Eight years ago The Darkness were at the very top of the pile when it came to British bands. Their début album went to number one, gaining them huge festival headline slots and an arena tour within a year. Hailed for bringing guitar solos back into the charts, the band went on to bring out the Yuletide hit ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)’ which joined a huge list of ‘should-have-been-Christmas-number-one-songs’.
Following this bassist Frankie Poullain was fired from the band and replaced by guitar technician Richie Edwards. Their second album ‘One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back’ didn’t get close to ‘Permission to Land’ in any way, whether that be the unique Darkness sound or the sales that were achieved. This was then followed with the announcement that the band would be splitting after Justin Hawkins’ drug issues and a falling out with guitarist brother Dan. Both set up new bands, Justin with ‘Hot Leg’ and Dan, joined by drummer Ed Graham, formed ‘Stone Gods’. Neither of the bands gained any wide spread publicity and every year rumours spread of a return of The Darkness. So in a way, it came as no surprise when they were announced as special guests to Def Leppard at Download festival in 2011 with a subsequent tour and album to follow.
The tour came around and as a huge fan of the band, never having seen them in their prime, I was counting down the days till the gig came. Having seen the footage from Download the band had left the cat suits and inflatable breasts behind in favour for a much more defined set up. As the curtain dropped, a cage was visible on stage in front a massive union jack with The Darkness logo embezzled across it. The opening guitar riff of ‘Black Shuck’ reverberated around the room to a chorus of cheers, Justin clambering around on the cage while singing the song. Then, transitioning straight into ‘Growing On Me’, you knew that the night was really the band proving that they were back and in as good a form, if not better than when they left.
Moving onto singles ‘Best Of Me’ and ‘One Way Ticket’ from their second album, the band then gave the first taster of what The Darkness of the new decade are going to sound like. The catchy and Queen sounding ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us’ was a great song to pick because as new as it was, it had elements in it that the crowd could so easily relate to. Blasting through B-sides and album tracks, the band didn’t really do much in the way of crowd interaction, focusing more on their extremely good playing and keeping the atmosphere alive. The band really didn’t want to let anything drop, and changes of clothes for Justin were done in the blink of an eye. The song ‘Friday Night’ was in a superb mid-set position with its potential for crowd participation. It meant that the stereotypical mid-set lull never came.
With the set carrying on at such a high level of performance and energy, the end came far too soon. Though, after a brief word with the crowd, new red bulbs appeared on stage and snowflakes began to fall for a triumphant rendition of ‘Christmas Time’ with the crowd fully getting into the Christmas spirit.
With chants all around, it was a short time before the band returned to the stage. Dan dropping his military shirt for a traditional Thin Lizzy t-shirt and Justin returning in his pink and white ‘Bagpuss’ cat suit, playing out the instrumental song ‘Bareback’. The Darkness have never been one to shy away from covering someone else and this gig was no exception with a brilliant version of the Queen classic ‘Tie Your Mother Down’.
Then it came. In a way, it was the moment everyone had been waiting for. As soon as the first chord of the guitar riff was played the crowd erupted. The song, ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ was The Darkness’ biggest hit and is still held in as high a regard today as it was when it was released. Surprisingly this wasn’t the last song of the gig. An extended double length version of ‘Love on the Rocks’ followed suit carrying on where ‘I Believe In’ had left off. With the band playing furiously on stage Justin, with the help of a roadie, was transported around the crowd playing a guitar solo before returning to the stage to end the gig with the band and bask in all the glory from the loudest crowd on the tour.
After the trials and tribulations that sent the Darkness spiraling from being the biggest UK band to obscurity, the Suffolk rockers have got a lot to offer for the future based on the live performance and the quality of the new songs that they have got ready to released very soon.