By Bobby Green
Many moons ago, at the turn of the last millennium, myself and my mate Pig were mini celebrities on London’s XFM radio. We didn’t have a show or anything trivial like that, why should we let such things like that stunt our adventures? But we used to ring them up at any opportunity and try and get the DJ’s to say either ACDC or the name of an ACDC song. We’d give ourselves extra kudos if we could get the DJ to ask us a question to which the answer would be either ACDC or an ACDC song title. Even if the phone competition was something like ‘Name the 1st Radiohead B Side?’ we’d still have to get on air then talk the DJ into our desired line of conversation.
I’d have to admit that Pig was better at this than me, he was a true master at the craft. Sometimes it would take me a minute or so just to get the DJ to a point where I could manipulate the conversation but Pig was like a machine gun, before anyone knew what was going on he could have fired out 2 or 3 song titles and would have got the DJ to name a few too.
It was because of his fast vernacular that we got invited to the XFM Christmas party that year. It was 2002 ( I think… that bloody poison) and a little known band were the entertainment that night called The Darkness. They had been making waves on the live circuit by playing amazing shows but also providing a buffet for their fans.
Now this wasn’t a private party but our mate Adam, who could charm the knickers off a nun, blagged us into the VIP area where the Jameson Whiskey was a pound a glass. So we spent most of the night fluted on Jameson’s playing Air Guitar with Tammy Poo Shoes. I was having a great time until Zoe Ball interrupted us by asking
‘Are you the ACDC guys?’
It was like my childhood dreams of being a famous rock god had all come true at once. I replied by pointing my finger at her, raising my eyebrow, and for some strange reason replied in my best, but still hideous, American accent ‘Yeah’ She then laughed and took me by the hand and led me to the front of the stage.
Anyone who grew up in England in the 70’s would understand that when Mr Johnny ‘Think of a number’’ Ball’s Daughter is leading you by the hand anywhere, something special is about to happen.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
The lights went down.
And what happened next was something that still gives me immense pleasure to this very day every time it happens.
When you know it’s right, it’s right. I’ve been wrong on a few occasions but my hit rate is something I’m proud of.
When you see a band for the 1st time, in a small venue, and you know they are going to make it. That feeling still gives me Goosebumps to this very day. And when The Darkness exploded onto the stage that night, like a wild hairy spandex laden behemoth, I knew that they were going places, and this ride I was going on was going to be awesome….
After the gig, Pig and myself accosted Justin Hawkins at the bar to see if he was for real or just a bloody great guitarist fecking about with a rock band, believe me, I’ve followed a few. At 1st he thought we were a bit weird as we were trying to rub off his Justin ACDC Tattoo he had on his arm thinking it wasn’t real, but I think he could see the Whiskey in our eyes so he just swapped air guitar licks with us at the bar while Tammy Poo Shoes admitted defeat at the air guitar challenge she had laid down at the start of her adventure in England.
That night we knew where our allegiances were going to be for the next while. We knew whose t-shirts we would be wearing as our garments of coolness. We knew whose riffs we will be ‘airing’ for the duration of our next journey. We believed in a thing called love and we bloody loved The Darkness.
A little while later, Pig and myself managed to blag our way onto The Zoe Ball Radio Show where The Darkness were playing a live studio session and we were invited to interview them. I think we started drinking around 2 days beforehand but all I remember of that day was that Frankie Poullain was a top bloke, and I just remember him being a really cool fecker, just look at the bloke, he’s a legend. Don’t get me wrong, they all were, and still are, but that day Frankie was already the complete article.
It wasn’t long after that show that I moved back to Ireland after the events at Gruffs wedding led me to living up The Nire Valley with Walshy. And when he travelled across Mexico I was left alone, and I only had a radio for entertainment, that and the poison that the Collins Party Car delivered on regular occasions.
