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:: The Darkness ::
28 March 2003 / Academy 3 / Manchester
By Rob Allen

A local journalist, radio presenter and talented layabout once stood next to me in a local bar and stated that many of the bands who had been blessed with the attention of the press and public around Manchester at the time, should take their triple guitar, pretentious posturing and set up camp in the west-Midlands. He had a point that many of the “semi-Metal” bands in the locality were “dreaming of being big in Birmingham” so we agreed that he was right in this pointed summary and got back to being smug and drinking beer. The whole idea of an extended guitar solo, six strings without sung words and grimacing as you noodle, was deemed repulsive.

It must also be agreed that a man dressed in denim with a ladies haircut is a vile image to have to see with young eyes. It has to be said that the birthplace of Ozzy and Robert Plant spawns a lot of clones but it is two men from Halifax who we bump into on Oxford Road sporting curls and cowboy clothes who manage recall the wrongness of Europe, Whitesnake, Def Leppard and Iron Maiden. They are lost and are going the same way as us, to see the stadium rockers in the making, the soft rock giants in training, the almighty power of The Darkness.

In the Academy 3, there’s a fat bloke in shorts and tattoos on his legs. His hair is a bit like Anita Dobson’s and he looks not dissimilar to the pony tailed owner of the comic store in The Simpsons. There’s another guy who must be in his forties, similar in style to the late Cozy Powell, when he’s not rocking out in leather he’s playing golf in check pants. Amongst the hairspray and the torn denim, there are the people like us, the intrigued and curious individuals who have heard about an 80’s rock band who had suddenly got big. Only they’re young Londoners and are deadly serious. This has to be seen, if only for the spectacle.

The band arrive on stage, guitarist Dan Hawkins hiding under his mane of hair as he begins cranking up his Gibson Les Paul, the instrument will be working overtime tonight so he begins with it’s preliminary lubrication. His brother, Justin Hawkins enters proceedings. The frontman of The Darkness beams a wide grin, salutes his followers with all manner of rocking hand gestures and lets rip. This is awesome.

He loses his shirt at the end of the first instrumental blast; he high kicks the song out and exposes his Kiss/Stardust style “JuZtin” tattoo. He plays with his hair and pouts like the dingy venue was a Milan catwalk in between taking his fingers for a walk up and down the fretboard and squealing into his microphone in a voice that cannot be faulted for it’s unbelievable range. The arms held aloft at the front of the stage are greeted with affectionate high-fives and handshakes. The opening numbers are all high-octane rock numbers with the emphasis on ultimate pomp and showmanship. Where punk had embarrassed all the strutting peacocks of the late 70’s, The Darkness are here to embarrass all the lo-fi, stool perching, too cool for school, whinge bags and expose the public to what they’ve been waiting for.

Without a hint of care for street credibility, it is announced that “Love Is Only A Feeling” will be a POWER BALLAD!!! And it is indeed a power ballad, the engine ticks over at a slower speed, and calm falls over the crowd and the band for a short while. The lyrical content of much of the work is related to the power in the pants of these rock and roll idols. There is mention of damp backseats in cars and the removal of items of clothing in the heat of this vehicular love action. I would assume the car in question to be a Capri, anything else would just not do. It’s impossible to take any of this seriously, just as it is impossible to dismiss the show as a joke. This is entertainment.

The last two singles “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” and “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” go down a treat. Everybody left standing will admit to joining in over-the- head hand claps as the band hit their peak amidst a whirl of hair and sweat. Justin spending much of the show in a black and white striped, chest exposing jump suit. They are lacking pyrotechnics, the are lacking a Harley Davidson and they are lacking a number of six-foot blondes on stage to complete the image but as authentic and testosterone fuelled soft rock goes, this is as real as it gets.

The encore stars with a surprisingly well -worked version of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” and ends with our spandex clad hero aloft on the shoulders of a roadie. Walking through the crowd whilst playing out a guitar solo that could well have lasted longer than the ten minutes that it did, everybody shift out of the way to allow the man his space to rock. Everything that should have made us laugh about the performance made us smile with delight and everything that was supposed to make us wince in shame at attending such an overblown and supposedly middle aged affair, made us prouder to have seen this first hand. If they are to be big in Birmingham and Halifax, so be it. I’ll put money on them being big in Manchester, London, Paris, Tokyo and New York too!

The Darkness Website
pics (c) Tina McClelland

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