Gary Powell, (seen here on the left), drummer with The Libertines, chats with Kevin Cooper about their antics in Hamburg, playing at Glastonbury, their latest album Anthems For Doomed Youth and their forthcoming UK arena tour.

Gary Powell is an American drummer. He is primarily the drummer for The Libertines, as well as doing the same for the band formed by his bandmate Carl Barat after The Libertines split, Dirty Pretty Things and Guyanese artist, Eddy Grant.  He also played with the New York Dolls for their 2004 reunion shows.

He joined The Libertines after being introduced to the frontmen Carl Barât and Pete Doherty by their then manager Banny Poostchi. In 2002 they released their debut album Up The Bracket with a self-titled album being released in 2004.

The Libertines broke up in 2004, but were reunited in 2010 for a number of shows including the Reading and Leeds Festivals. In 2014 the band were back together for a gig in London’s Hyde Park and a year later they were the surprise special guests on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.

With the release of their third album, Anthems For Doomed Youth together with a forthcoming UK arena tour, he took time out of his busy schedule to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.


Hi Gary how are you today?

I’m doing good thanks Kevin how are you?

I am very well thank you.


Firstly let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

My pleasure Kevin, absolutely my pleasure.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life is treating me very well at the moment. The Libertines have recently played in Mexico City which went down extremely well. We all had a great time hanging out in Mexico City and I have recently DJ’d in Guadalajara where I had a bunch of fun with the guys over there. So at the moment everything is great with no real complaints (laughter).

And how are things within The Libertines camp?

The felling within the camp at the moment is really positive and everyone is looking forward to moving forward without any of what we used to call the usual problems rearing their ugly heads. Right now it is all about being creative and moving forward in a positive stance. All of us have our backs against the wall and are working furiously.

You recently played here in Nottingham at Rock City. How was the gig?

The Rock City gig was totally amazing Kevin. We couldn’t have asked for a better response from the audience. Weirdly enough it felt a little like a home-coming gig because all of us could vividly remember the first time that we had played there. Back then we were loading all of our equipment into the venue with no roadies there to help us (laughter). Despite all of that we had a great time hanging out with some of the crew up there especially the sound crew. However this time we saw some of the old faces there who we had seen before and it was great.

You personally are almost a regular at Rock City because not only have you played there with The Libertines but you have also played there with Dirty Pretty Things.

(Laughter) I’m hardly a regular but yes, that’s absolutely right Kevin. Coming back as The Libertines to play the venue once again was just amazing. It was just amazing and a lot of fun.

The Libertines seem to have found their second wind and have mass popularity once again. What would you put that down to?

When we went to play Hyde Park I heard a lot of people saying that they felt that The Libertines were very deserved of the opportunity to be able to do it. But I simply couldn’t see how we could be deserved of it. The two albums that we made prior to this album coming out, Up The Bracket and The Libertines, didn’t particularly sell that great so if you look at it from a statistics point of view we didn’t sell a great deal of records. And then we only released the two records. So why would that make us deserve it? The only thing that actually made us deserve that opportunity was the support that we received from all of the fans.

There were also massive Chinese whispers spreading like wildfire about what the band used to be like; the antics that we got up to and the ferocity with which we used to perform. I think that it was this which kept us in good stead with all of the fans as opposed to just listening to our records. I personally don’t think that merely listening to the records would have been enough simply because there has been a plethora of great music released since our demise back in 2004. And people are not stupid, they can move on quite easily to the new thing if they really wanted to. But I think that it is the folk lore that kept us going and it will hopefully keep us in good stead moving forwards.

We are not getting any younger in fact we are a bunch of old sods now (laughter). But hopefully we all still have the same emotional connection with the music that we play that the audience can actually engage with.

You have mentioned the first two albums. What was it like working with Mick Jones from The Clash?

It was simply amazing working with Mick Jones. All that he actually did as a producer was to bring out the best in us with regards to our performance. We recorded both of the albums live and all that Mick actually did was to allow us to play. There were no rearrangements done, he just let us play and play. We had Bill Ward who was the engineer for The Beatles and he was our talisman when putting together all of the musical parts. The main thing that Mick did was to make us feel better about ourselves as individuals, performing the music that we were playing.

Were you pleased with the way that your latest album, Anthems For Doomed Youth was received?

We were all more than happy with how well it was received Kevin. I’m not naming any names but there we are, living in an era now where the reunion is rife, and everybody is having a reunion. It does smack a little bit of trying to grab a fast buck while you can but that was never our intention when we got back together in 2010. We had every intention of trying to move forward as a band but we were never allowed too. The first time that we all got back together we met in a pub and there was press sitting in the bar in Hammersmith constantly taking pictures.

