As reformed rock gods The Darkness prepare for a headline set at Looe Festival Jackie Butler talks exclusively to the band’s guitarist Dan Hawkins
When they first burst on to the scene a decade ago in a glittering extravaganza of spandex catsuits and head-banging, feelgood, falsetto guitar rock, The Darkness felt like a breath of fresh air at a time when chart stars were becoming a far safer, homogenised breed.
Flamboyant frontman Justin Hawkins, his guitarist brother Dan, drummer Ed Graham and afro-sporting bassist Frankie Poullain – injected tongue-in-cheek glam style, bolstered by much preening, posturing and stage star-jumping, into a maturing genre that was forgetting its theatricality and its sense of humour.
Three years, hundreds of high-energy, high-profile gigs, and millions of record sales later and they exited all too swiftly – battered, bruised and divided by relentless touring and the expensive chemical excesses the rock and roll lifestyle provided.
Their last show down in the Westcountry was a glorious pyrotechnic maelstrom at Plymouth Pavilions early in 2006, before the band imploded and went their separate ways just a few months later – Justin into rehab and the others to lick their wounds and change tack.
Wind forward to 2013 and, against all the odds, normal, over-the-top service has now been re-established – just minus the vast quantities of alcohol and mind-altering drugs.
“It’s not a panic attack any more… it’s just mildly stressful,” laughs Dan, who says they are firing on all cylinders and ready to put on one hell of a show for the Cornish crowds at Looe Music Festival next Sunday. It’s one of just a handful of lower-key festival dates the guys have chosen to play this year after two summers of mainstream outings, and an extensive US reunion tour.
“We’ve been keeping under the radar a bit this year, just playing smaller festivals in interesting places we haven’t done before while we write and record a new album.
“Things have changed for everyone and now it’s a balance of putting on a great show and still managing to feed the kids,” adds Dan, now 36, and the proud father of two little girls aged two and three.
“But it’s all back to normal in the band. The arguments have begun about who is going to wear what and what we’ll spend on backdrops and outfits. We do get carried away; we aim to break even on tour, but we usually end up losing money…”
The original quartet got back together in secret in 2010, writing and recording and taking it slowly, and then a year later came an offer that would have been crazy to refuse – a headline slot at top rock festival Download. It thrust them firmly back into the fray, albeit older and wiser and much more of a team than they used to be.
“I think maybe in the early days I was the one who was most focused on what I was doing, and I used to fight really hard to get my own way,” he muses.
“But everyone has their role now, and we talk a lot more about everything, which is really important; when we split up we had stopped talking to each other.”
In typical workaholic style, Dan hadn’t reflected much on the past as he tried to forge ahead setting up his own recording studio at home in rural Norfolk – where he and Justin grew up – and forming the new band Stone Gods. Coming into the limelight again forced him to look.
“I realised people were wondering what happened and what it was like for us; as a human being I don’t look back that often, but it’s been good being forced to think about it,” says Dan (pictured above). “I think the main thing was the workload and the sheer amount of time we were spending together and off our faces. We were four best friends stuck on a tour bus for three years, with no time to see our family and friends.
“It was a recipe for disaster…. but I wouldn’t have it any other way in terms of experience. We’ve each got a book in us for the grandchildren… maybe after we’re dead!
“There were parts where everyone around us was going completely mental too and you’re there trying to steer the ship. But all the early stuff from the first album was done completely sober. It was only when it went off like a rocket that we started consuming everything in sight; it’s like we’ve come back to the beginning now,” he adds.
They certainly weren’t the first band to be fuelled by excess on a sudden whirlwind of success. After several years building up a modest fanbase on the London pub and club circuit – and a history of record company rejection for being unfashionable – the band were finally signed up by Atlantic. Their debut album, Permission to Land, was released in 2003 and certified quadruple platinum in the UK. The singles I Believe in a Thing Called Love, Growing on Me, Get Your Hands off My Woman and Love is Only a Feeling – and the eye-catching accompanying videos, struck a chord and in 2004 the band won three Brit Awards – Best British Group, Best British Rock Act, and Best British Album.
They had no idea how prophetic the title of their 2005 sophomore LP One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back would be. Last year’s Hot Cakes harks back to the early days in its fun, risque affability and solid melodic force.
“A lot of alt rock and metal are built around sadness and anger and there are very few bands putting on feelgood gigs where the audience can have the time of their lives. I think that is what we do… and when enough people have the same agenda it’s very infectious,” says Dan, who is packing his bodyboard for the trip to Cornwall. “We aren’t just playing renditions of songs, we want to entertain; we try to put as much into our performances and set designs as we can. We’ve had a riot with this particular set – but if you’re coming to check us out critically, then you’ve come to the wrong show.”
The Darkness play Looe Music Festival on Sunday, September 29. For deatils of the exciting and eclectic full weekend line-up visit looemusic.co.uk. The band will also play Plymouth University on November 16.