help adding vocalisations as he plays, which are all the more evident in his quieter compositions. He rose and fell from his stool; we heard his guiding hum along with the melody, as well as the odd strangled shout, yelp and grunt. He might insist on absolute silence from the audience but his own noises seem completely uninhibited as the music spins around him.

Although notorious for his curmudgeonly attitude to his fans, Jarrett was mostly restrained in this outing, allowing himself just one short, sweary outburst about killing a “f***ing camera”. At the age of 70 and with the power to sell out his concerts in just a few hours, you do wonder how much of the persona is genuine and how much of it is just giving the audience what it expects. A case in point came near the end, when he yielded to clamouring and gave a surprisingly simple and straightforward rendition of “Danny Boy”, an encore that long-time fans know well.

Given that this recital was under the auspices of the London Jazz Festival, there was surprisingly little in Jarrett’s programme that could easily be identified as jazz. One piece, full of brisk rhythms and chunky chords, gradually revealed itself to be based on a modified 12-bar blues structure and another had haunting overtones surely pulled from the classic American songs of the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, this musical ghosting becomes a major preoccupation when you see Jarrett live. It is too easy to distract yourself in trying to follow the auditory trail he has laid for you – was that a bit of Debussy, or Bach, or Glass just then? – and lose the thread of what he plays next. The improvisational technique might have more in common with jazz but now, 40 years on from his bestselling live recording The Köln Concert, it’s difficult to characterise Jarrett’s output as anything other than contemporary classical music.

If it needs a classification, that is. At one point, I became convinced that a particular piece was a Jarrett riff on Beethoven’s Bagatelle No 25 in A Minor – or Für Elise, as it is more commonly known. I was sure it was all there: the extended opening trill, the rising arpeggios in the left hand, the melody cascading from treble to bass and back again. Except, by the time I surfaced from my musing, there was no trace of Beethoven to be heard. A clashing, almost violent melody was dangling over a long drone in the bass. If you try too hard to pin down Jarrett’s music, it moves on without you.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State