Revisited: Gary Powell looks back on Up The Bracket
© Rune Hellestad/Corbis
The Libertines smash debut album Up The Bracket turns ten this week. To celebrate the landmark, here we present drummer Gary Powell's thoughts and reflections on that life-changing record.
Where did you record Up The Bracket?
"We recorded at Rak Studios, which was originally owned by Mickie Most. I met Mickie on our first day recording, which was our first foray into a professional recording studio, we'd only ever been into little pieces of s**t. As usual I was the first into the studio by a good few hours. We were supposed to be in for ten, which I was with all of my gear. I sat in the studio TV room waiting for people to turn up and that's when I met Mickie. We sat watching an old film and he was talking about how he started the studio and I fell asleep on his shoulder. I woke up having dribbled down his shoulder. I was so embarrassed."
Who else was involved with the album?
"We recorded with Bernard Butler and Nick Terry. It was a very draconian environment and we did everything Bernard said, which I'm not going to complain about because it had good results. It was day in day out just playing live instead of laying it down separately, which was perfect for us. There's the odd overdubbed guitar, but apart from that it's a completely live album."
Did you go in planning on recording in that way?
"We didn't know any different. We'd always played live in the studio. It's only afterwards hearing bands that broke down all of the drum parts and recorded each drum part over the course of a summer that we realised the extent people will go to. The album is very emotionally-orientated so the only thing we could do was play it live."
What process did you go through to get your drum sound on the record?
"I already had a drum sound. I'd been figuring it out and the only thing we concentrated in the studio was getting whatever ring out of my kit. I used a 13" Yamaha snare and I wanted a resonant popping sound. In hindsight I wish I'd used a different one because we ended up with all kinds of dampening techniques to take the ring off, so we lost the true feel of the drum."
Was there much dampening used on the kit?
"Not a great deal. But there was a fair amount on my snare. I preferred them to sing. I loved the '70s recordings, but if you listen to some recordings the toms sound like buckets. I like mine to sing. Like at the beginning of 'I Get Along' and I do 16th note tom sweep with crossovers. If it wasn't for the fact that the toms sang, that phrasing would sound articulated but it wouldn't help the track develop."
What kit were you using at that time?
"I was using a Yamaha Stage Custom kit. I didn't have a kit prior to Up The Bracket because I was penniless, but when we signed to Rough Trade they put some money aside for us to buy instruments. They put aside £2,000 for me. So I bought the cheapest kit possible and saved the rest for booze and rent! That's the kit I ended up touring with as well."
How about cymbals?
"I already had my Zildjian deal by then. I was mainly using A Customs. At the beginning my set-up was based on guys that I've watched drummers. So I got the A Custom series because I thought Vinnie Colaiuta was a god. And my toms, the design of the set up is a mix of Akira Jimbo and Dave Weckl. Then the way the cymbals were set-up was Steve Gadd. It was a morph of all of my drum heroes."
Did any tracks prove difficult to lay down?
"We pretty much had them all laid down before we went into the studio. Whilst we were in the studio there was always the odd idea that crept in. Like with 'What A Waster' there was this thing...was that on the album? Hang on, it wasn't was it? Anyway, when we recorded it originally the end went into a weird sombre thing and all of a sudden via our producer we decided to change the ending. That dictated the rest of the song for me. It gives the overall impression of the song a whole different meaning, it makes it a lot more aggressive."
Did any tracks stand out for you from a drumming perspective?
"'Begging'. As a drum track it stood out. There's some dynamics. It's the quality of the drums maintained all the way through the early phrasing. They stay true all the way through. 'Vertigo' as well because I got to go wild on my timbales. Apart from 'Horror Show', there's not a great deal of fills. It's just straight rock 'n roll. The songs were so musical that it didn't warrant a great deal."
Were you confident about the material?
"There was a lot of hunger to record. We had an absolute plethora of material to mess around with. Then we had no material for the second album! By the time we'd got to the second album we'd toured a lot and the excitement for recording was completely lost. If we'd approached the second album with the same vigour that we did the first who knows what we could have done."
Could you have done with a longer break between the two?
"Yes and no. We needed to go back in the studio at that point because things were getting lax with our own personal relationships. We needed a reason to get back onto stage as well because we'd been touring for so long. It was pretty stale."