When we went into the studio to record there were cameras everywhere both inside and outside of the studio. We never had the chance to simply sit down and just be a bunch of guys hanging out playing together. We have never been afforded that opportunity. So as soon as we finished in 2010 we were finally allowed to relax and be ourselves for a while and everybody grasped at that opportunity.

Didn’t you all spend some time in Hamburg getting to know each other once again?

Yes Kevin we did just that. When the opportunity came for us to play Hyde Park in 2014 instead of us doing the same thing that we had always done before, we went automatically to Hamburg to rehearse and play. We wanted to be completely out of everybody’s way. We hung out; that’s all we did, hung out. We did silly things like we used to such as stealing golf clubs from a driving range (laughter). We were hitting golf balls against things and we were running around smashing things. We did all manner of stupid things in an attempt to endear ourselves with who we were. That gave us the impetus not to just play music but to actually be together.

It was the fact that we all wanted to be together that actually pushed us forward as opposed to simply grabbing the money while we could. It gave us the opportunity to create some great music. Hamburg was a great working environment and it wasn’t just about creating songs that we could release and simply hope for the best. It helped that everybody was extremely happy with the recording of every track on the album. We were happy to the point that regardless of whether the tracks were well received or not, we would still be in a position of being really strong and wanting to do more.

2015 was a good year for you playing at both Reading and Glastonbury Festivals. How was that?

They were both absolutely mental Kevin (laughter). It was a little bit mental especially Glastonbury because we only found out three days before the event that we would be playing there. Then because it was all supposed to be kept quiet and no one was supposed to know they agree not to hire cars to take us into Glastonbury or into Bristol. We had to take the train and book our own tickets just in case the word got out (laughter). However they forgot to tell us that everybody who goes to Glastonbury leaves by Paddington Station and that was the way that we would have to go to get to Bristol in order to rehearse (laughter).

So individually one by one at some stage during the day we were all at Paddington Station. I had forgotten that and so when I got off the train I saw everybody with their camping gear and wellington boots, all sitting around waiting for the train to take them to bloody Glastonbury (laughter). I just thought to myself crap, what am I doing here. How do I explain this one (laughter). Luckily I was able to tell people that I was on my way to Russia and so I couldn’t play Glastonbury. However fortunately we did all fly out to Russia immediately after Glastonbury so I didn’t lie I just simply withheld a little bit of the truth (laughter).

It was an amazing experience and we are extremely lucky to be afforded the opportunity to do the shows that we have done at this stage in our careers.

Which do you prefer playing, the large outdoor gigs or the smaller intimate venues?

I have to say that it really does depend upon the environment Kevin. If there is an emotional connection at a large outdoor gig like for example, 2014 at Hyde Park, playing in front of sixty thousand people was no different to us playing at The Rhythm Factor in front of three hundred people. The environment was sweaty; it was really emotional as you could see the people feeling the emotional connectivity between us and them. It was a really emotive environment and that was sixty thousand people in Hyde Park not three hundred people in a sweaty little club. So in answer to your question Kevin, it really does depend upon the environment.

Sometimes you have just got to simply lay it all on the line and hope that people are able to either carry you along or you are actually able to push them along a little bit more to give them something that they might not expect.

On the subject of venues, are you looking forward to your forthcoming Arena tour?

The honest answer to that Kevin is that I don’t know (laughter). I personally find arenas rather cold and sterile. But in saying that, most artists and band’s dream is to play in front of as many people as they can do. Any artist who tells you that they just want to play in a pub makes me sick and I just want to say to them just shut up and play in the pub then (laughter). I never want to hear from you again except to hear that you are locked up in the pub, playing music and that you have never released anything (laughter). Our dream is to play in front of as many people as we can so whenever we are afforded that opportunity we have to grab it with both hands and roll with it.

The question is what do we do with it to actually take away from the experience of it just being an arena tour. From that aspect, when you just say an arena tour, I just want to say fuck this because I don’t want to spend my day sitting around in an arena playing in front of a bunch of people that complain when they are right at the back that they can’t actually see or hear anything. I want it to be an experience that everyone feels a part of. If they can’t feel a part of it then we, the band, have actually done them a disservice as far as I am concerned.

So we are trying to figure out a way of actually making sure that we can engage with as many people as is humanly possible in order to make the whole experience enjoyable for all as opposed to us just getting paid the money to play a big arena.

Here in Nottingham you are being supported by the Sleaford Mods and Reverend and The Makers. Were you aware of their work before you knew that they would be supporting you?

