Unwitting real-life Spinal Tap invokers, Lowestoft’s finest The Darkness were slow, determined burners for years until in 2003 their debut album Permission To Land bounced white spandex cat suit sales figures off the scale. Lead by the hilarious wailing extremes of Justin Hawkins’ balls out showmanship, drummer Ed Graham, Scotsman Frankie Poullain on bass and younger Hawkins brother Dan completing the dual-axe assault on the shitbag karaoke popstars and faux-misery emo acts of the day. Taking the UK festival circuit by storm in 2003 on the back of massive airplay for singles ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’, ‘Growing On Me’ and ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ to name a few.
The good times were not set to last however. A Big Day Out performance where honours were shared with Muse for upstaging headliners Metallica in 2004 would further cement their status as a hard rocking pantomime of the highest order before the rot set in. In 2005 life on the road and the treacherous “musical differences” would claim the scalp of the handlebar moustached quiet one, Frankie Poullain. While the band carried on with the inclusion of towering egghead guitar tech taking up the bass, a weakened follow up album and tour would see the band fall apart in 2006. Six years on, they’re bringing star jumps and lunacy back to Australia and Tone Deaf caught up with the re-loved Frankie about his return.
Given the pointy end of a high-healed boot for reasons unexplained, while the band splintered into rubbish side projects and crack respectively, Frankie was left out of either scene. “I did nothing for six years after I left the band. We were like a family before. Justin was the trophy wife, Dan was the knowing father, Ed the drummer was the irritating disobedient teenager and I was the weird creepy uncle until it got very sour. It was as if we were giving ourselves the responsibility to make music that was joyous and euphoric but you can’t do that if you’re all pissed off with each other so for that reason it’s good that we didn’t carry on as we were. It wasn’t very rock ’n roll anymore…
“It’s not easy. People think we’re just pissing ‘round and crackin’ a few jokes in the studio the whole time. Even though it’s not like we’re Miles Davis, it can always be a struggle to come up with something special. Like anything really, whether you’re writing plays or novels, you have to work at it. It’s the same energy. I think when you’ve got the four or five members of a band around and they’re not right on the edge of their capabilities it falls away. If the edge isn’t there, then the comfort zone takes over. It happened to a lot of the big bands in the 70s, they fell away into sort of vanity projects and punk rose up to fill the void.”
True enough and that’s precisely what happened to The Darkness. It’s a good thing they’re back in that case, as punk blinked and gave us Sting. Fuck knows we don’t need another one of him so all power to the power chords. However, the resentment clearly lingers in the wavering drawl of the once bitten bass player and wounds are still only stitched. Delving further into the reactivating of the band the sore spots are revealed.
“If anything it was restarting… the first album was a document of the time it was in. Because of that, because we’d been together a long time already then getting together now as a group again it has that feel to it. Writing songs, bringing me and Ed together again, and it feels more like the times around Permission To Land. Things are more positive now.”
All isn’t so somber these days in the paradoxical world of brilliantly cheese-coated songs and sullen hours in the studio. The good times are returning, but it’s more measured than before. Along with typically raucous new single ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us’, the band is offering a few tweaks on classic material to keep it interesting Frankie explains.
“The US tour that we’ve just come off was really one of the best we’ve ever done in terms of reaction. We’re really confident about where we’re at now. There’s a great energy between us all so it’s gone really well so far.
“We’re playing one of the songs from the first album, “Holding My Own”. It’s a ballad and this is the first time we’ve actually played it live. Justin plays it acoustically. We’ve done it on the last tour so we might do it in Australia.”
We are certainly hanging out for that one, while keeping an eye on any smarmy glances between Frankie and Ed when The Darkness land down under in May. You should too.