The Darkness' Justin Hawkins': On making rock, past excesses, and drawing the line

Sex, drugs and rock and roll are all unsurprisingly on the agenda as Justin Hawkins, frontman of pomp-rock gods The Darkness, reflects on past excesses. “I miss being able to drive my boob chariot into arenas,” he tells Pat Carty, who also recalls the great rock prop disasters we have known.

In the opening line of your comeback single, ‘Solid Gold’ – imagine a particularly lascivious Rolling Stones covering Queen’s ‘Hammer To Fall’ – you predict that people are “going to shit themselves”. Justin Hawkins, I put it to you that you’re foot shooting and this is never going to make daytime radio playlists. “I think our best work is us shooting ourselves in the foot, but that’s a good point. The last three albums, we have tried to second guess ourselves a bit, but once we started thinking we know how to do this, we stopped being able to do it.” Is a hit single even that important anymore? “We’re more concerned about our fan base and having another album of great material that we enjoy playing live.”

We sat down with Hawkins to discuss the return of The Darkness, their dynamite new album Pinewood Smile - recorded live with famed producer Adrian Busby (Foo Fighters) – “the main thing was his energy” - and their mini Irish tour, part of The Tour De Prance campaign. Hot Press’ genuine malapropism, Tour De Ponce, raises approving guffaws, Hawkins filing it for future use.

Their line up has changed since the last visit; the magnificently monikered Rufus Tiger Taylor has replaced Emily Dolan Davis - “We had different philosophies with regard to live work” - on drums. “He’s made it so much fun to be out and about, a hilarious guy and a brilliant player”. He’s a handsome bastard too. “It’s just a relief not to be the best looking one anymore. At last, someone else can carry that weight!” Was his being the son of Queen’s Roger Taylor part of the attraction? “It was for me, yeah, but he had to be even more amazing to get past that.”

Hawkins’ lyrics – “I write most of them as I have to get up and sing them” - seem to be coming from some magical place where Bon Scott and Steven Tyler combine. “Those two, along with Freddie (Mercury) are my favourites. Freddie had the sophistication to use unusual words, Tyler’s got the innuendo, and Bon is just one of my favourite poets of all time. I listened to Led Zeppelin and The Doors too”. The Doors seem a long way from what he’s doing. “Yeah, lyrically it is, I always thought that was high school, Native American horseshit really.” Like reading your teenage diary, and scratching your head? “Exactly, but I love the music”

Other records from your youth that still mean a lot? “Queen’s Jazz, which just has my favourite songs on it, AC/DC’s Powerage, something from Aerosmith’s revival, Pump, or Permanent Vacation, The Cult’s Electric or Sonic Temple, or both, and Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedoes. That was the recent celebrity death that affected me the most. I still listen to Van Halen in the car too” Which version of Van Halen? I demand. “Van Halen Van Halen!” Good man.

Aerosmith are still going, just about, could you see yourself doing it at that age? “Depends how you feel, I spoke to someone recently, who despite being older still feels like he’s twenty five, but when he looks in the mirror he goes ‘Who The fuck is that?’ I’m already too old to be doing what I do, but if you felt your age, it wouldn’t work”

There’s a major documentary coming – “they filmed us in Limerick yesterday. They’re also including archive footage” An earlier one, The Darklings, featuring our own megastar Olaf Tyaransen, focused on their more obsessive fans. “We received fairly serious stuff in the post – broken glass, nondescript powders, cakes with pubic hair”. Jaysus.

Talking of powders, there were some outrageous figures quoted about Justin’s power flour expenses back in the before - he’s completely clean now. “I did some very crude maths, rounding it up to £150,000, a massive exaggeration, the real total was closer to £149,000! People said they’d never seen anyone do that much drugs and survive, so I do feel quite lucky” Are things better now? “I do miss the success, of being able to drive my boob chariot into arenas, but yes, things are good” The boob chariot was, obviously, a massive set of ladies’ how-are-ya’s that Hawkins would ride above the crowd at gigs past. Hot Press remembers them fondly. As always Justin, thanks for the mammaries.

Bonus Ball: Mala-prop-isms du Rock

Talk of the glory days of the Boob Chariot has sent Hot Press off into a pleasant reverie, recherching les rockers perdu, if you will. Mind you, not all stage props have been as glorious as young Hawkins' “voiture à heurtoir”. For every heart-warming, ear-threatening AC/DC cannon, there have been several equivalent unholy disasters. If I may paraphrase the great Ian Dury, “There Ain’t Half Been Some Stupid Bastards!” But not to worry lads, sure we can’t all be David Bowie.

The Terrible Big Bang

Despite diminishing returns, hardened road warriors Spinal Tap still gave out a show when they toured Smell The Glove in ‘82. Cucumber smuggling bass player Derek Smalls’ “rock pod” failed to open during ‘Rock N’ Roll Creation’ but, rather than let this dampen his ardour, he birthed a gut-disturbing bass solo whilst snared inside. The road crew finally got the pod open only for Smalls to trap his arm as it closed again at the song’s end. Did he despair? Did he balls! He raised his free hand in rock salute! What do you mean, “they’re not a real band”?!?

Lemmy At ‘Em

‘Bomber’ was a minor 1979 hit for legendary crazy bastards Motörhead, inspired by Lemmy’s reading of a Len Deighton novel. Yes, Lemmy could read. One night, during the encore, Lemmy got in the 40-foot aluminium lighting rig, which was shaped like a Heinkel He 111 German aircraft. Unfortunately his bass was still plugged in. As the “plane” ascended, our man was nearly pulled to his doom. He vowed that if he got out alive, he’d kill the bastard responsible. Once back on terra firma, he was informed that said roadie had already left the building. Legend has it he’s running still. We can never know what awaits us after death but we do know that wherever Lemmy is, he’s kicking arse.

A Right Lemon

U2’s PopMart tour had a golden arch and a traveling mirrorball lemon from which the band would nightly emerge, but it was all ironic, so that was okay. When you have more money than Jesus, every crazy idea can become manifest, but also sour so quickly. A surfeit of dry ice on opening night in Vegas meant the Edge couldn’t locate the foot pedal to release the mighty ‘2 from their citrus prison. I’d say “Laughing” Larry Mullen was having the wildest of craic inside. A wag might comment that they found it all too taxing, but you can make up your own gags at this point.

Lark By The Lee

Never one to be outdone, Rock eejit nonpareil Tommy “Cooper” Lee, of hair glam chancers Mötley Crüe, had a rollercoaster created for the Crüe’s final tour, which Tommy christened “The Crüecify”. The idea was that Lee and his drum kit would be suspended upside down over the crowd as the roller coaster went along, delivering a blistering tub solo and driving the faithful bananas. What could possibly go wrong? Everything. New Year’s Eve 2015 in Los Angeles, the rig malfunctions leaving Lee hanging upside down above the punters. As various roadies give it a bit of Edmund Hilary trying to assist, Tommy was heard to declare, “It looks like the roller coaster is broken, well fuck the roller coaster!” Rock on, Tommy.


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