There’s a reason that after 20 years of friendships, feuds and music making behind them, The Libertines are still viewed as one of the most iconic, volatile and engaging bands of our time.
As Pete Doherty put it: “There’s no drug in the world that can compare with playing music”, which could well be the reason this band have triumphed over every obstacle thrown their way and proven, with a relentless confidence, their ability to grip generation after generation with a stage presence and sound that is second to none.
The Libertines are set to headline Tramlines in July so we caught up with John Hassall, bassist of the band, who talks internal dynamics and taking the unfamiliar role of frontman in his latest venture John Hassall and The April Rainers.
With Pete Doherty playing in Babyshambles, Carl Barat fronting The Jackals and drummer Gary Powell touring with The Specials, each band member has their own solo projects on the go. However, an unconditional bond is inevitably born within a brotherhood who have experienced so much together. Despite infamous frictions, what’s it really like to be part of The Libertines day to day?
“Everyone gets on really well” comments John, whilst acknowledging: “But we’ve all got very different kinds of relationships one on one with eachother”.
The Libertines formed way back in 1997 and after an (albeit broken) string of years together, as well as countless shows, it’s clear that dynamics within the band will have changed over time. How are gigs different now that everyone is older and wiser?
“I personally enjoy playing live more and more. Sometimes people develop a more open and youthful spirit the older they get.
“I believe this is the case for all of us.”
Unsurprisingly, Tramlines won’t be the first Sheffield gig for The Libertines.
Reflecting on this, John recalls: “I remember playing The Leadmill in 2002 when it first started kicking off. It felt like we had finally begun to realise what we set out to do. Good times they were!”
Fans will be familiar with the band’s controversial stage presence. Despite their more reckless days behind them, should we expect any outbursts at Tramlines this year?
He smiles: “Well Peter started talking about Maradona’s “Hand of God” onstage in Argentina last year. It was an interesting topic to broach!”
Libertines fans are keen to know what to expect from John’s fresh project, The April Rainers, a psychedelic folk rock ensemble formed in 2014 who released their debut album Wheels To Idyll earlier this year.
John notes: “In The Libertines Pete and Carl will generally write the bulk of the song and then we will all be involved in arranging of it.”
However, the space apart has allowed him to a take lead role in song writing and crafting his own particular style.
“In some ways it’s more chilled than The Libertines. Lots of harmonies and many of the songs are flowery and poppy. I guess there are lots of similarities to Libertines too. I’ve learnt so much from being in the band with the boys.
John explains, “For the album Wheels to Idyll I got lots of inspiration from visiting my grandmother when I was a kid. I like to explore themes and ideas that interest and encourage me. If a song is an accurate reflection of a truth in me, then it will also have a universal truth for other people.
“Ladybird… Waiting” was the first song I wrote from the album. It just popped out and inspired the rest of the album. It felt like it was present.
Looking to the future, what can we expect from both bands?
“John Hassall & The April Rainers are touring Wheels to Idyll at the moment. We’re doing some festivals and playing in some shows in England and Denmark, where we live. It’s great that people are starting get into the songs now.
“With the Libertines it looks we will be buying our own studio as well as some gigs in the summer. So that’ll be super exciting to set up and record our new album there.”