In need of a comb: Justin Hawkins of The Darkness performs on stage in London on the first night of their British tour (Picture: Getty)
It’s 2.30 in the afternoon and Justin Hawkins is at the back entrance of Camden’s Electric Ballroom theatre chatting to three women.
A 12in puddle separates them, symbolic of a small moat. It’s all very polite, no hysteria and a friendly conversation is taking place.
These women are from France. They have been waiting there since 11am to meet the frontman of The Darkness, having travelled over the Channel for the first night of the band’s 2013 British tour.
Hawkins, resplendent in his hippy-style black coat, Musketeer moustache (the goatee beard has gone – ‘I never liked it much… made me look like Catweazle’) and crazy haystack hair, takes the time to chat. He has made their day.
As we squeeze our way through the gap between two roadcrew transit vans into the backstage area of the north London venue, the band’s rider has just arrived. Somewhat surprisingly for a rock band with a wild on-stage reputation, it consists mainly of bottles and bottles of water.
But since Hawkins has given up the excesses of drugs and drink – apparently he cannot stand the smell of any alcohol these days – The Darkness have gone back to their roots, starting all over again, playing more intimate venues, at their own pace.
All four members of The Darkness are with me on leather sofas in a cold, characterless room. Ten years ago, it was all a different story. The band burst on to the scene and were hot property as they lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle to excess. But the meteoric rise took its toll.
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – NOVEMBER 12: Ed Graham, Dan Hawkins, Justin Hawkins and Frankie Poullain of The Darkness perform on stage at Electric Ballroom on November 12, 2013 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Burak Cingi/Redferns via Getty Images)Triumphant return: Ed Graham, Dan Hawkins, Justin Hawkins and Frankie Poullain back on stage in London (Picture: Getty)
Was it all too much too soon?
Frankie Poullain (bass): ‘I actually felt it was all too fast. The record company said to themselves they want to squeeze as much as they can out of you and they keep pushing you in a commercial direction. After a while you can easily lose your identity. Not that you do lose your identity but because you have been pushed into other scenarios.’
Hawkins: ‘I remember one conversation with the boss of the record label. We’d had Get Your Hands Off My Woman, Growing On Me and I Believe In A Thing Called Love, and I was wearing catsuits and was all dressed up. Then just as we were hitting mega-popularity – I think partly because of the way we looked – we were being told to do a video in just jeans and T-shirts. Which I think is missing the point really because we were doing something that was so different and we should have been encouraged to take the time to develop that rather than pulling it back. We should have been expanding it, for better or worse, and gambling. ’Cos in the end we didn’t gamble and we lost.’
Poullain: ‘That’s partly why we are doing what we are doing now. We are very much in touch with ourselves and we are doing more what we want to do.’
Have you become a more serious band?
Poullain: ‘No, not on stage. We are less serious. There’s more showmanship. We now have room to grow at our own pace. It’s not so forced and is more like us.’
So how does The Darkness differ these days to what you were?
Hawkins: ‘We are not as rich as we used to be or as successful or as popular!’
Ed Graham (drums): ‘When we were playing arenas, we had these big chariots and stuffed tigers and things like that. On these smaller shows we have improvised and come up with some other great ideas.’
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – NOVEMBER 12: Dan Hawkins and Frankie Poullain of The Darkness perform on stage at Electric Ballroom on November 12, 2013 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Burak Cingi/Redferns via Getty Images)More confident: Dan Hawkins and Frankie Poullain say they move about the stage more these days (Picture Getty)
Dan Hawkins (guitar): ‘I am a lot more confident on stage. When I look back at footage I always find it remarkable how stationery we all were. We were known as this performance rock band and at the time it felt like we were really going for it. But actually we weren’t. We just stood there and it looked like we were going for it because of what we were wearing.’
What are you wearing on stage these days?
Poullain: ‘Ed’s more the leather guy. I’m more satin and leather. Dan’s cotton and denim – more ’70s – and Justin is whatever you want to call it!’
So Justin, why have you lost the goatee beard?
‘I had the moustache first which started off as a Movember thing. I liked it so kept it. A few people suggested I have a little beard to accompany it. So I grew a little beard and I got carried away and it became a really long beard. This June it was a really hot day and I decided to cut it off.’
All this talk of appearance seems so far removed from heavy rock music but I rolled with it and asked the dishevelled, shorter-haired Hawkins: Do you possess a comb?
He laughs: ‘No, but I’m gonna send a runner out to get one today.’
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – NOVEMBER 12: Justin Hawkins of The Darkness performs on stage at Electric Ballroom on November 12, 2013 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Burak Cingi/Redferns via Getty Images)
Dye hard: Justin Hawkins laughed off suggestions that he dyes his long hair black (Picture Getty)
And do you dye that hair? (It is looking a lot blacker these days).
‘Do I dye it?’ he chuckles. ‘I could show you my pubis if you like (to apparently prove that he doesn’t)… which is also dyed. So you’d be none the wiser!’
For someone who has been to hell and back through his past drinking and drug abuse, Hawkins is in a better place these days. And he puts a lot of this down to being a vegan.
‘I used to be f***** and now I am not so f*****. Veganism is a different thing to different people. For me it is about the cruelty. So I could eat an egg if a chicken has just sat there and said, “Do you know what, I’m going to lay an egg”, and the egg comes from a happy, non-cruel place.’
On that note, he left to get an ear pierced in Camden High Street… and, no doubt, buy a comb!
The Darkness will be playing at the Classic Rock Roll of Honour at The Roundhouse, Camden, tonight (November 14).