The Rock’n’Roll Pantomime that is the Darkness hits Nottingham on a cool Saturday in December. Messrs Hawkins (Justin and Dan), Frankie Poullain and Rufus Tiger Taylor (yes his dad’s Roger of Queen fame), have brought Lowestoft’s finest export to the heart of the Midlands as part of their winter 2017 tour, tonight is party night.
Before the Darkness hit the stage we have to get into the venue, already a very sizable queue has formed. Big enough to have security controlling the antics happening outside. The venue opens on time and the gathered throng quickly get inside where it’s only slightly warmer. This is always the case with Rock City but it soon warms up.
Tonight is a sold out, it has been since the tickets went on sale back in the beginning of the year. It’s good to see a sizeable crowd already here to greet the support band.
Blackfoot Gypsies are a band that have skipped under the radar so I’m keen to see what they have for us. Hailing from Nashville, Tennessee, this four piece say its music style is influenced by Blues, Rock, Punk, Country, in fact it sounds like everything’s been thrown into the pot just in case.
Hitting the stage, they drop into some sludgy hillbilly swamp blues complete with harmonica. Playing a short 30minute set, the four piece give a good account of themselves, sometimes coming across a bit like early Mott the Hoople, with an early 70’s vibe going on. They pleased the crowd and got them warmed up. One to look up later and enjoy.
Whilst the crew sorted out the stage the gathered crowd had swollen to capacity. The Darkness tee-shirts from previous tours were floating around, half naked women, some of which shouldn’t be, strutted around for all to see. One of the tallest youths I’d ever seen stooped as he crawled through the doorway from backstage!! Christ Almighty he was a giant!!
8:00pm and the crowd are chanting for Hawkins and the boys, ‘Arrival’, by ABBA, strikes up and the crowd erupt! Boy this is going to be loud. Milking it for a few minutes, they finally grace the stage, Dan on first, sleeves rolled up on his jacket, the ever-present Thin Lizzy tee-shirt peeking through the partially zipped front. Frankie comes on doing a very passable impression of a 70’s porn star. Dressed in a red suit looking as sleazy as hell and in every way totally fitting tonight’s atmosphere of fun, Taylor has already got seated behind his somewhat diminutive drum kit and is getting settled in just as Justin sleazes on, dressed in a turquoise glitter and green striped Lycra jumpsuit. Open to the navel, his Lowestoft emblazoned belly for all to see, he walks up to the front of the stage, a big grin on his face, arms raised above his head. Smiling like a Cheshire cat, he slings his trademark white Gibson Les Paul on and as usual it’s hanging low, he raises his arms above his head enjoying the moment smiling like the cat who’s got the cream. He is among friends and is clearly up for a good night.
They start with Open Fire from the 2015 album ‘Last of our Kind’ one of only two songs from that album to be played tonight. The crowd are already enjoying the antics as Justin makes faces and prances around the stage. Taylor starts the steady drum beat as Dan, stood stage right in front of a bank of speakers and lights, hits the classic rock pose as he joins in and grinds out the riff to Love is Only a Feeling from the 2013 album ‘Permission to Land’, an album that will be visited no less than nine times this evening. This ballad shows Hawkins’ fine falsetto as he winds his way around this, one of the slower songs to be played tonight.
The naughty Southern Trains follows from the new album ‘Pinewood Smile’, a song about the disgrace of the Southern Train network and one that won’t get much if any radio time such is the potential libellous content of the song. The crowd love it. The excellent, often overlooked, guitar work of the brothers is ably demonstrated as they negotiate their way through the song, guitars thrust in the air as they enjoy the cheers of the crowd.
Black Shuck, One Way Ticket, and Giving Up follow before we get the second song from the new album, The opening track, All the Pretty Girls sees Frankie’s Bass kicking in as it builds up, a scream from Hawkins and the guitars kick in. A sleazy ‘girls’ song follows that wouldn’t be out of place being played back in the 80’s, again excellent guitar work gives it a unique ‘Brit’ rock sound. The Darkness at their best? A great track from a superb album.
Barbarian, Friday Night, and the brilliant Making Out follow with an edgy Aerosmith on steroids vibe, Hawkins vocal aerobatics roll and tumble sublimely, this song continues to be a favourite.
Every Inch of You is next, this being the only track from the 2012 ‘Hot Cakes’ album, which brings us to the third song from their latest release, Solid Gold. The song makes reference to toilet duties in that ‘we’re never gonna stop shittin’ out Solid Gold’. Typical lyrics from a band that don’t take themselves too seriously.
Hawkins tells the crowd that the band are going to play three tracks from ‘Permission To Land’ and then will leave the stage; that is Darkness-speak meaning go mental, cheer, shout and scream for more, then we’ll come out and play a little more.
Stuck in a Rut, Get Your Hands off my Woman and Growing on Me follow.
Hawkins has a session of getting the crowd to sing which is all done too easily. The crowd have been well up for a good night, singing, dancing and joining in with the antics.
And with that the band walk off for what seems like an age. The crowd dutifully obey by shouting, and screaming for more. Refreshed and in a change of outfit, Hawkins casually strolls up to the mike, that ever-present smile beaming out of his unkempt locks…and away we go with the fourth and final track from ‘Pinewood Smiles’, a track called Japanese Prisoner of Love. The crowd love it bouncing in time as Hawkins runs around the stage like a headless chicken in a tin foil suit. He stops mid stage and Dan starts into the riff of Immigrant Song by the mighty Led Zeppelin. We are running early, curfew is 10pm meaning we have a good 30 minutes to kill so this should be fun. The intro is cut short after Hawkins gives us a couple of the acapella screams, the iconic start to this classic song.
Next comes a bit of Guns and Roses, Justin smashes out the intro to Sweet Child of Mine, stood with the guitar in classic ‘Slash’ pose, the rest of the band join in but before he can get a word out the whole of Rock City takes on the singing duties, Justin turns to Frankie with an unbelievable look on his face. We have a keeper and so the song goes on, showing how great this band is, tight and rhythmical it’s knocked out of the park. A sudden stop seemed a fitting way to complete the song, but we’ve not finished. Next a tribute to Malcom Young follows as AC/DC’s Thunderstruck intro is thrown into the mix. Justin is running around again covering the stage as fresh as if he’d just walked on.
All change again as the mirror ball sparkles, lights dancing around the crowd as the penultimate track strikes up. Not everybody’s favourite but how can you not like Christmas Time, again from ‘Permission to land’. A festive treat again see’s Hawkins voice tested as he again gives this classic Xmas song the Darkness treatment as confetti falls from the rigging coating the crowd in ticker tape.
And so the final song of the night. No Darkness gig would be complete without their biggest hit, the one that well and truly put the band on the map to bigger and better things. I Believe, again from ‘Permission to Land’. What a remarkable album this is and has the crowd singing at the top of their lungs as the catchy riff drives out and hits everyone like a sledgehammer! The whole of Rock City sing along with Justin and the boys.
A great end to a truly magical gig.
The Darkness, Pantomime Rock n Roll or not, you can’t accuse them of not putting on a brilliant show. Complete with headstands and foot clapping on drum risers, ballerina poses, with excellent guitar work thrown into a tight unique sound along with a great set choice and you have an instant winner. This is a band that don’t take themselves too seriously and in doing so they have the best time ever.
And so do the fans!
Words and images: Manny Manson