The Likeness are 4 men from my home county of leafy Cheshire. Simon Hall (Who is a hypnotherapist in his other life and goes by the moniker ‘Psy’) plays Justin, Chris Connolley is Dan (and has a guitar uncannily similar to the one JH claims ‘some cunt stole’ by the way……), Bryn Bardsley is Frankie (the group prefer the first Darkness album and base their shows and appearance around The Darkness of that era. Plus maybe Bryn doesn’t want to shave his head). Jamie Muncaster takes Ed’s place behind the drum kit.
Shamefully I had never even heard of the group until around Christmas 2006 when I came upon their website while googling something Darkness related that I can’t recall now. (Need to get on myspace guys!) With The Darkness themselves in a bad way as it were, The Likeness seemed to have followed suit and didn’t gig for about 6 months before, out of the blue, announcing a gig in a Macclesfield pub for 30th March this year. Jumping at the chance to turn back time, see my favourite songs performed live, celebrate handing in my last EVER university essay or at the very least have a good laugh, I decided to go. It wasn’t all plain sailing from there however. The first problem was to find someone to go with me. You would not believe how many people told me ‘I wasn’t into The Darkness so I definitely wouldn’t go to a tribute band to The Darkness.’ How rude! Finally I found a friend (with a car to drive the hour or so to Macc) and we were off. Well nearly. For rock star impersonators, even for pub rockers, The Likeness proved rather elusive and seemed to want to make attending their gigs more difficult than necessary. They didn’t post the times of their appearances on their websites nor any details such as whether it was paying entry. Nor did they reply to emails to their site or send out any information to the mailing list members as claimed. Eventually a telephone call to the pub landlord revealed that the band would be playing from ‘about 9/9:30’ and there was no entry fee.
In reality Dave and I arrived just after 9 (after walking straight past the pub and about half a mile in the wrong direction) and sat for an hour or more listening to strange bangings, laughter and microphone feedback from behind a huge white sheet that was stretched across half of the cleared pool hall area of The Old Millstone, ‘The Likeness’ projected onto it in the style of The Darkness’ name logo. Through the sheet we watched the band, in silhouette form, tune up their instruments, drink and get changed. Frequently one or other of them would come out from ‘backstage’ and stand around talking with significant others drinking and mumbling about the amps and the bass-line, how it wasn’t coming right and how Psy wouldn’t stick to the set list. Then came the ominous words from behind the sheet ‘Ok everyone we’re going to do a sound-check. Don’t worry- we always fuck it up.’ Laughter from the assembling audience, which consisted of already very drunk boys in their late teens – early 20s, a few older middle aged couples and a couple of die hard Darkness fans (I include myself here) wearing obnoxiously bright t shirts that proclaimed their love for said band and silently challenging The Likeness to live up to their music. I must admit that I half had it in mind to try and make The Likeness slightly uncomfortable by requesting something more obscure from the early days of The Darkness such as Hell’s Gazelle or a personal favourite, Dune Patrol. Maybe even a British Whale cover? But the band got in there first and immediately won my respect when their sound-check track, blasted out at stadium rock sound levels in the little pub, proved to be British Whale’s version of This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us. Well half of it anyway. As Psy’s glass shattering falsetto screamed through the highest notes like a banshee, I felt the proverbial shiver down my spine. This man can really sing. He may not be Justin Hawkins himself but he’s sure as hell the next best thing.
After a little more clattering around The Likeness came to the conclusion that they were ready. The lights went down and the audience stood up. As Bareback began to blare through the room, a dry ice machine began to spew out clouds and clouds of smoke and the white sheet finally came slowly down and was bundled away by the band’s ‘crew’ of wives/girlfriends. Looming out of the mist and ripping the hell out of their instruments, full of attitude and audacity, The Likeness made a stunning first impression.
Psy on a white Gibson Les Paul (what else?!) with long hair flowing free and outrageously terrible trousers was topless to display the Justin-esque flame tattoo adorning his lower midriff. Chris was going hell for leather on his own Les Paul wearing the tightest of tight trousers, obligatory Thin Lizzy t shirt and wristbands with his hair flying around his face in classic Dan Hawkins head banging head banging tradition. Bryn appeared, legs splayed and head swathed in bizarre but outstandingly accurate headscarves to make him appear scarily Frankie-ish. Behind Psy was Jamie, battering away at the skins of his ‘Likeness’ emblazoned drum kit, looking for all the world like Ed Graham at his most serious.
