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 senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Tashphotography / Stockimo / Alamy
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The Negroni fools no one – it’s easy to make and contains nothing but booze

It is the colour of danger, a red rag to anyone jaded by cocktail-world bull.

The cocktail is designed to lie about its origins; no wonder it reached its apogee during Prohibition, which forced everyone with an unrepentant thirst to lie about their cravings. Even today, when only extreme youth, religious belief or personal inclination prevents a person from draining the bar dry, the cocktail continues its career of dishonesty. It hides ingredients or methods. It provides a front for poor-quality booze. And it often dissolves, within its inscrutable depths, mountains of sugar, enabling drinkers to pose as sophisticates while downing something that tastes like a soft drink – to get drunk without leaving the playpen.

This is why I love the Negroni, which fools no one. It is easy to make and contains nothing but pure booze. Despite being a third sweet vermouth, it isn’t saccharine: the other two thirds, equal measures of gin and Campari, may have something to do with this. And it is the colour of danger, a red rag to anyone jaded by cocktail-world bull.

They say it was invented in Florence at the request of a Count Negroni, who wanted a drink unsullied by club soda – a drink stiff enough to get a man back on a bucking horse, perhaps, since this Count may have been a rodeo rider. I prefer to believe that the Count, if Count he was, came in, tossed down enough strong liquor to start telling stories about his American adventures, and, when he finally staggered out into the night, the exasperated bartender poured three straight shots into a single glass and baptised this wondrous reviver in grateful homage to the fabulist who had inspired it.

In a former glue factory a very long way from Florence or America, the East London Liquor Company now makes very good gin – Batches One and Two, the former tannic with Darjeeling as well as cassia bark, pink grapefruit peel, and coriander seeds; the latter redolent of savoury, bay, thyme and lavender. Transforming these plants into excellent alcohol seems an improvement on boiling down horses for adhesive, and the company also makes superb Negronis from Batch Two.

We sit outside, in a carpark made marginally more glamorous by border boxes of Batch Two botanicals, and marvel at the transformation of this grimy part of East London, next door to a park intended to give Victorian working men brief respite from lives all too lacking in myth or fantasy. It is a reincarnation at least as miraculous as the transformation of three strong and entirely unalike spirits into the delectable harmony of the Negroni. The sun shines; a fountain plashes. Nuts and charcuterie arrive. All is right with the world.

I leave my herbaceous bower and dangerously pleasing drink for a peek at the large copper distillery behind the bar, walking in past the fountain, a whimsical stone construction that pours vermilion liquid into two, tiered basins topped by a chubby putto clutching a rather reluctant fish.

And then I stop. And double back. Vermilion liquid? It is, indeed, a Negroni fountain. There are even slices of orange floating in the basin. I dip a finger: the taste is slightly metallic but still undeniably that potent mixture of booze, botanicals, bitterness, and just a hint of sweetness. A streak of citrus from the orange slices. It turns out that the world’s most straightforward cocktail lends itself to a decadent neo-Renaissance fantasy. There’s a message here, one forthright as a temperance tract: without imagination, we would have no lies – but no Negronis, either.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder