Words by George Imbert | Photos by Gili Dailes
Wednesday nights are normally quite a tame one for me, and I’m sure for many others. But on Wednesday 17th November I left The Dome at Brighton with sore cheeks and an aching neck. No fights had taken place – instead I’d had an incredible night watching one of the best rock bands in the UK.
From the moment The Darkness strut on stage the crowd breaks out into furore. The low stage lighting allows us to see Frankie Poullain’s awesome silhouette of wild hair, flared trousers and velvet blazer, followed by shorts-donning Rufus Tyler who makes his way to the kit, and then Dan Hawkins in leather jacket and black jeans. The lights swell when Justin Hawkins comes out – himself in a rainbow striped shirt and pink leather trousers. They all look up for it in what is their first return to Brighton in almost two years.
ABBA’s Arrival is playing as the band enter stage, nodding to the Swede’s Eurovision winning performance here in ‘76, but also giving us a hint of what song they are going to start with. Sure enough, when Poullain brings in the driving bass line of Welcome Tae Glasgae, the first track on their upcoming album Motorheart, we’ve been warmed up with a wash of electronic bagpipes that fits together well. From the outset, I am in awe of Justin Hawkins’ voice: how he has managed to not only keep such control of it, but for it to still have the beautiful tone I heard as a ten year old on Permission to Land.
The band strikes up the opening chords of One Way Ticket accompanied by sturdy cowbell from Poullain, and we’re treated to a few more classics from the first two albums, where the band show off their tight vocal harmonies and brilliant showmanship (who else has a lead man who headstands and claps his feet in time to the music?). They intertwine classics such as Love Is Only a Feeling with stuff from the new album, and another new track Eastbound proves a crowd favourite. Hawkins’ stripping off his shirt and rolling up his trousers legs may have contributed to the crowd’s response, but the song really rocks. Eastbound contains classic Hawkins’ humorous lyrics, hard drum solos and fills, harmonised guitar conversations and a quite simply epic AC/DC-esque guitar outro.
A few things that The Darkness do expertly are showcased in more treats from Motorheart. Sticky Situations, my personal favourite, contains sublime melody writing and some surprising harmonic progressions that result in a rock song that tells a story so well I’m going to start using it with my students who struggle to make a song mean anything. Another musical masterclass is in the band’s use of guitar solos: they are melodic and never too swanky, wanky or waffly, and always seem to be settled in just the right place. I can’t forget to mention the tone of the Hawkins brother’s guitars: there were no floor to ceiling Marshall amps but you could hear the Eric Bell style tones so clearly – Dan Hawkins’ is himself in a Thin Lizzy t-shirt – which sound even sweeter when the two guitars riff together creating that irresistible classic rock sound.
Humour runs throughout the night. Givin’ Up sounds awesome with hundreds shouting out the chorus mantra, and Justin separates every few songs with a few rallies of banter with the audience, either revolving around his wardrobe or off the cuff poetry, as well as some operatic acapella with the room. And we also have our spirits lifted the two times the lead man disappears from the stage only to return in a tighter, brighter outfit.
The set finishes with a performance of Get Your Hands Off My Woman that’s bursting with energy, but after they’ve left we obviously want more. There are, to most of us, two songs we need to hear before we are truly satisfied. And sure enough, now made up of a shirtless Rufus Tyler and a frontman in a tight red leotard, the band punches out I Believe In a Thing Called Love. There’s always one song in a set that everybody knows the words to, and everyone gives a good rack at reaching Hawkins’ vocal top notes. Considering the time of year, it is only right that the group finish with Christmas Time, and I don’t mind bringing in the festive spirit early by singing along to this masterpiece.
The Darkness are a pure delight to watch, and seem to be giving us glam rock in ways that others simply can’t quite touch. I’m sure all the venues they have booked on their tour will not be disappointed.
The Darkness @ Brighton Dome 17 November 2021 Words by Geroge Imbert Photos by Gili Dailes