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‘Welcome To The Darkness’ Review: 10 Things We Learned About The British Rockers
© Simon Emmett, courtesy of Lightbulb Film Distribution
In Depth

‘Welcome To The Darkness’ Review: 10 Things We Learned About The British Rockers

Startlingly honest, the ‘Welcome To The Darkness’ documentary charts the British rockers’ rise, fall and rise again, with takeaways galore.

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The Darkness took off like a rocket in 2003, with their debut album, Permission To Land, selling over a million copies within just ten months of its release, and the group returning fun for fun’s sake to a moribund rock scene at the start of the 21st century. Propelled by ambition, adoration and ample access to excess, the band imploded, leaving a trail of whatever-happened-to questions in their wake. Directed by Simon Emmett, the Welcome To The Darkness documentary offers plenty to learn about the group, including exactly why they disappeared, and how they overcame career- and life-threatening setbacks in order to re-enter the pantheon of the rock gods.

Opening in cinemas on Thursday, 9 November, for what’s being billed as a “one-night only, plus encores” run, Welcome To The Darkness coincides with the release of the band’s 20th-anniversary the 4CD Permission To Land… Again box set, charting a rise, fall and rise again tale that more than grants the band their request.

Here are ten things we learned from the Welcome To The Darkness documentary.

Listen to the ‘Permission To Land… Again’ box set here, and check out our ‘Welcome To The Darkness’ takeaways, below.

1: The Darkness are a grass-roots band who aren’t afraid of graft

In recounting The Darkness’ meteoric rise to fame following the release of Permission To Land, Welcome To The Darkness reveals that the group worked their assess off to make it happen. “They’d been plying pubs and clubs and things for years and years, and most people ignored them,” one music exec recalls. “I went to a show in Peterborough, and it was 16 people and a dog… and the band were playing as if they were playing Wembley Arena. It was fantastic.”

“I didn’t think anybody would buy into a concept like The Darkness if it wasn’t real,” frontman Justin Hawkins explains. “Stadium rock in pubs, clubs, hovels… It’s so preposterous that you have to live it… I decided to just really go for it.”

2: They’re a true family band

Though The Darkness was formed by two real-life brothers, guitarist Dan and singer/guitarist Justin Hawkins, the group consider themselves a family band whose connections are stronger than blood ties. “I think I can speak for all of us,” bassist Frankie Poullain says tells the Welcome To The Darkness documentary-makers, before outlining each founding member’s role: “Justin was the trophy wife. Dan was the husband/father. And I was the weird uncle.” Even drummer Rufus Taylor, who joined 15 years after The Darkness formed, feels he is among siblings. “We’ve been through a lot together in these five years,” he affirms. “And, yeah, they’re my brothers. I fucking love them very much.”

3: Frankie Poullain has an action doll made in his honour

The Darkness’ larger-than-life personae have even inspired an action doll. Action Frankie was created by a fan who chronicles the figure’s exploits in the Facebook group The Adventures Of Action Frankie. “There’s lot of pictures of me in different locations and situations,” Poullain says, including one of Action Frankie relieving himself in what appears to be a public park.

4: The group’s stage outfits are made by the man who dressed Spinal Tap

As unsigned hopefuls in the early 2000s, The Darkness lacked the budget to match their oversized ambitions. While shooting homemade promo videos, Justin would step out in skimpy underwear borrowed from a female friend. For their comeback, however, the group enlisted the services of legendary costume designer Ray Brown, whose client list includes Iron Maiden, Stevie Nicks and Spinal Tap.

“We’re in Spinal Tap right now, aren’t we?” Brown asks the Welcome To The Darkness documentary crew, during an entertaining brainstorming session with the band. After Justin settles on a wide-lapel suit jacket based on one of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust-era outfits, he finds himself upstaged by his brother’s choice of inspiration: a catsuit worn by Avengers star Diana Rigg. Noting that Justin has stepped away from the kinds of costumes that helped make the I Believe In A Thing Called Love promo a standout among the best 2000s music videos, Brown advises, “You’re gonna have to step up your game, Mr Hawkins.”

5: Fame almost destroyed The Darkness

Reflecting on how he embraced all the rock-star trappings in his determination to convince the world The Darkness were the real deal, Justin candidly admits, “I completely changed, and I decided to try everything. I deliberately drank as much as I possibly could, and did a load of drugs, in order to become what I needed to be, to be successful.” Three years on from their breakthrough, and with their second album, One Way Ticket To Hell… And Back, having barely left the station, Justin was forced to call time on the band and check himself into rehab.

