Justin Hawkins’ first gig since the demise of The Darkness, with his new band. Proud Galleries, Camden, August 6th. That was my goal as I set out on an overly airconditioned train to the heats of the capital. After a few false starts, I ended up in the pub with like-minded eccentrics, having got changed at Liverpool Street Station. I can’t drink, I find, or eat much. Too hot, and I’m nervous for the lad.
WTF is this ticketing arrangement? If I’ve bought a ticket I don’t really want to have to wait whilst my name is found on a list of people who’ve bought tickets, at the door… Boo hiss to that, on both nights.
Once in, I wander around a lot, bumping into a lot of people and having a natter. Can’t really stay still though till it’s time to take my place (and camera) at the front. Tonight I can’t watch the support, even if Justin excitedly informs me (again!) that he produced them. Tomorrow, I will.
The crowd here is pretty much partisan. Most are the faithful, or on the 200 strong guest list of family and friends. The rest are press, and with a few exceptions (Mr Price, I mean you) are felt to be rather parasitic. Hyenas, even. We’ll ignore them, mostly, shall we? That’s ever been the way of darklings. Here in this room is gathered an enormous amount of goodwill, affection and hope – for the whole band, but mostly for Justin. It is an emotional moment for very many in the crowd.
He bounds onto the stage, plain black shirt and tight trousers of the kind that he was born to wear. Blonder than ever, looking good and healthy and fit. The rest of the band are similarly clad in jeans that surely must have been sewn on, and all in the headbands that HL followers have been giggling over for weeks.
From the minute they start with ‘Theme from Hot Leg’ to set the scene of defiance and mayhem, it’s pretty clear that this will be FUN. It’s a nervous start, with understandable tensions. I don’t imagine that having photographers up your nose for the first three songs really helps your concentration or nerves. Doesn’t help the audience either, dammit! Caught in the glee of rocking out, it’s not an issue though. After the lenses have gone, relaxation sets in and Justin settles in to his natural habitat. That’s the defining moment, when Justin became JUSTIN again. From then on, it was showtime. He’s lost nothing of his talent, presence and tricks. The tight jeans are revealed as slutpants when the shirt comes off, as well as a pair of startling manpants – yellow and hotpink. Lord above, boy, wear low rise thongs… knickers made of kiddy sweets are a bit much for one of my age. The tennis outfit proves popular too. I swear, there’s no VPL on my photos… Plenty of superb new and old tatts, though.
Back to the music. Most of the songs were familiar to those who’ve been around for a fair while, and engendered a fair amount of singing along. They’re all damn catchy anyway, so it’s possible to join in after a chorus. Try it! ‘Trojan Guitar’ is better live, I think, but Justin’s songs generally are – you need to bop, and in company is better. ‘I’ve met Jesus’ is a real jump about anthem – in fact, so many of them are! ‘Heroes’ too. The two versions of ‘Power of Love’ (Jennifer Rush, Huey Lewis and the News) create surprise, grins, and singing. All good things. The big surprise is ‘IBIATCL’ – Justin starts a speech about being away for a while, and we listen intently, expecting a quite emotional round of thank you’s and the like – but true to form, he does nothing the usual way, and the band launch into The Darkness’ tour de force. The crowd goes wild, and then, it’s all over. Far too soon, because it was a breathless rollercoaster of manrock, manpop, and mansweat. Yes, it is Darknessy. Some of those songs were written back in TD’s early days. They have the hooks, and the voice that overlays everything IS the voice of TD, so the comparisons are hardly unexpected. It rocks harder than people will expect though. Tough, bright guitarwork ensures that, and the Powerzone keep the
Hot Leg, then, are perfectly suited to each other. Consummate professionals all, they’re not kids starting out and learning their trade, and it shows. They’re as tight as their trousers musically, and their stagecraft finely honed. This quartet are most definitely on the same wavelength. Somehow, Justin is a star, but not THE star. He has a rival in straightfaced silliness in Pete, and in Sam, a bundle of energy and rock jumps to compete with. Darby’s drumming is assured and beautifully energetic. Samuel J Stokes, a fine bassist, is going to find himself with a little flock of Samlings, thanks to that wicked grin in an otherwise fairly demure demeanour. Pete indeed does have liquid hands. He’s FAST! And knows his stuff. There’s not many who can touch him – the accolades I’ve read about his playing aren’t hype. The ego that Justin was labelled with and fell prey to during his problems isn’t going to be nearly so much in evidence from now on, I feel. However, Justin remains true to his innate daftness, and the others share it. The stage set pieces flow naturally, and the incidentals fit together like a jigsaw.
Tonight was a triumphant return by Justin to show that he can still do it. There’s not much doubt about that, he can. Now that the first gig is over, the worries and the nerves about those first few steps back onto a stage he left so precipitiously, it’ll get even better.
Birmingham Barfly 7th August. After little sleep, thanks to the King’s Cross pile drivers, it’s off to Brum. More quick changes, then time for a leisurely stroll to the venue and to the pub to wait. The venue opened late, and it was raining, so there weren’t many happy bunnies in our part of the queue. Pish. Funny how you need a wee more, when it’s raining… I did catch Saving Aimee. A rock indie boy band? They have a lot of energy, they know what they’re doing, and they’ll grow into this, I’m sure. Justin’s influence is very much there to be heard in their songs. Good luck to them.
The crowd is not filled with friends and families tonight, so it will be tougher. There are some familiar faces from last night, though. From the minute they arrive on stage, the difference from last night’s performance is obvious. Justin owns the stage from the minute he steps onto it, and the crowd about a minute later. This gig is far less fraught, and relaxing and enjoying is the order of the day. The band’s rapport shines through yet again – they are a close-knit unit. Hot Leg’s serious musicianship and giddy, breathless, funfilled delivery are a delight, in so many ways.
Highlights – Rita Peachey, aged 71, was invited onto the stage after Justin had received a letter from her. She hadn’t been able to listen to music properly since Justin left TD, and missed him badly… until one day, the redoubtable Mr Peachey tossed a newspaper in her direction with the words ‘He’s back!’. She now has the kind of memories she can treasure forever. Take heart, ye young rockers. Your time will come! As well as that, Van Halen’s ‘Hot for Teacher’ appeared unexpectedly from nowhere, which went down a storm. I’m sure that wasn’t played for me, no. Oh, and Sam being carried off stage. That was a moment… The gig also contained a very public and very sincere dedication to Sue Whitehouse – thanks, respect and acknowledgement.
By the time we got to the rendition of IBIATCL, Hot Leg had the crowd in their pocket, with their own creation, talent and energy – as last night, and as it was for the remaining two nights. They don’t need this song, though. It’s not what people came to hear, it’s not going to be their springboard. It was, however, bloody good to hear again live. It doesn’t bother me that he’s singing it. But when you’re already standing on your own two (eight) feet before anyone knows that you’ll play it, it doesn’t need to be a must on the set list.
And so endeth my short tour. Manchester was by all accounts the crowning glory of the four dates, the coming together of all those good things. Glasgow had a crowd that was wanting to be impressed, but I think it was managed in the end. More Hot Leg is on the horizon, but not yet confirmed. Manrock launched, ahoy!
Many thanks to: Hot Leg, Mr Paige, Karl, and the legends that I was pleased to meet.