To earn a few sheckles I DJ’d in Cahir from time to time where the owners of the pub really loved their rock music. It was there that I introduced Tipperary to the sound of The Darkness, and they loved it. Some of my most favourite drunken nights were spent after hours in that bar. My family are from Cahir and I’ve always felt a special kind of buzz whenever I’m in the town, but Irwins was a special place back then. Leo and I would sometimes see the sun come up while swapping obscure and classic rock music. You can’t beat a pub where the owners are really into their music, otherwise the pub is just a shell for alcoholics.
So when The Darkness were playing their 1st show in Ireland we all just had to be there, and there was also a competition on the radio where you could meet The Darkness beforehand.
I will never make any apologies for being ‘a fan’ of music, it’s how I got into music in the 1st place. When I joined my 1st band it was because I was a fan of that band. When I DJ’d live, I played the music I loved, when I got a job DJ’ing on the radio I played the music I loved. That’s where musician.ie met me and asked me if I would like to write for them. So when I write, I write as a fan, I hope my innocence and lack of journalistic knowledge never stops me from being honest in how I write.
So obviously I had to enter the competition and meet them again.
I’d like to say there was a cool story about that meeting but the security were cocks that day, rushing everyone through like they were an inconvenience. Even The Darkness thought it was a bit daft, with them not being able to spend time with the fans. Even when Justin and Dan remembered myself and Pig and wanted to chat, they just moved the band out saying ‘No more time’ Justin was a bit Non plussed about it and had a bit of a pop at the security, but had to go as they were running late, but manners cost nothing and the security that day let themselves down.
I’ve always liked how The Darkness are a Fans band, and with the emergence of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram they really do keep in contact with their legion of Darklings.
Dublin was rocked that night to its drunken core. It was the best I had ever seen them, and by the time I moved over to Ireland I had seen them quite a bit, but there is something special about an Irish crowd, especially a Dublin crowd. Dublin really does know how to accept a live band.
The story of The Darkness is Rock n Roll folk law from this point onwards. Bestselling award winning albums from a band that some of the British press thought were a ‘t-shirt’ band. Feck them, I hated music journalists back then. The majority of them wrote about their favourite bands (nothing wrong with that) but if you weren’t on their ‘buddy’ list they tried to hack you down like you were an inconvenience for not making the music they liked. What pathetic little boys they were. I was delighted when some music papers hit hard times. The cream rose to the top and got jobs in other papers and magazines, while the boys clubs died, along with their pathetic failed musician angst. And good riddance to that style of music journalism.
So lets move on to 2015. Do The Darkness still have it? A few line-up changes, drug problems, recovery, reunion, comeback album, and now they’re now on their 4th studio album. Their turbulent history is well documented and their comeback album ‘Hot Cakes’ was one of the best albums of 2012. For any band to last as long as they have is a major achievement in itself. But to go through what they went through and still deliver 3 great albums and have a reputation of one of the world’s premier classic rock acts is for me a delightful acknowledgement that I was right all those years ago to believe in those riffs I 1st heard while playing air guitar with my best mates at a gig in my local music venue. Going to see a live band really can change your life.
But as a live act can they still excite and command the crowd with the majesty and pomp that they used to? And what better way to see if they still have it than on their Irish tour where they are playing venues so small you really can see the whites of their eyes.
Other foreign bands take note. There’s more to Ireland than Dublin, or playing the festival circuit. If you really care about ‘The Fans’ or as the late, great, Joey Ramone would say, if you’re really doing it for ‘The Kids’ then go to where ‘The Kids’ are. Don’t expect them to stand in a shitty field and get ripped off to see their hero’s, or have to travel to Dublin with all the expenses that entails. Play in the smaller towns and smaller venues, put the bloody work in and earn the respect of the people who have to pay, to hear live, the music they love. Well done The Darkness, this tour has pushed them into the realm of legends for me. What other foreign band makes that much effort?
