Interview: Frankie Poullain, bassist, The Darkness

Justin Hawkins of the Darkness
Justin Hawkins of the Darkness
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THE DARKNESS started big. Bursting on to the scene in 2003, they were the most-talked about band of the year - although it was as much for their spandex stage gear and high camp shows as their overblown music.

Still, the Lowestoft hair metallers released a million-selling debut album, won three Brit Awards, enjoyed five Top 10 hits including I Believe In A Thing Called Love, and even had the South Bank Show dedicate an episode to them.

But then The Darkness disappeared from the pop radar almost as quickly as they had emerged.

Just a year after the ironic rockers released their second album, Justin Hawkins, the band’s flamboyant frontman, made a hasty departure, blaming it on the fact he’d spent £150,000 on drugs over the last three years.

Now The Darkness have reunited after a five-year separation and, as well as the UK tour that brings them to the HMV Picture House on Wednesday, the band have plans to release a new album next year.

So what can fans expect from the band this time around? “Thrillingly daft, mind-tingling, heart-soaring, genre-defying musical sounds,” smiles the band’s Edinburgh-born bassist Frankie Poullain, a former Royal High School pupil who initially left The Darkness in 2005 citing ‘musical differences’ as the reason, but has since made his peace with Hawkins and co.

“There will also be some new stuff, some things we’ve never done before,” he continues. “Scary things. Songs we’ve never played before.

“We’re gonna have to be better than ever because we’ve never had a support band as wild and potentially show stealing as Foxy Shazam,” he adds.

The Darkness announced their return via Twitter in March this year, with Hawkins saying, “The main thing for us is to make sure that musically we turn the experience into something positive again.

“We’ve been remembering why it was so much fun in the first place, just four men making loud music in a room,” he added.

The original line-up made their welcome return to the live scene earlier this year with a triumphant performance at Download Festival in June, which saw them air the old favourites as well as unveil several new tracks from their forthcoming album. Several European festivals beckoned and they returned after the summer to finish recording and mixing the next record.

The Darkness returned to the live fold last month with a tour of Europe and Japan - which was another amazing experience for the reformed rockers. “Japan was just incredible, huge queues at the autograph signing, and we got a great reception in Finland, Spain and Sweden,” enthuses Poullain, the only original Darkness member not from Suffolk.

“But this is where it starts really, this tour - a new show, new songs, lots of surprises in store. Hopefully for the band too.”

Laughing, he adds, “We’d like to surprise ourselves and see what we’re capable of - lean, mean and sober. Until we go away and get wrecked behind each other’s backs...”

There’s no escaping that The Darkness’ second album wasn’t as commercially successful as the first - so can we expect a return to the rawer style of first album Permission To Land for the new release?

“Yeah, I think so,” says Dan Hawkins, the band’s guitarist and younger brother of singer Justin. “It’s more raw and more of a band record, but not so we can sell records. It’s not about commercial success.

“We didn’t look at the two albums and say that one was more successful, so we’ll do that,” he adds. “It’s just what we do, you know? It feels right to just get back to basics really.”

Back when the Darkness were the undisputed kings of British music, they were credited with bringing a sense of humour and camp extravagance back to rock. Justin Hawkins was as famous for his theatrical flair as his high-pitched vocals, and on one tour he climbed on the back of a stuffed white tiger and played a blistering guitar solo while suspended high above the heads of the audience. So can fans expect another extravagant set for this new show?

“I think it’ll be a classic Darkness show,” says Hawkins Jnr. “We’re always working on our stagecraft.”

“I think by the time we became absolutely massive, we left ourselves with nowhere to go. Our first big show was so outrageous, we couldn’t take it anywhere. Back in the day, we used to go on in jeans and T-shirts, and by the end of the show Justin would be wearing a giant tiara or whatever.

“So yeah,” he trails off, “we’re working on that kind of stage show, rather than arriving in something big. You’ll see what I mean.”

The Darkness, HMV Picture House, Lothian Road, Wednesday, 7pm, £28, 0843-221 0100