The Darkness: Night fever

A catsuit made of knickers, a cheque from the Bank of Rock and a killer gazelle (deceased)... It's only rock'n'roll, but The Darkness like it. And that's all right with Steve Jelbert
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The Independent Culture

"Already we're kind of legendary in some quarters," announces Justin Hawkins, singer and front man of the already kind-of-legendary rock band The Darkness, "because we're flying a flag no one has flown for a long time." What, after all, are the public expected to make of a long-haired man in a catsuit shrieking tunes that would have been at home on an Eighties American FM station?

As it transpires, the public like it very much. The Darkness cracked the Top 50 in the spring with the catchily obscene "Get Your Hands off My Woman" and sold out the Astoria, in London, without even releasing an album, forcing a major label to take the plunge and snap them up. They were spotted after their signing-party, wandering through the streets of Soho, carrying a huge comedy cheque, lottery-winner-fashion, apparently drawn on The Rock Bank and numbered 666 (such detail is what distinguishes them from lesser groups).

Since that presumably memorable night, the Lowestoft quartet have crashed the Top 20 with their third single, "Growing on Me", danced on top of Jools Holland's previously sacrosanct grand joanna on Later... and stunned the early-risers at Glastonbury with their hyperactive opening slot on the main stage (including a shameless Radio-head cover) followed by a heroically pissed live interview on the BBC.

But then, rock is in again. Even David Beckham has been snapped in a Cult T-shirt. "We've made it fashionable, haven't we?" Hawkins laughs. But the good-humoured band do bristle at accusations that they're just a pantomime act.

"We're proper rock, and there aren't many people who do that now," says the guitarist Dan Hawkins, Justin's brother. "That's why people think we're not for real. We're going to be one of those bands, like the Smiths, that if you try to copy you'd last two seconds. We're not four blokes trying to be another band."

"We've got this far because we've refused to compromise," adds the bassist, Frankie Poullain.

Their initial lack of success has worked in their favour. "Bands are signed when they're not ready," Justin explains. "At that point they have an external force telling them what to do to be successful. But we've A&R-ed it ourselves because no one would touch us with a bargepole, and we've become the most ROCK band in the world at the moment."

Their debut album, Permission to Land, out on Monday, would seem to vindicate his claims. Comprising 10 perfectly judged, ridiculously catchy numbers, it could hardly have been improved by a huge budget. "We paid for the album ourselves and took it to the record company, and they loved it," says Dan, proudly. "They weren't saying, 'Let's get Rick Rubin in to re-record this.' It's because we worked hard on it, because we're a serious band. In that respect."

In others, they're having a laugh. Justin recently asked ladies to send him their smalls, via Zoë Ball's Xfm show, to be sewn into a new catsuit by, er, Kylie's favoured designer. He carries the evidence with him. "Pass that bag over. These are the submissions. There's one missing - that's from Courtney Love. All these women have sent knickers in to make an outfit from, and all of them have sent really bright ones, so they can spot them on me." Ah, the perks of fame. "It's outstanding. Outstanding privileges we're afforded," Justin says, gnomically.

"Focaccia for breakfast," adds his sibling.

"Everything's got a French name now," Frankie adds: "the food we eat, the photographers we work with..."

Since forming on Millennium Eve (when else?), the band have known hard times. Take the buffet incident, when they planned to treat the fans to a little finger-food at a venue where they usually drew a good crowd.

"We laid on a buffet that cost 50 quid, and we got paid only £40," Justin reminisces.

"I almost cut my finger off, making cheese cubes," adds Dan.

"We had a song that listed all the food in the buffet," says Poullain, "over a Zeppelin-type riff. We'd go, 'Sushi!', then crack into a little Chinese motif."

"Which demonstrated our complete ignorance," Justin admits.

"It was a long time ago," says the ever-calm Poullain. We'll ignore the lost "Hell's Gazelle", a song that was dropped when the band twigged that such beasts were more likely to be the hunted than the hunter.

Can The Darkness bring anything new to being rock stars? "We'll just do it bigger and better," says Poullain.

"It's probably better to be a bit older," says the drummer, Ed Graham. "If you were 18, you'd go a bit loopy. Well, you do anyway."

"We're not old old, but we're old enough to go home if we're totally fucked, even if that's at 10 o'clock in the evening," adds Dan.

"I just throw up and start all over again," Graham protests.

What about wider celebrity? Television?

"I'll do anything that Jon Bon Jovi has been on - guest appearances on Ally McBeal, that sort of thing," Justin declares. "Having said that, Richard and Judy and Des and Mel are definitely on the agenda."

"We want to hunt for rock memorabilia with David Dickinson," says Dan. "He's a sizeable man. Surprisingly tall in the flesh."

In case you were wondering, the Hawkins lads have got their eyes set on a Scottish castle each; the practical Poullain favours the south of France, and Graham is looking nearer his Suffolk home ("Southwold, Walberswick..."). It won't be long before they start seriously browsing the property ads in Country Life. This summer, The Darkness play main-stage slots at several festivals, support The Rolling Stones in Hanover in front of 60,000 aged Germans, and even prop up Robbie Williams's career with three slots at Knebworth. Then it's a national tour of their own, including a London show at the Hammersmith Apollo, seats removed for the occasion.

The members of The Darkness were clearly born to play rock. They have the build for it. "I lost a lot of weight when we kicked this off," Justin confesses. "I used to be on the portly side, but I went on a huge regime of six months' talking about how little I was drinking."

And how did he come up with his falsetto?

"It's the loudest part of my voice. In any rehearsal environment, you can get yourself heard by squealing."

How ever did they get this far?

"Hard work. Dedication," says Poullain. "A lot of the musical climate seems soft-focused, and I think that's why people like what we're doing. It's a bit tedious seeing little indie kids throwing themselves around in AC/DC T-shirts."

Justin expounds on the matter: "Bloody-mindedness. They said it couldn't or shouldn't be done, but in one way we're more rebellious than all those other bands that say, 'Up yours, mum and dad!' We say, 'Fun you, mum and dad! Let's have some fun!'"