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11 November 2022

What Became of the Likely Lad | Gary Powell

Drummer Gary Powell talks about memories of Birmingham and the future of The Libertines for Mutt Motorcycles Magazine Issue #002.

Have you read Mutt Motorcycles Magazine Issue 002 yet? No? Well, here is a little taster of our article on Gary Powell, the man, the myth, the legendary drummer of The Libertines.

It’s a Wednesday morning when Gary Powell, drummer for The Libertines, walks through the door of Mutt London dressed in double denim. He also sports a white leather gilet over the top of his jacket and a collection of dazzling silver across his fingers - which he admitted he was happy to have an excuse to wear. Topping it all off with a beanie, moustache, red socks and a Libertines neck scarf for good measure, this is a man who knows what he likes.

There’s no sense of Gary being a ‘former’ member of one of the UK’s most iconic bands of recent times. So we asked, can we expect new music from the capital’s most infamous foursome? “Who knows, to be honest, I kind of doubt it. It would be great if we did, if not just for us because we’ve been playing the same old material, which I still do really enjoy playing because it is really, really dynamic, and all of the other superlatives that go along with it. It’s just great material to play. But just to give us the impetus to do something for ourselves, as opposed to doing something for the greater good of everybody else. We haven’t done anything for us in ages because there’s no impetus to do anything for us, and it’s a little bit lazy. The whole hotel thing [Albion Rooms, Margate] was all Carl’s idea. My input into that was just the studio.” It’s not for want of trying, though. We find out from Gary that he wrote a whole bunch of songs during lockdown because “what else are you going to do?” And while the band may have been scattered across Europe, they still tried to catch up via video calls weekly.

It’s been six years since the release of Anthems For Doomed Youth, the band’s third studio album, but they’re no strangers to long pauses - such as their hiatus from 2004 to 2010. “There was a lot written about the fact that we’d all kinda fallen out, but we hadn’t fallen out. It was well documented why we weren’t together, and it had nothing to do with us arguing. It was quite conducive, to be honest. When we did actually get together, it was just like a meeting of old minds, like the last time you saw a friend you haven’t seen in ages and you just carry on having the last conversation that you had with them, it was no different to that.” 

They’re a far cry now from when Gary first joined the band at the turn of the millennium: “We were still in the genesis of everything, we had no deal, no money, Pete and Carl had nowhere to live. I had a really shitty job. John was studying and living in his mum’s house. We were literally at the beginning of everything moving forward with reference to us, not everything else, just us guys. So there was a basic equilibrium that kinda levelled us all out. There was no hierarchy.” 

With all four members pulling in the same direction, it was easier for the band to stick it out together than go it alone. Gary talks fondly of how that dynamic is still the same as when they signed their first record deal. “We still talk all of the same nonsense that we spoke about, we do all the same stupid things, we’re all just as stupid together. Outside of that, I come home, I’ve got the kids, I’ve got Unity Rocks, I’ve got my Record Label. But when I’m with the Libs, I’m Mr Rowntree. I’m a dickhead. Same dickhead I was when we first signed. So maintaining that dynamic and emotional connection is a piece of piss.”

Gary has plenty of other projects from over the years under his belt. These include work with Hope Not Hate, his graphic novel project ‘The Invasion Of’ with Heroes writer Jim Martin, and his record label 25 Hour Convenience Store, which has helped keep him up to date with new and relevant music over the past ten years. When we spoke, he was keen to show off a potential new signing and was waxing lyrical about existing band Purest, who he describes as having a “very kind of New Order-esque sound with a tint of something else”.

His stereo is currently pumping out the likes of Fontaines DC and Rex Orange County, and his Boogaloo Radio show keeps him checking out what’s new. “It’s just given me so much more time to investigate new music and new artists. So every week, I get to cherry-pick all this new music, and it’s all non-genre specific. The only thing that I’d say is genre-specific about the show is that I’ll play some jazz on the hour because I love jazz”. 

Gary highlights The Astoria (“but they’ve closed that down, the bastards”) and Brixton Academy when talking about favourite venues. “I like shows at Brixton, and I especially like the crew at Brixton. They are really good - when we did my show for Unity Rocks, they really looked after me there. Brixton were very much of the mindset that this is for a really, really good cause, and we’re going to back you 100%. So even when Pete did graffiti on the walls, and that needed to be paid for, they didn’t take it from any of the fees whatsoever. I think they actually covered it for me, so shout out Brixton!”