Yes I did Kevin, I did. It’s really funny because Jon McClure from Reverend and The Makers is a very good friend of ours and he has been a good friend of the band for a good while now. In fact before The Libertines played T In The Park I spent the night before in a bar with Jon McClure which was a very, very bad idea (laughter). How I got back to my room I have absolutely no idea (laughter). I had left the shower running in my room and totally flooded it; the whole room was completely trashed. So when I found out that Reverend and The Makers were going to be supporting us in Nottingham, it makes it kind of family for me.

It was Jon who first introduced me to the music of the Sleaford Mods some time ago now Kevin. On hearing them my first thoughts were that they were very edgy. However after listening to them a few times I actually don’t think that their music is as edgy as it portrays itself to be. I think that it is more apt in its delivery and more traditional in the way that the mixes are actually put together. All of the people who say that their music is edgy and out there are just really lazy. You have to really listen in order to understand the message that they are trying to put across. When you understand the message then you realise that it is not as edgy as you think.

They talk about everyday things that we all talk about, and the way that it is all put together is quite well synchronised. So when I found out that they were going to be with us in Nottingham too that is the kind of gig that I want to be a part of Kevin. I was more than happy with that decision.

Taking you back to the very early beginnings, in 2001 when you joined The Libertines what did you expect to achieve?

Being totally honest with you Kevin, there really wasn’t any expectations or achievements to be made when I joined The Libertines. I didn’t actually join The Libertines as much as I went to a studio and started playing music with Carl (Barât) and Pete (Doherty). That was it basically. I had seen Carl and Pete in the pub quite a few times and all that had been lacking was an introduction. I was finally introduced to them by Banny Poostchi their manager at the time, just after I had finished working with Eddy Grant, and from that moment on we started hanging out together.

Carl bought me a David Niven (laughter) which was a vodka, coke and something else which was a drink which apparently the late David Niven apparently used to drink although I very much doubt that he even drank it (laughter). And then the next thing that I knew I was being invited to go along and play with them in the studio a few weeks later. And it just continued from there. There wasn’t really a band as such, it was more a meeting of minds. I personally used to find the guys hilarious and spent as much time with them as was possible. Apart from the odd moment, I have pretty much enjoyed every moment that I have spent with them (laughter).

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

I don’t know Kevin as I have never given it any thought until now (laughter). It’s not over yet so I am going to have to get back to you on that one (laughter). I’m hoping that it is going to go on for a little while longer. Hopefully the highlight of my career hasn’t actually happened yet.

I’m an old soulie and was hoping that you were going to say that the highlight of your career was playing with Eddy Grant (laughter).

(Laughter) I actually really do enjoy playing with Eddy Grant and that period of time was amazing. Funnily enough I’m an old soulie too Kevin and have been fortunate enough to play with Mary J. Blige, Lisa Stansfield and Jools Holland. However I still wouldn’t count any of those things as being the highlight of my career just yet Kevin (laughter).

In 2006 you played the drums for the New York Dolls on their reunion gigs which were organised by Morrissey. What was that like for you?

That was great but at the same time it was really hard to do because they only gave me a day’s rehearsals (laughter). Then to make matters even worse, they arrived at the rehearsals late as most people do. We should have started rehearsals at 10am but they didn’t turn up until 4pm and we had to be out of the studio by 10pm. Then instead of playing all of their hits which you would think that they would, David Johansen decided that he wanted to just work on cover versions (laughter). So we all learnt cover versions and left everything else to chance. That was my rehearsal (laughter).

Was it always going to be a career in music for you?

In one way or another it was but I actually started teaching first. After graduating I taught in both Canada and America but when I came over to England I was a little too big-headed about the type of syllabus that I had been teaching and I got found out and fired. At that time I had thought that I was the big I am but I really wasn’t. I should have been slightly more humble with regards to my teaching methods and I would then have kept myself in a job. However if I had have done that then I would most probably be teaching now or maybe still performing as a freelance percussionist in an orchestra, not earning a great deal of money but having a great time never the less. But maybe then I would never have met Pete or Carl. So luckily that was a good thing that I got fired.

After the forthcoming arena tour, what next for Gary Powell?

I have got some mixes that I want to do, because I like producing. I have got a few new releases coming out on my own record label, 25 Hour Convenience Store, by new artists who I have signed to the label. I will be playing a few sets as DJ in Bristol and Manchester so there is enough there to keep me busy Kevin (laughter).

On that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me and I am looking forward to seeing you in Nottingham.

Thank you Kevin for wanting to speak to me. You take care and I hope to catch up with you up there in Nottingham. Bye for now.