Skip to main content

Enter your email below to be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Please enter a valid email address
Please accept the terms
Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End): The Story Behind The Darkness’ Yuletide Classic
In Depth

Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End): The Story Behind The Darkness’ Yuletide Classic

Like a ghost from glam rock’s past, Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) saw The Darkness bring fun and revelry back into the pop charts.

Back

From performing in front of 120,000 people supporting Robbie Williams at Knebworth to scoring a UK Top 5 hit with I Believe In A Thing Called Love, The Darkness were living the rock’n’roll dream in 2003. Their debut studio album, Permission To Land, had won them millions of fans thanks to the group’s fun-loving blend of AC/DC-inspired hard rock, and their exuberant showmanship was positively infectious. In fact, when it was announced that The Darkness would be releasing a Christmas single at the year’s end, it seemed like a match made in Lapland. With frontman Justin Hawkins’ outrageous stage antics and tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, the group were perfectly suited for dabbling in some festive frolics to brighten up the holiday season.

Here, then, is the story behind The Darkness’ modern-day festive anthem Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) and why it continues to be the gift that keeps on giving…

Listen to the best of The Darkness here.

The backstory: “We wanted to do something that was a bit outrageous, and unexpected”

As the summer of 2003 came to a close, it was clear The Darkness were on a rollercoaster ride of a year. Not long before the release of their breakthrough single, I Believe In A Thing Called Love, guitarist Dan Hawkins was celebrating the band’s success by sharing post-gig drinks at the Met Bar with A&R man Max Lousanda. “What are we going to do next?” Max asked him, excitedly suggesting that the group release Love Is Only A Feeling as a Christmas single. Dan dismissed the idea outright. “Let’s do an actual Christmas song,” he said. “Let’s actually compete for No.1, rather than just put a song out and add some snow in a video.”

Lousanda liked what he heard. “Oh brilliant, that’s a great idea,” he told the guitarist. “Have you got a Christmas song?”

The band didn’t. But that isn’t what Dan told Max. “We had half a Christmas song that we pissed around with for God knows why a few years before,” he later revealed to Culture Brats. “I kind of lied and told the head of the label, ‘We’ve got a Christmas song and it could be No.1.’” Despite Dan’s little white lie, that was more than enough for Max. “Great,” the A&R man said, “let’s do that then.”

The writing: “I put loads of fairy lights up in the bus”

As it happened, it was singer Justin Hawkins who reminded his brother about the seasonal tune they’d worked on many years earlier. “What we actually thought was, What is the last thing a band that has had the year we have just had should do?” Justin later recalled for Hot Press. “We wanted to do something that was a bit outrageous, and unexpected.” Trouble is, The Darkness only had a week to turn their old demo into an all-singing, all-dancing Christmas song – nowhere near enough time, given their numerous touring commitments.

Thankfully, the opportune moment came in August 2003, when The Darkness were on their tour bus, travelling to support Metallica at the RDS Arena, in Dublin. “I bought some Christmas jumpers, and I put loads of fairy lights up in the bus – this was way before Christmas, by the way – to get in the mood,” Dan told M Magazine, before adding that, surprisingly, what became Christmastime (Don’t Let The Bells End) “was done and dusted really quickly”.

The recording: “For me, it’s one of the best-sounding things we’ve ever recorded”

By late August, The Darkness were ready to enter the rehearsal room to lick Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) into shape. “We went to a rehearsal studio and really just nailed it down,” Justin said of what quickly became one of the best Darkness songs. “We needed a slightly melancholy verse, a really uplifting chorus, sexual innuendo, a children’s choir, and you must have sleigh bells. You need a key change, and for it to be a proper Darkness song, it’s got to have guitar solos in it.”

To help them make their Christmas wishes come true, the band headed into the recording studio with producer Bob Ezrin, the man behind Alice Cooper’s anarchic anthem School’s Out and Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2. Ezrin’s expertise in co-ordinating children’s choirs played a significant role in the band’s decision. “For me, it’s one of the best-sounding things we’ve ever recorded,” Justin asserted to ShortList magazine, “because we did it in Abbey Road, and we had kids and bells, and all that stuff.”

As recording began, Justin was keen for his cheeky end-of-the-pier humour to come across in the song, stressing to Bob Ezrin the importance of two key lyrics. “The thing that was important to me was ‘bells end’ and ‘ring in piece’,” he later revealed. “OK, they’re nearly rude. But what we had the children’s choir sing was ‘bellend’ and ‘ringpiece’.” Like a naughty schoolboy left in charge of the classroom, the singer still enjoys pointing out the hilarity of the whole thing. “If you’re a juvenile person like I am, you are going to find amusement in it,” he told The Sun over a decade on from the song’s release.

Embodying the extravagance of the best Christmas songs from the glam-rock era, such as Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody and Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) was a balls-to-the-wall production marvel, replete with jingling bells and holiday-season inebriety. “I was pretty hungover when we recorded it,” Justin later admitted to ShortList, noting how the band recorded much of the song after they’d attended the Kerrang! Awards, gotten drunk and re-entered the studio the next morning feeling worse for wear.