After a while, the conversation turns to bikes, as you might expect in a showroom full of our pavement-pounding machines. Gary instantly admits he’s always wanted one of his own. “My affair with motorbikes started by watching the TV show ‘Kick Start’,” an absolute classic for those who remember. He tells us an anecdote about a biking accident he had in Chicago while catching a ride. However, mentioning lawyers means skipping some of the details is necessary. “I went over the handlebars, and I just remember flying through the air and thinking, ‘you dickhead’.” Luckily, he wasn’t caning it, so it didn’t end too badly, “but my knuckles, hands, knees, elbows, and a bit of my face were all grazed.” 

Luckily a bit of introductory road rash didn’t put him off. And he tells us he’s keen to bag himself a custom Mutt to call ‘GAP’ after his initials. Our conversation then turns to road trips, specifically what he listens to when he is on the road with the band. Gary refuses to pick a single album to listen to for a lengthy journey, so we settle on letting him have two. “On the way there, Jeff Buckley’s first album Grace. On the way back, A Tribe Called Quest - People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.” 

Of course, Gary is a fellow Brummie, spending much of his youth travelling between our great city and the US. Even seeing Birmingham lads Duran Duran over in Yankee Stadium. But some of his older memories of the place are somewhat mixed. “My history of Birmingham? I remember my uncle bought me a Sergio Tacchini tracksuit from Toronto for $39. Then some guy with a knife made me strip in the centre of Birmingham and take the whole thing off. I then got a lift home from the police. This was a Saturday as well, and it was packed with people wandering around. Birmingham was a very different place back then. I was never a big fan of England until I left and returned. As far as I’m concerned, Birmingham now is a great city, and I’ve got some really good friends there who run a clothes store called ‘Autograph’. Those guys are really, really cool.” 

So what about Gary’s legacy? “The best drummer in Rock’ N’ Roll. That’s it.” He laughs and admits to stealing ideas from drumming predecessors - he loves the artistry of percussion. Still, we’re confident his influence isn’t exactly going to fade away any time soon. “What will we leave behind? It’s a toughie because, being on the inside, I honestly don’t see what all the fuss is. I just don’t see it. I see better artists around, bands creating greater music, and bands with a much higher output than we have. The one thing that we have that maybe others don’t have is an understanding of our environment and wanting to be one with our environment. There is no hierarchy.” 

Lockdown gave Gary the chance to spend time with his kids, skating a lot in Mile End and Margate (“The revolution is in Margate!”). He also took the opportunity to take the time to encourage people to have real conversations with each other rather than arguments. “Conversations had become so antiquated and aggressive towards people with a different political belief system or ideology for no reason whatsoever. Say, for instance, if I voted in favour of Brexit, and you didn’t, we could not have a conversation at that point of time which I was just like, ‘what!? Seriously!?’ Because I think differently to you on a subject that affects us both, now you hate me, and I’m meant to hate you? Makes no sense whatsoever!.” 

The day after we met with Gary was Stephen Lawrence Day. Hence, he was busy working with the charity Stop Hate UK to help increase the education around intolerance. He’s keen to advocate for the virtues of engaging constructively with others. “We may be on different sides of the coin, but we are still on the same coin. We still want the best for our country, community, and family. We’re just going about it in different ways.”

Gary keeps himself busy with his record label, producing bands like Dead Freights and Brown Bear and presenting EVERYTHING IS EVERYTHING on Boogaloo Radio on Thursdays. He’s also a writer for NYC based magazine Ubikwist. Writing articles on Skin from Skunk Anansie, Ben Harper, Art comes First fashion designer, and actress Yolonda Ross to name a few. And just before you thought that he couldn’t possibly fit anything else in, Gary will be back to DJing again this year. Honestly, we don’t know how he manages to do so much. Fair play Gary.

You can read the rest of the articles from Mutt Motorcycles Magazine in a digital format, or grab a real-life physical copy for yourself. 

Photography by Gavin Watson

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