So as excited as I was getting into Cyprus Avenue with its great sound and gluten free lager I still had a feeling that I may have been building this up a little too much in my mind. I’ve seen them explode from the gig circuit to the arena circuit. From entering the stage from the side door to entering the stage on a chariot made of boobies. From going around the audience playing a guitar solo on a roadies shoulders to doing the exact same thing but on the back of a white tiger. They know the golden rule of any performance art and that is that it’s all about the show. When Robin Williams used to go down to the comedy store to ‘riff’ it was about the connection to the real essence of his work. When Sir Ian Mckellen turns up on children’s television to help some school children make a movie he does it because he understands how beautiful the craft is, not how big the screen is. The Darkness know simply that it’s about the music, and how it’s performed, and what better way than to break in a new drummer and new material than by playing to real fans. If you play a show in Dublin people will go, but if you play the smaller towns no one will bother their hole turning up unless they are a fan, a true fan, and fans in places like Tullamore, Clonmel and Newbridge along with the major Irish cities.
Cyprus Avenue was special though. It was St Patricks Day and also Justin Hawkins birthday. The new tracks sounded great live and Emily Dolan Davies, their new drummer is a fantastic edition to the line-up, a powerhouse of a drummer. By the end of the second song I remembered why I have loved The Darkness for so long, and why I love Rock n Roll. The power and energy coming from the stage was invigorating and Justin was still as charming as ever, talking with the crowd between songs, having a laugh and genuinely enjoying the night bringing everyone along with the show. Some bands just don’t engage with the crowd but The Darkness make the crowd part of the show, part of the experience of going to see a live band and having a bloody great night out.
But it was in Clonmel that I really wanted to see them, Premier Rock coming to The Premier County. My home town, a place where I first played The Darkness to people where they all wanted to know, who was that band with The English man with a very high voice. I believed in a thing called love back then and now THEY are coming to Tipperary to ROCK with me and my mates. There were lads from Dualla, Ross Bog, Cahir, Lockluker, Ardfinnan and The Nire Valley all coming out to experience something that doesn’t happen too often in a small town like Clonmel. These towns may mean nothing to The Darkness but the fact that a band of their magnitude are making the effort to play in their county, The Premier County, means a huge deal to them.
We started the night in Phil Carrolls bar. Where everyone has a story about when INXS popped in for a drink. My favourite story about the place is when a young lad turned up as proud as punch showing off his new Cluain Meala (Clonmel) tattoo on his lower back till his friend pointed out
‘I hope you don’t ever get sent to prison’
‘you’ve just had valley of honey tattooed above your hole’
These are the type of lads awaiting The Darkness in Clonmel, potty-mouthed and brassy, anything but classy.
So after a few scoops we make the short journey over to Okeefs. A venue more known as a night club where young ones go to listen to manufactured dance music rather than multi award winning million selling album Rock n Roll bands.
Their sound was as tight as ever and again the connection Justin has with the crowd was as endearing as it has always been. The Darkness are his band, he’s proud of it and loves to show them off. And after 15yrs in the businesses they all still look and sound amazing. Their show is as energetic as it has always been, but it was a joy to be back where the journey all started for me. At the front of the stage, in a small local venue, being blown away by the feeling, the passion, the energy, the power, the majesty and the might of bloody great Rock n Roll played by people who can not only play it but perform it with the glory Rock n Roll deserves. Dan Hawkins, standing tall, legs apart, head down powering away the riffs that I’ve ‘air riffed’ a million times since I first heard them back in 2002. Frankie Poullain thundering away on the bass driving the rhythm home. Looking like the porn star bass playing drug smuggling gangster he could have been in a previous life with Emily Dolan Davies commanding that the rhythm launches The Darkness into another chapter of their really remarkable career. With Justin Hawkins at the reigns steering their sound back to the spotlight where it belongs. I can’t wait for the new album, if it’s half as good as it sounds live then it’ll be fecking dynamite. Their sound is still bright, energetic, powerful, glorious and relevant, and they know this because they put the hours in to see if it does still work, and I was delighted that I got to experience that again. In a time where we are bombarded with false idols and cheap music with enormous budgets to get their pap directed into your lives, and this goes on in all genres of music including Rock n Roll. It’s good to know that there are still bands out there who are prepared to go the extra mile to bring quality Rock n Roll to the people who want to hear it LIVE.
Ireland was delighted to have you and we’ll have you back again when the albums out.