Musicians’ inspirations /// Simon Ward (Albion)

Albion

 

Simon Ward of Albion tells Rock Britain about his favourite British album.

The Libertines (self-titled) 2004, Rough Trade

I was raid on a musical diet of British bands such as The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who and even Chas ‘n’ Dave. By my teenage years I discovered the American rock group Nirvana, who became my all-time favourite band. But I was yet to find a modern British band I totally fell in love with, in the same way I did with Nirvana and The Beatles, until I heard The Libertines. Peter Doherty was a well-known figure to me as a consequence of his tabloid exploits and hedonistic misdemeanours. I passed him off as another one of the “skinny-jean brigade” who adopted a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle appealing to the Indie kids of the NME but lacked the musical repertoire to warrant the image and hero-like worship he received. However, I was proved wrong after hearing Time for Heroes, from their debut album Up the Bracket,  I was instantly hooked. The jangling, barely in tune guitars and Doherty’s poetic lyrics, “There’s few or more distressing sights than that, Of an Englishman in a baseball cap”, captivated me; a modern band taking influence from The Clash, Sex Pistols and The Jam, what was not to like? Their first album, Up the Bracket, deserves a listen for possessing well-crafted songs and laying the foundations of the second, and final, Libertines’ offering; simultaneously opening the door for a new wave of British bands, Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand to name but two. However, for me, their second album is their masterpiece, providing detailed insights into the breakdown of the Barat/Doherty creative partnership, as Doherty’s wild, “libertine” lifestyle began to take its toll.

The front cover of The Libertines depicts Carl Barat and Peter Doherty at the Tap ‘n’ Tin pub in Chatham, united for the last time, both showing their Libertines’ tattoos on the day of Doherty’s release from prison, after having served a three month sentence for burgling Barat’s flat. I remember spinning the vinyl on my record player and the first track Can’t Stand Me Now grabbing my attention, with the opening line “It was an end fitting for the start, You twist and tore our love apart”. The honesty shown in these first lyrical exchanges was an indication of what was to come throughout the song and the album, a bold move but if you’re not willing to put the truth in a song then what else can you put into it? Barat and Doherty share vocals equally, sometimes even participating in an almost theatrical dialogue, as if they are arguing on the record, presenting their own version of events which culminated in their “Arcadian dream” ceasing to exist.

In my opinion, the highlight of the record is the acoustic track Music When the Lights Go Out. It is achingly tender and poetic in its delivery, telling the tale of a broken relationship between Doherty and a past girlfriend. A common subject in music, but Doherty has an unrivalled ability to Romanticise the subject in a manner far superior to any clichéd break-up song I have ever heard. “Is it cruel or kind not to speak my mind, And to lie to you rather than hurt you” and “all the highs and the lows and the to’s and the fro’s, They left me dizzy, Oh won’t you please forgive me” are the two stand out lyrics for me, but in all honesty the whole song is a perfect example of flowing poetry, beautiful from start to finish. The accompanying music is basic, serving only to enhance the feeling of raw honesty and meaning. In contrast to the pro-tool recorded hit singles, played daily via mainstream radio networks, which have had all human qualities severed from their musical bodies by computer perfecting devices.

Unlike the music that filled the charts at the time, The Libertines, in my opinion, represented a throwback to British music’s heydays of the 60’s and 70’s. The Boys in the Band wearing leather jackets, throwing themselves around the stage, playing gigs in their own flat, barely making enough money to cover petrol, living in the moment, writing and playing their own material, which is sadly something of a novelty in recent times. It was thanks to Doherty’s passion for poetry and lyrics that I would go on to discover another great British band, The Smiths, as well as developing a keen interest in the works of Siegfried Sassoon, William Blake and others.

I remember Noel Gallagher stating “that there are great bands, then there are fucking great bands like The Libertines…who change the way people wear their clothes and the way they talk”, that summary couldn’t be more apt. The Libertines’ second album made an impact at a time when the Oasis generation had outgrown their parka coats, lost their sideburns and were now seeking careers. However, rather than playing placid rolling rock records, The Libertines adopted a ferocious approach with songs being played at break-neck speed akin to the Ramones. Ten years on, from the album’s release their influence upon mainstream culture is still clearly apparent. High-street retailers, as Topshop, sell the skinny jeans, brogue shoes, leather and military jackets which were once the band’s uniform; however the consumers may not be entirely aware of this connection. To me, The Libertines second album wasn’t a new trend or just a collection of great songs; it was the record which provided the realisation starting a band was a plausible idea. All you need is a group of friends, instruments and a guitar bag full of dreams; we can all be libertines and set sail aboard the good ship Albion.

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