Updated: Nov 7, 2022
The book I am currently reading is the beautiful, emotional and life affirming book The Sound of Being Human by Jude Rogers. Jude writes with so much passion about music and how it evokes memories, soundtracks important moments of our lives, helps us through good and bad times and that link between music and the brain which enables us to have that deep rooted connection with the tracks we love. That got me thinking about an album that has recently turned twenty, a fact that I can’t quite believe. They say that the years go quicker as you get older, and they are not wrong. How has twenty years passed since The Libertines released their debut album Up The Bracket?
Why is Up The Bracket so important?
Every time I listen to Up The Bracket it has the effect on me which Jude Rogers describes in her book. I am instantly transported back to a different time in my life, memories of nights out, gigs attended, indie discos, having nights at a friend’s house with an open-door policy and where music and living life to the fullest were the only rules. This album was very much a soundtrack to those times and is one that all of us who were there at the time will always be able to listen to with fondness and evoke those memories of endless nights and a youthful optimism that anything was possible.
Twenty years on, the importance of Up The Bracket really can’t be overstated. It is important to remember that the British music scene at the start of the century was not in a healthy place. We were very much in the post brit-pop hangover phase, and the nu-metal scene from America was trying its best to take over. Don’t get me wrong, if nu-metal was your thing that’s fine, but for me, someone who came of age during the nineties the Limp Bizkit’s, Papa Roach and Linkin Park’s of this world was not something I could ever get on board with. We needed The Libertines just as much, probably more so, than they needed us. Pete, Carl, John and Gary saved the British music industry at the time, every band that followed owes a great debt to The Libertines. Over the last week we have all been enjoying The Car the new Arctic Monkeys album, and rightly so it is an amazing album, however it is fair to say that the Arctic Monkeys would not exist if it wasn’t for The Libertines. The Libertines opened the doors for everyone else to follow. They made people believe that they could do whatever they wanted to. All you needed was a guitar, words, poems, literature and friendships and the world really was yours for the taking.
The fan's band
The band were living in between two worlds, this was the early days of the internet, there were no smart phones, no social media, pre my-space, but there were internet forums. The Libertines embraced this and would use these forums (libertines.org) to communicate with and build up the relationships with the fans. They were not untouchables; they were the same as you and I and they wanted that bond with the fans. They wanted to play gigs where no one else played. They would post on the message board about a gig in their house and invite the fans round to attend. Can you imagine that happening now? Perhaps that would be a way to fix the financial problems associated with touring, for bands to host gigs in their houses and invite fans round for a small fee.
I first saw The Libertines at the Cardiff Barfly in June 2002, four months before Up the Bracket came out and even to this day it holds its place in my mind as being one of the most important gigs I have been to. It was in the week that they got their first NME cover and you really felt you were watching something special. The gig was equally chaotic and brilliant. From this gig and all the times since what I have loved about The Libertines is that feeling of togetherness. The Libertines created this fictional world of Albion and all of us at the time wanted to be a part of that world and they were more than happy for us to join them. James Endeacott who signed them to Rough Trade described them as a bunch of Artful Dodgers and he really was not wrong.
As an album what makes Up The Bracket so special is its energy and rawness, it certainly is not a polished album. It got mixed reviews at the times as there were some that felt it could have been more polished however for me it is that chaotic sound that has helped the album stand the test of time. Mick Jones was the perfect producer for this album as he did not push the band in a certain direction or suggest cleaning things up, he allowed the band to play the songs in the way they wanted and to record them as they were played. Up The Bracket is the sound of four friends together in a studio having the time of their lives and playing the songs that they love in the way that they wanted to play them. It captures that sound of youthful optimism and a belief in the songs. Twenty years later this album sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday and that really highlights the musical talent of Pete, Carl, John and Gary and also the genius of Mick Jones.
The stories behind the album
There are so many stories associated with The Libertines, stories from the band, and stories from those of us that lived through those times. Can you imagine a life without stories? It is through these narratives that we live and experience life and hand them down to future generations. Two of the stories that I love to hear around the recording of Up The Bracket is the moment that Carl falls asleep during the recording of Radio America. If you listen carefully, you can hear Carl hit is head on the microphone, this bump wakes him up and he continues with the recording. The story goes that Carl had a heavy night out before the recording and turned up still suffering from that night. Pete tells this story in a way that because it was Carl everyone thought it was funny, whereas if it was him they would be rushing to get him checked into rehab. The other story from this recording that I love is how Mick Jones would set an alarm for the time that Eastenders was on TV as this was his favourite show and he could not miss an episode. The band would all oblige to this request, and they would all sit round together watching Eastenders on the BBC.
The album's legacy
Whether it intended to or not, Up The Bracket certainly captured the time, we probably didn’t realise it at the time that this period in our history needed to be captured but we will always be grateful to The Libertines for doing exactly that. They had such a cultural impact that is still being witnessed today. From the music that followed to the fashion there is so much that can be traced back to the band. Twenty years later it continues to inspire. When I used to write for AMP Magazine and we interviewed bands we would always ask the question “If I was your 14 year old nephew what album would you give me to change my life?”. Well if I was to recommend an album to any 14 year old it would have to be Up The Bracket. I have no doubt it would still have such an important influence on the life of teenagers in the year 2022 and beyond.
As we age and our memories fade, it is so important to reach out to music to enable us to feel nostalgic, to evoke memories of different periods of our lives. Twenty years on, Up The Bracket is an album that will always take me back to those days in my early twenties, days of being in a job that I didn’t enjoy but was able to escape that through music and friends. Every time I listen to Up The Bracket I will still be left with feelings of hope and a belief that anything is possible.
“If you lose your faith in love and music the end won’t be long”