Rob Shaw is well known to Darklings ‘first time round’ for being in charge of the Official forum on the band’s own website. A fan first and foremost, he’s as passionate about them as any of us. We met up in a London pub on a warm June evening to drink drinks, eat pie, and try and out-talk each other. He won, this time, because I’d lost my voice the week before! There was a LOT of Darkness discussion that night, mostly completely irrelevant to this project, AND we didn’t tape anything – but we did manage to cobble something together!
OI: When did you first hear about The Darkness?
Rob: On the Stay Beautiful (Simon Price’s night club night) message board, the punning (of Grandmaster Flash) “The Mess-age”. He had obviously seen them before and talked about their forthcoming show at the club night Uncle Bob’s Wedding Reception at The Water Rats pub. I’d been to UBWR many times before as bands I’d liked had either played there (David Devant and His Spirit Wife) or DJed there (Kenickie). I have no idea what he said but clearly it did the trick because after England demolished Germany 5-1 in the football (for it was that fateful day – 1st September 2001) I rallied two work colleagues and headed down there.
OI: Did they blow you away straight away?
Rob: In a word, yes. I was really more of an indie kid than a rocker so in spite of having an MP3 copy of the Virgin compilation The Best Rock Album in the World… Ever! that contained such chestnuts as Rainbow’s Since You’ve Been Gone and Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town which I both knew and loved intimately, The Darkness weren’t really what you would have expected me to love and yet it was instant. Naturally given the events of that day drink had been taken and there was some wholly understandable euphoria but that wouldn’t…couldn’t explain how strong my – our – reaction to The Darkness was. My colleague Chris who was there with me admits to being a self-described “full music snob” said something to me (and bear in mind nearly 12 years have elapsed, so I’m paraphrasing) “how can something so wrong feel so right?!” And that half-remembered comment sums it up – fist-pumping twin-lead-guitaring ’80s influenced hair rock was so far from being what was fashionable (the relatively minimalist Strokes were the band du jour) and yet…and yet… this was clearly so well done, so *honestly* done, by people who knew their milieu and knew their instruments that it simply blew any preconceptions that you might have had away. I knew immediately that I had to see this band again. I was in luck, because they were playing again the next Saturday at The Monarch in Camden.
OI: How did you end up working for them? Was that before PTL was recorded?
Rob: I didn’t miss a single gig after that. They were playing a lot in those days… after 1st September I saw them another eight times in 2001 alone. My opportunity came in 2002, around the time they went to SXSW. Justin was running the website www.thedarknessrock.co.uk: he was a bit handy with Photoshop – still is I expect – and had put together what was in 2001 a very creditable band website – well ahead of what their contemporaries on the toilet circuit would have been doing.
As a by then professional web producer (working an extended sandwich year placement for a computing firm out in Camberley, Surrey) that piqued my interest and along with the Stay Beautiful: The Mess-age forum, The Darkness website became a regular destination for me. When the boys went to SXSW 2002 in March (where, according to Spinner.com they played Maggie Mae’s to “little fanfare” – a year later they tore the roof of the Blender Bar, but that’s a story for another time) the updates to the website, not unreasonably, dried up.
So it must have been at one of the two shows they played in London in April that I spoke to Justin – having introduced myself, heart racing and voice quavering, months earlier during the load-out after a show at the Monarch, and by then being on at least nodding terms with all of the band even if only because they would have seen me in the front row at every London show – and told him that I’d noticed that the website wasn’t being updated recently and perhaps I could help them out with that, allowing him to devote all of his time to the UK’s hardest rocking rockers™.
I would have met Sue before then too, but if I remember correctly (and there’s every possibility that I don’t), we discussed it and I agreed that I would help out – obviously on a for-the-love-of-it basis. In memory, I started working for them in May 2002; as I look at the Wayback Machine my new design for the website (and ostentatious credit in the website footer) don’t appear until September that year, but I *think* there were updates before that.
PTL was recorded in October 2002, so I was working for them for a few months before that.
OI: What was your exact job?
Rob: Webmaster / gig photographer (with a 2.1 megapixel Nikon digital camera and no skills whatsoever) / phone answerer / general factotum / fan wrangler.
OI: Was there anything that wasn’t pleasant?
Rob: Running the forum was, sometimes. I didn’t like the way some fans spoke about Sue, and getting rid of her. People also forgot that I was a fan as well, sometimes, and I was as affected as they were by what went on – good or bad. I did stay in touch with one or two people, as friends.
OI: What’s your favourite office memory?
Rob: Ridiculously, I suppose at some point during 2004 when things were going particularly swimmingly and the band could do no wrong, we were convinced that somebody should make a movie of the rise and rise of The Darkness (with all of us hirelings in it too, of course) and we worked out the cast for the whole thing. Sue was going to be played by Fay Ripley and Simon Pegg was going to be me – because he *is* a strawberry blond, irrespective of what he told me at the One Way Ticket to Hell…and Back launch party!
OI: Do you prefer PTL live or on CD?
Rob: The live set that I knew and loved pre-PTL and the PTL tracklist (and hence the the post-PTL live set) were actually quite different. Growing On Me, for instance, which is unquestionably one of the highlights of PTL, I don’t remember being part of the live set before the album was recorded. And Nothin’s Gonna Stop Us and Live ‘Til I Die and The Best of Me were, yet they in time made way for others.
OI: What is your favourite track? Has that changed over the years?
Rob: If I’m honest, not really. It was always Love Is Only A Feeling, right from the earliest days. I remember Justin gave me a signed CD-R copy of what would become the I Believe In a Thing Called Love EP after the show at The Castle, Tooting in November 2001 – to my eternal regret I lost it a couple of house moves ago – and I went straight home and tried to transcribe the lyrics into a notepad, the better for singing along. I wrote down “and I saw my defensive system adequately fail to withstand” (instead of “an assault my defences systematically failed to withstand”) and if I’m honest I probably still sing it that way at least half of the time.
Dan and Justin played the whole show on only one guitar each in the early days (Dune, Dan’s 1998 sunburst Les Paul Standard and Black Shuck, Justin’s 1998 black Les Paul Standard) and when Dan brought the capo out you knew it was Love Is Only A Feeling time. That solo practically brought me to my knees then, it still does now. The amazing video that Alex Smith made out in the Blue Mountains of Australia only served to burnish the song’s legend as far as I am concerned. The gestures that Justin makes in the cave (here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGPyUSVtpZM&t=1m46s) – he used to do those on stage and the intro to the track was always heralded by Justin crossing his arms and doing air drums. I later discovered he stole that particular move from Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap.
OI: What would you have loved to have happened to mark the anniversary?
Rob: I have one cherished, unachievable dream… For The Darkness to have released a 10 year anniversary Edition of PTL, and for them to have let me choose the tracklist. There are rarities galore: demos, radio sessions, videos that never got a proper release (like Friday Night, which inexplicably leaked on the Internet, through an Italian broadcaster if I remember correctly) – definitely enough to have made a great package for fans. Maybe they can do it for the 20th instead!
OI: Any regrets?
Rob: That I didn’t go to America to see them play there. There turned out not to be all the time in the world.
Rob was, as always, a joy to talk with. We could have done with another few days just to talk about PTL. The pie is on me next time.