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Still Holding Their Own: The Darkness Talk 'Permission To Land' At 10

Monday, 18 November 2013 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Sat in a dingy dressing room overlooking the backstreets of Camden, seemingly in a good position to run the rule over potential locations for a new Danny Dyer flick, the anticipation was growing. Downstairs, the Darkness were preparing to headline the Electric Ballroom in the second date of a national tour to celebrate the 10th birthday of their classic debut album.

'Permission To Land' was in a league of its own, released at a time when everybody thought the White Stripes were the best thing to ever happen to them, when record sales were still worth celebrating and when classic rock music was seen as something of a joke.

The album, though, managed to capture the essence of ‘70s rock while bringing it up to date. The Darkness came along and tore the world a new one, rising from the underground circuit to the mainstream in one of the most meteoric surges of popularity ever seen. The record spent four weeks at number one and they took home awards from Kerrang! and the Brits among others.

Having broken up in 2006, the Suffolk rock gods reformed in 2011 and have been on the road ever since, pausing only to release their third album, ‘Hot Cakes, in 2012. A few hours before the lights went down, guitarist Dan Hawkins and bassist Frankie Poullain sauntered in to brighten up the room.

“It's all a bit surreal, isn't it?” Hawkins said. “I think now, if we were to win an award or have a platinum selling record, we'd probably appreciate it a bit more! We didn't give a flying fuck back in the day, it was great. We...” Poullain interjected: “It's all a bit fuzzy. I don't know why we drank so much and did all that stuff.”

Having been given their cake, the Darkness were determined to eat it. With a load of drink, drugs and a frontman going off the rails, excess seemed to be a common factor within the band.

“We were always celebrating and we never really had time to get used to it,” Poullain said. “The record company, PR, all them lot were always coming down with champagne to congratulate us on our success – on their success. There's probably less of that now, but we caught the tail-end of people still buying hard copies, so we shipped a few units. It was great fun. Again, a bit fuzzy, but we were having so much fun. Well, we don't really remember it. The good times were magical.”

Hawkins continued: “The bad times were more memorable because there were less of them. We'd all been on the dole and surviving on fuck all for so many years, that, finally, we'd not only started to tour the world, but we had money as well. Fucking terrible combination.”

The band’s meteoric rise did have its casualties though. Justin Hawkins, their flamboyant, furiously entertaining frontman, quit the band in 2006, having checked in to the Priory Clinic to overcome cocaine and alcohol problems. "I became secretive, volatile and verbally abusive, a really unpleasant person to be around,” he told the Sun just prior to leaving the group.

Despite the external pressures, the band were a force to be reckoned with. Their live show was (and still is) a true rock 'n' roll extravaganza, one that led them to headline the Reading and Leeds Festivals in 2004. 'Permission To Land' also remains a gem to this day. Tunes like Black Shuck, Get Your Hands Off My Woman and the immortal I Believe In A Thing Called Love speak for themselves and Hawkins’ high-pitched wail became immediately associated with the Darkness.

“The vocals on the album are just so fresh, so human,” Poullain said. “It's like he's in the room with you. These days there's no imperfections. I mean, people were using Pro Tools back then, but he does just sound like a guy from Lowesoft. He sounds like he's singing as if his life depends on it.”

Hawkins continued: “It's kind of on its way to being a classic album. Fucking hell, you couldn't ask for more than that, could you? We still love playing the songs, which is a testament to the album. I remember going into the studio and playing a song, then going a semitone up, a semitone up, a semitone up. We kept going 'til it was almost impossible for Justin to sing over it. We made him work his arse off! It was ridiculous.”

The band always aimed stupendously high, and it's no different now. Having supported Metallica, Robbie Williams and the Rolling Stones on the back of 'Permission To Land', the Darkness set out on a monolithic stadium tour supporting Lady Gaga last year.

“Lady Gaga is pretty much the same as any other big artist we've supported,” Hawkins said. “You get half an hour to make the biggest impression you can. I've got to say, apart from a few countries in eastern Europe, we went down really well. Her fans were fucking awesome.”

While this tour has the Darkness focusing on the past and performing 'Permission To Land' in full to sold out crowds across the country, they aren't ones to rest on their laurels and wipe their arses with £20 notes.

“One of the advantages of the Gaga tour was we had loads of time off,” Hawkins said. “It took a day to move the whole production then another day to set it back up again. We were very disciplined – we made sure to play a shitload of tennis and write a shitload of songs!

“We're about halfway through the writing of the record. I think you have to pick from around 30 songs to make a really good album. We've picked from about 15 at the moment, but we really want to get it right this time. We've made a start. We've recorded a few tracks and we're actually playing one [The Horn] on this tour. I want to do a full production of Second Fiddle [a demo track released on the band's Facebook before embarking on the tour], with the string arrangements.

“We're really enjoying writing together at the moment, and we've got some out-there ideas coming through. Once we come back from various Christmas breaks, it's just going to be great to get in the studio and write. Ideally, I'd like to see the album released between summer and winter.”

Poullain picked up on the theme, noting some varied influences on their new material. “We've got this new track, The Horn, which we're playing on this tour. We've taken influence from bands like System Of A Down, My Bloody Valentine, stuff like that's crept into our music, so I think this new album will sound like a musical reinvention. Or, at least, we're not thinking we have to write and sound exactly like the Darkness. We're just playing stuff we like playing.”

Hawkins believes that the band’s new material finds them in a similar mode to their pre-’Permission To Land’ days, when they were equally willing to try new things in pursuit of diversifying their set.

“We're just pushing the boundaries,” he said. “I think we did that with 'Permission To Land', to be honest. If you look at the b-sides on that album, stuff like Curse Of The Tollund Man, there's a lot of really out-there stuff. It's a varied palette. Even with Get Your Hands Off My Woman, that was a bit of a diversion for us. We had a very melodic classic rock sound, then we went to this little farmhouse in Suffolk with the specific aim of writing three fast songs. The set we were playing at the time was great, but leaned towards soft rock, so in that session we wrote Get Your Hands Off My Woman and Givin' Up.”

So there you have it. Post-'Permission To Land' and post-breakup, the Darkness have emerged as winners. They have survived. Ten years on from their original rock 'n' roll masterpiece, they're set on creating yet another oddity, an album that will continue to push the envelope further for the band and their fans. Maybe they will never achieve the levels of fame they once revelled in, but they seem better off without it.

As our interview wound down, Hawkins and Poullain debated the logistics of performing a knee slide in white trousers. “Maybe you could put down a carpet?” Poullain suggested. Hawkins shot back: “Or a cushion. Nah. That's not very rock 'n' roll, is it?”

That’s just how the Darkness should be. Just a bunch of mates, writing great songs and mucking about. After years of turbulence and uncertainty, it seems that they're finally back on track. “I know,” Hawkins finished. “I'll use a skateboard.”

The Darkness UK & Ireland Tour Dates are as follows

Tue November 19 2013 - BUCKLEY Tivoli
Wed November 20 2013 - KILMARNOCK Grand Hall
Thu November 21 2013 - INVERNESS The Ironworks
Sat November 23 2013 - BELFAST The Limelight
Sun November 24 2013 - DUBLIN Olympia Theatre
Tue November 26 2013 - LINCOLN Engine Shed
Wed November 27 2013 - MIDDLESBROUGH The Middlesbrough Empire
Thu November 28 2013 - HOLMFIRTH The Picturedrome
Fri November 29 2013 - SCUNTHORPE Baths Hall
Sun December 01 2013 - PRESTON 53 Degrees
Mon December 02 2013 - WOLVERHAMPTON Wulfrun Hall
Tue December 03 2013 - LEAMINGTON SPA Leamington Spa Assembly
Fri December 06 2013 - PORTSMOUTH Portsmouth Pyramids
Sat December 07 2013 - BRIGHTON Brighton Concorde 2
Sun December 08 2013 - FOLKESTONE Leas Cliff Hall
Tue December 10 2013 - SALISBURY Salisbury City Hall
Wed December 11 2013 - DORKING Dorking Halls
Thu December 12 2013 - OXFORD O2 Academy Oxford
Sat December 14 2013 - NORTHAMPTON Roadmender
Sun December 15 2013 - LEICESTER O2 Academy Leicester
Mon December 16 2013 - NORWICH UEA
Wed December 18 2013 - LOWESTOFT The Aquarium
Thu December 19 2013 - LOWESTOFT The Aquarium

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