Darkness Rising – A view from the wings
The first time I saw The Darkness was at a wedding reception. I went to see them at the Barfly In Camden Town a few weeks earlier. A good mate of mine had been raving about them, but he generally loved every other new Camden band, so I wasn’t convinced. During the support band my girlfriend at the time complained she was ill, or maybe she had just had too much to drink, so I ended up missing them to drive her home, much to my regret. We broke up the following day, though not for that reason.
The wedding reception gig was good fun, though they only played about four songs, including a hilarious cover of Knowing Me Knowing You by Abba. However, the show that really made an impact on me was the second time I saw them, again at their second home at the time, the Barfly.
Image-wise Justin, tattooed and shirtless in skin-tight jeans and big furry boots, was the only one at this stage who had fully made the Rock N’ Roll transition from the band’s indie roots. So at first I was sceptical that this was another local alt-rock band that liked AC/DC a bit. The track, Live Til I Die, which has sadly yet to make an album, was what made me prick my ears up. However, mid-way through the set they launched into Love Is Only a Feeling. I admired any band who, much like my own, had the balls to play an full-on power ballad in the sarcastic centre of Camden in mid-2001. At this point they had entirely won me over.
I Believe in A Thing Called Love had yet to make the set, if I remember correctly, but Love On The Rocks was a great closing number, and Justin’s energy and enthusiasm throughout was really infectious. I remember having a discussion with some friends outside the pub afterwards that these guys could be the ones who really do something big, not realising it would actually happen.
After getting to know the guys, I helped promote a show in Hackney where my own band, Renegade Playboys, would support them. This would have been around the early Summer of 2002. The amusing thing was that the Darkness were not who we had planned as headliners. Anti-Product were opening the main stage at OzzFest at the time so they pulled out on us. Sack Trick couldn’t make it, we even asked the B-Movie Heroes because one of them was in a vaguely famous Wildhearts-related band. The Darkness were our last choice. Less than a year later they would be headlining a sold-out Astoria, the same month Anti-Product played to a half full Underworld.
The Hackney Ocean show was under-promoted, it was great fun but we only played to a half full three-hundred capacity room. What is interesting is that, just a month later, the Playboys again supported the Darkness at the Underworld, just five miles away, and they completely sold the place out to the extent there were queues round the block, some of our own crowd didn’t get in until the band after us had finished! I was informed by the Underworld staff that this was the largest crowd an unsigned band had pulled for over a decade, at this point it was obvious there was no turning back for the band.
It was around this time that outside the Dublin Castle, Dan and Justin were handing out demos to their friends. A demo that soon became more than a demo, as it contained the unmastered versions of Love Is Only A Feeling, Love On The Rocks With No Ice, and their signature I Believe In A Thing Called Love, the very recordings that made it onto permission to land. These were produced by Pedro Ferreira, who at the time doubled as their sound man, and tripled as the bloke who carried Justin through the crowd during the Love On The Rocks solo! I managed to get my hands on a copy, it might have been the same night that Dan was talking about having sword-fighting midgets in their first video, or something!
From this point onwards things moved very quickly for the guys, a Kerrang! Weekender here, a Wildhearts support there, the I Believe In A Thing Called Love single was released the first time round, I ended up in a 2 year relationship with a Swedish girl I met at a Darkness show in Oxford Street. Love is Only a Feeling became ‘our song’.
And then, the legendary London Astoria show. The Darkness, Ten Benson and us. We were offered it ahead of some of their label mates simply because they liked us. It was originally going to be at the Astoria 2, but that sold out in a week. I was in my parents’ kitchen when I got a call from Justin and Sue Whitehouse saying it had been moved to the Astoria. “Ok mate, great news” I said, thinking I knew what was coming next, “I guess you’ll be wanting a bigger opening band then?”. Justin replied “No you guys are still on the bill, we’re gonna pack it out anyway!” Or something to that effect. It was more than ten years ago! I was Twenty-two years old. In my naïve mind this meant I was about to become a Rock Star.
The show was amazing. We were on at 7pm and the place was already packed out. I think some of the younger kids at the front thought we were the Darkness themselves, as we got a massive roar when we walked out onstage, it was absolutely electric. Sadly my wallet got stolen that night so I missed most of their set, whilst cancelling my bank card. It was an amazing night though, and sadly the only time I would ever get to play the Astoria, which has now been destroyed by Transport For London along with two other venues where I saw the Darkness play.
Three months later, and ten years ago this week, Permission To Land was released. Thirty-eight minutes of adrenalized, kick-ass Rock N Roll (and a couple of Power Ballads for safe measure). I bought it from HMV the week it came out with a £10 voucher I got for my birthday, I thought it was fair of me to (sort of) pay for it, rather than try and blag one, given all the opportunities the guys had afforded me. I saw less and less of Dan, Justin and Frankie in real life, and more of them on TV. Ed could though usually be found at the Dublin Castle or the Good Mixer in Camden on a Friday night when he wasn’t on tour.
To my awareness, they haven’t played any wedding receptions since.
Thanks to Dave for assaulting his memory banks in the name of Darkness.