Not that you’d ever tell. Despite all the headaches and post-awards grogginess, Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) combined The Darkness’s brazen musicality with Bob Ezrin’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink enthusiasm to become a bona fide festive anthem in waiting. “It felt like being part of the 60s hit factory,” Justin said. “It was a really special time. I think you can hear that in the recording, can’t you? Everything’s going right.”

The release: “It might be a Christmas song but it still rocks in the unique darkness fashion”

Released on 15 December 2003, Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) instantly proved that The Darkness weren’t joking around as they set their sights on scoring that year’s coveted UK Christmas No.1 spot. A giddy mix of hard-rock bravado and playful frivolity, the song was a treat sweeter than a candy cane, coaxing gleeful excitement out of listeners as if they were unwrapping a present a week early. “In honour of the marvellous support bestowed upon us by the sweet people of the British Isles, we giveth unto thee the gift that keeps on giving,” Justin announced upon the song’s release. “It might be a Christmas song but it still rocks in the unique Darkness fashion.”

With the chart race for 2003’s Christmas No.1 gathering pace, Dan Hawkins felt that The Darkness were in the right place at the right time. “That was the last year before the stupid X Factor fucking came and ruined that for the UK,” he told Culture Brats. “The race for No.1 was a brilliant thing that just captured the nation’s imagination every single year.” With the band feeling confident that their Christmassy shenanigans would perform well commercially, Justin jetted off to France on a much-deserved holiday.

Yet the singer’s hopes for relaxation were dashed when he received a phone call asking him to fly back home and do more promotion. Although Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) was No.1 on the UK’s midweek charts, a cover of Tears For Fears’ 1982 hit, Mad World, by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules, was snapping at their heels. “I think Radio 2 were hammering – absolutely hammering – Mad World to make it an anti-Christmas song Christmas No.1,” Justin later suggested to Clash magazine. “They were determined to ruin our Christmas, so we had to stop all our holidays and get back to the UK and do as much TV and interviews as we could to make it win.”

Despite the group’s best efforts, Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) ended up being pipped to the post by Mad World, and The Darkness had to make do with the Christmas No.2 spot. Exhausted, the band felt the media had hitched their wagon to a rather un-festive horse. “We were trying to do uplifting rock music, to make people happy, and we were getting crucified for it – for want of a less seasonal expression!” Justin told Hot Press. As history would soon prove, however, The Darkness would have the last laugh…

The legacy: “Every year it’s out there, and sometimes it creeps back into the charts”

Despite finishing at No.2 on the UK singles chart, Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) sold 385,000 copies over the Christmas period, making it one of the best-selling singles of 2003. In fact, unlike Mad World, The Darkness’ song has continued to get radio play every single year as soon as the Christmas festivities kick off, with many listeners embracing the song as a modern yuletide classic. “Every year it’s out there, and sometimes it creeps back into the charts,” Justin told Clash. “I’m really happy that we did a song that is that good.”

The streaming age has also helped prolong the longevity of Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End), with the song racking up over 33.2 million Spotify streams to date, confirming its place among the best alternative Christmas songs ever released. And its inclusion on one of the best reissues of 2023, the 20th-anniversary Permission To Land… Again box set, only brought it back into contention. Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Justin Hawkins joked about hearing the song while doing his Christmas shopping in his local supermarket: “When I’m walking around Tesco and you can hear our Christmas song from mid-November onwards, I do hear the sound of a small pound coin entering a piggy bank in my head. Then I think, Ah yes, I will buy the Tesco Finest range instead of economy.”

By reviving the pomp and showmanship of the classic-rock era and bringing it to the holiday season, The Darkness gifted us with a delightfully joyous song that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with festive anthems of yesteryear, glowing brightly like Rudolph’s red nose. “We are quite an old-fashioned band, and writing a song like this is quite an old-fashioned thing to do,” Justin told The Sun. “Mainly, we saw it as a bit of fun. It was a brilliant chance for us to live out our childhood dreams.”

Buy the ‘Permission To Land… Again’ box set here.

More Like This

Tequila Sunrise: How Eagles Wrote Their First Truly Classic Song
In Depth

Tequila Sunrise: How Eagles Wrote Their First Truly Classic Song

The song that kick-started the Don Henley and Glenn Frey partnership, Tequila Sunrise ushered in a new dawn for Eagles’ core artistic force.

‘Caustic Love’: Behind Paolo Nutini’s Bold And Adventurous Third Album
In Depth

‘Caustic Love’: Behind Paolo Nutini’s Bold And Adventurous Third Album

Sharp-tongued and full of vigour, Paolo Nutini’s third album, ‘Caustic Love’, broke a four-year silence from the Scottish singer-songwriter.

Sign up to our newsletter

Be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Sign Up