“You just say ‘Yes’ to everything,” Dan says of the opportunities suddenly laid out before them. “It kind of felt like holding on to a load of balloons… And then you start disappearing into the sky. For the first sort of 20 feet, you think, This is brilliant. At about 50 foot you realise, if you let go you’re gonna die. I guess at some point we went stratospheric and got really cold and couldn’t breathe, and some of us let go.”

“The only way to stop it was to take the battery out,” Justin says. “I knew that would work. But unfortunately that meant sacrificing The Darkness.”

6: Dan and Justin didn’t speak to each other for two years

“The person I’ve hurt the most is my brother, and I won’t forgive myself for those things. Ever,” Justin says, acknowledging the guilt he still carries over calling time on the band when they were at their peak. Amid the fallout, the Hawkins brothers didn’t speak to each other for two years, until Dan “softened, I think, at one point”.

“I thought I’d just phone him up, see what he’s doing,” the guitarist recalls of their reconciliation. “And he was in. So I went round to his flat, and his whole flat was like a [recording] studio. You couldn’t avoid it.” Within an hour, the brothers were writing music again, resulting in their 2011 reunion tour and the following year’s comeback album, Hot Cakes.

7: Drummer Rufus Taylor is the son of Queen’s Roger Taylor

As the son of Queen sticksman Roger Taylor, drumming is in Rufus Taylor’s blood. Tapped to join The Darkness while on holiday in Australia, Rufus’ first gig with the band amounted to a trial by fire, with nothing but a 24-hour flight home to learn the repertoire before joining his new bandmates onstage. “I think that he’s really taken it up a level now,” Justin says of Taylor’s contribution to the band. “Rufus is the key to it. He’s really talented.” With Taylor on board, The Darkness recorded their 2017 album, Pinewood Smile. As the group re-entered the UK Top 10 for the first time in five years, Justin declared, “This feels like golden-era line-up.”

8: Justin performed a whole tour with a career-threatening vocal polyp

Poised to reclaim his place as one of the best frontmen in rock history, Justin faced a career-threatening setback when his voice gave out on the opening night of a 17-date tour. During an emergency check-up, medics discovered a polyp on one of his vocal chords. With his Earth-shattering falsetto characterising many of the best Darkness songs, Justin faced the choice of cancelling the tour or risking further damage to his voice. “The entire business structure is dependent on me not fucking it up,” he noted, “because there’s so many people that rely on my to carry on.” Soldiering on through the crisis, the band completed the run while avoiding disaster, leaving Justin free to undergo a successful surgery without suffering any loss to his vocal range.

9: Justin Timberlake, Spandau Ballet and Ed Sheeran are among The Darkness’ celebrity fans

Acknowledging the part their fans – a self-described “Darkness Army” – have played in supporting the group through their toughest times, the band enlisted some of the most committed recruits to appear in the Last Of Our Kind promo video. “We need that,” Justin tells one Army member. “It’s a difficult world to exist in without that sort of network.”

Speaking to the Welcome To The Darkness documentary team, the singer elaborates: “Frankie was saying he thinks that we’re becoming a cult band. From what I can gather, that means you’re not famous as such, but you’ve got an extremely loyal following that will always come and see you play and always look forward to your albums and fight for you.” Celebrity fans of The Darkness include Justin Timberlake, Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp and globe-straddling singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran. “As a kid I just loved that they didn’t take themselves too seriously,” Sheeran, who has booked The Darkness as his opening act, tells the cameras. “Rock’n’roll has always been people trying to be cool, and they were doing the complete opposite… And I think that’s why I found it cool.”

10: You should never write The Darkness off

As the Welcome To The Darkness documentary opens, it’s 2015 and The Darkness are once again building their career from the ground up, playing in a small, 200-capacity pub venue on Valentia Island, off the coast of Ireland. “We should be a band that should be in arenas,” Dan Hawkins says of the group’s standing. “It’s madness that we’re not.” Fast-forward eight years and, as they prepare to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album, the group are back in their rightful place, at London’s Wembley Arena, where they performed a landmark gig in 2004, now included in the expanded edition of Permission To Land.

For Dan Hawkins, this is ample proof that you should never write The Darkness off. “I think we’re one of those bands that are always capable of tipping back into being one of the biggest bands in the world,” he says. “I just think there’s something about what we do that can connect with a lot of people, if they so wish.”

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

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