For the love of festivals

‘Dave Grohl saw me naked’: The Libertines drummer Gary Powell on his wildest festival moments

In our series of firsthand accounts of festival mayhem, Gary Powell recalls some of the antics he and his Libertines bandmates have got up to over the years

Monday 21 June 2021 06:30
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<p>‘I didn’t stop drinking’ – Gary Powell at the Isle of Wight festival in 2006</p>

‘I didn’t stop drinking’ – Gary Powell at the Isle of Wight festival in 2006

Unfortunately for the rest of the boys, I remember all our festival moments.

Our first Reading and Leeds was an interesting one. It was a Saturday afternoon – a miserable day – but there was a fair crowd in front of us. On stage, though, Peter [Doherty] and Carl [Barat] weren’t quite clicking, or maybe it was clicking too much and that kinetic energy they have went into overdrive. By the time we got offstage, they dived at each other – a fight kicked off. Everyone was looking at each other while Peter and Carl went hammer and tongs. They never punched each other in the face, though. With those guys, it’s all about the relationship. I count myself lucky to have the best seat in the house. Well… not really, because I’m looking at their butts. But it’s definitely “up close and personal”.

Then at Leeds, another time, we’d just finished performing and there was a young kid there waiting to take us in a cart backstage. Carl saw him and said, “I’ll drive!” Hadn’t passed his driving test or anything. The kid was too scared to say no. Luckily for me, I was in the buggy behind. Carl put his foot down and went down the hill, there was a fence… Carl rocketed into the air, crashed through the fence and the buggy ended up on its side. Everyone was fine! Carl got out, gave the keys back, said “thanks mate” and off he went.

The first time we played Witness festival in Ireland [2002], we got there in the morning and arrived at the dressing room. They hadn’t sorted out the rider but there was booze – a bottle of whisky, a bottle of vodka… Everyone went silent for a second. Then we grabbed a bottle each – “THIS IS MINE!” and everyone vanished: Carl disappeared, Peter disappeared, I disappeared, John disappeared! We came back together later, before we went onstage, absolutely hammered. I couldn’t hold my drumsticks. It was the worst show I ever played in my life. For some strange reason, we sobered up during the show and all went back to the BBC tent to watch it on TV. We were cringing and laughing at the same time. Then I went to watch No Doubt perform in the afternoon – Gwen Stefani climbed up to the very top [of the railings on side of stage], put the mic between her legs, then leaned back and put her arms out. Security went nuts!

A couple of years later I was at Coachella with some mates watching Razorlight play a smaller stage (a much, much smaller stage). Johnny Borrell went to the side and started climbing. He got about 10 feet up when he stopped, and realised he was a bit high. Then he went to climb down again but couldn’t find the rail, and he had his mic and you heard him go, “Arghhhhhh”. Security were standing there like, “If he falls, all he’s gonna do is sprain his ankle.” Eventually Johnny climbed down and scurried off the stage. That’s one of my funniest festival highlights. Sorry, Johnny.

Of course, there was the secret Libertines show at Glastonbury [2015]. We came in on the helicopter – I hated it, I felt like U2. In the picture where we’re getting off you can see me, I felt like an absolute d***head. It was a great experience though. The logistics of it were mad – we’d just come back from Thailand recording the album [Anthems for Doomed Youth], and we got a call from management. “Boys, are you by yourselves?” We had to travel on our own to Bristol on the Thursday after playing Reading and Leeds the weekend before. We couldn’t tell anyone. I got the train, like an idiot. The first day of Glastonbury! Waterloo station was rammed. I went in WH Smiths for some ciggies or something and some guys came up: “YOU GUYS ARE PLAYING!” I went, “No! I’m seeing a friend, and then we’re in Moscow on Sunday. So how can we be doing Glastonbury?” And they were like, “Oh, OK.” It was like that the whole way to Bristol.

The thing about a Libertines show is it’s less about us [as musicians] and more about the energy between the band and the audience, between Peter and Carl. It’s not amazing musicianship, let’s face it. It’s in the delivery, the emotionally crafted music. I love performing it, the whole aspect of that, especially at festivals. Because at festivals a lot of people are seeing us for the first time, and they get carried away in that environment. It ends up being something less derivative of itself and becomes kind of new and fresh, regardless of how many times we’ve played those songs. It seems to maintain that energy.

‘Best seat in the house’: Powell with Doherty (left) and Barat on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival, 2015

There was an awkward moment at Isle of Wight in 2006. Management were going to watch the Foo Fighters – before that we’d been onstage as Dirty Pretty Things. Our booking agent also looked after the Foos, and he introduced me to Dave Grohl and we had a little chat. I think that spurred me on for the day, because Dave is awesome. Later on, though, I started drinking. I didn’t stop drinking. Foo Fighters came on but by that point I was gone.

I was wasted to the point they had to escort me to the backstage area – Bobby Gillespie was there with Primal Scream, and for whatever reason, we decided to run around trashing people’s dressing rooms. Security helped carry me out, but in my mind, they thought it was really funny. They took me back to the bus and locked me in until we were on the ferry and I managed to get off again. But by that time, I was naked. Everyone else was walking around [upstairs], and I decided I needed to go for a wee. So I stood behind the truck – the wind was blowing everywhere – and who gets off his bus but… Dave Grohl. He looked at me and went, “That’s a good look, man.” Dave Grohl saw me naked!

As told to Roisin O’Connor

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