After this stunning entry The Likeness never looked back and steamed through an hour long set of Darkness tunes with barely a foot wrong. There were a few tiny lyrical discrepancies that only the most nitpicking purist would point out. (‘We’re not the same as we used to be’ in Love On The Rocks….. and a stumble over the exact positions of the extracurricluar activities in Friday Night. I think the infamous ‘need a wank on Thursday’ may have featured as well but I cannot be sure….)
The band had obviously done their homework and set was a faithful reproduction of a vintage Darkness gig with Psy strutting around harassing the audience, kicking Jamie’s cymbals, hugging the pillars, sprawling on tables and asking for a choice between the clean and dirty versions of Get Your Hands Off My Woman. They even included a gloriously extended version of Love On The Rocks With No Ice, complete with arm swaying, audience sing backs and a seamless meander into Queen’s We Will Rock You and back out again.
The Likeness’ bias was made apparent early on when Psy declared ‘One Way Ticket. That was point I realised That The Darkness, and we, could go no further. Let’s return to the first album and more familiar territory!’ The whole performance was punctuated with other such cheeky, good natured jibes from the front man – ‘I always used to say this is what the Darkness will look like in 10 years’ time. And this is where they’ll be playing too. I didn’t know how right I would be!’ And when Bryn retaliated to his comment that ‘ Frankie’s put on weight hasn’t he?!’ Psy retorted ‘Hey if you saw Justin at the start of the last tour I’m bloody sylphlike!’
After brilliant and faithful performances of such songs as Givin’ Up, Is It Just Me? and Love Is Only A Feeling, The Likeness crescendo-ed with I Believe In A Thing Called Love then finished with a spectacular rendition of the Darkness’ cover of the Radiohead song Street Spirit (Fade Out).
The only shame was that Psy didn’t dust off one of the catsuits that are apparently languishing in his attic. He explained as his band mates launched into the long version intro to Stuck In A Rut ‘At this point I would usually do a costume change but there’s nowhere to get changed here without showing you everything and trust me you don’t want to see that! So these guys are just going to play you a tune while I have a drink.’
After the last Darkness song the band retired for a drink and set list discussion while a dazed and grinning audience flocked as one to the bar. But the evening was far from over. After 15 minutes or so The Likeness were back on ‘stage’ looking less Darkness-like (Psy had put on a vest and Bryn had gone through a dramatic de-Frankie-fication by removing his facial hair and headscarves and changing his shirt). Declaring that they could no longer get away with 2 and half hours of The Darkness the band launched into 90minutes of sing-and-dance-along songs from the likes of Hendrix, Bowie, The Cult, Tenacious D and even Wheatus and Orson (‘The only new song we’ve learnt this year’ according to Psy).
The pool hall turned into a dance floor and whenever he was free of guitar playing Psy capered about amongst us with his microphone, dancing with whoever was closest to him and thrusting the mic at whoever took his fancy at opportune moments. (Incidently, guess who was singled out to sing the female part in Wheatus’ Teenage Dirtbag?!)
It was after 1am when The Likeness finally reverted to type and rounded off almost 3 hours of high quality entertainment with (of course) I Believe In A Thing Called Love. The ‘dance floor’ was suddenly filled with screaming air guitarists and the night definitely ended on a high note. (Pun intended sorry, couldn’t resist).
There are certainly those (The Likeness themselves included) who wonder how much demand there will be these days and in the not too distant future, for a tribute act to a band dismissed by many in their hey day as ‘novelty.’ A band who no longer even exist and whose popularity is apparently fast waning. But as far as I’m concerned there will always be a place for Darkness tributes if they are as much fun and as true to life as The Likeness. If they feel the need to add in some songs by other acts in order to retain their popularity and pull larger audiences that’s fine by me. And to be honest if you pay to see a band you might get an hour long set; ninety minutes tops. Getting nearly 3 hours of your favourite songs that you will never be able to hear live any other way, for free, has got to be worth another look. They’re playing next Sunday. I intend to go again…
(We did do a review of The Likeness back in the paper copy days – nice to see them back in OI. Jo)