The Darkness, O2 Academy, Leeds

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Give me a “D”…..Give me an “arkness”, and don’t let the bells end!

Christmas comes early as Lowestoft’s finest ever rock band come back to Leeds to rock out with their bells out.

It has been almost 15 years since ‘Permission to Land’ graced the record shelves of stores that no longer exist, however, The Darkness are still packing a punch and have a pre-xmas tour to play and a new album to promote.

We have the usual stench of beer at the O2 Academy as droves of people are queuing up for their treat of some nostalgic classic rock, most of them were probably at the Brudenell the previous night for Bad Touch, and they may well be back here on the 16th December for Extreme. It’s a good time for the Classic Rock panto, all the characters are here, the long haired and the bald with beards, the rock chicks in leather and lace and the aging punks and bikers in Motorhead T Shirts. We will run through the usual panto actions, clap and sway hands and sing a long at the right times, marvel at the guitar solos and be amazed when Justin Hawkins does his hand stand, splits kick and plectrum keepy-uppy. Like a panto, it is pure fun entertainment, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it doesn’t – and shouldn’t, try to be anything else.

One look at Justin Hawkins as he walks out on to the stage tells you everything, he’s wearing a bright green flared latex jumpsuit, split to the navel. Anyone who has ‘Lowestoft’ tattooed in big letters above their belly button, clearly does not care what anybody thinks about them, and that self-deprecating charm works a treat with this audience. “Give me a D” he shouts and the D is duly given back, “Give me an….arkness?” he enquires in an unsure what to do next voice. It is all part of the panto and like an extract from Rocky Horror Picture Show, where the audience can all recite the script, we laugh and we party.

His brother Dan Hawkins is the chalk to Justin’s cheese, a trad rocker, shoulder length hair, wearing black jeans and a black tracksuit top. He is the provider of some amazing riffage on his many Les Paul guitars, and the odd belting solo too. Playing the Malcolm Young (RIP) role, he tends to stay at the back, while his brother struts around like an eccentric male peacock.

Bass player Frankie Poullain is in a red shiny suit with wide lapels, with his afro and tash he’s looking pretty cool tonight. Then we have the young drummer with a pedigree most would envy, Queen’s Roger Taylor’s son – Rufus ‘Tiger’ Taylor. I have often thought that The Darkness have many similar qualities to Queen, an outrageous camp frontman and some underlying rock tunes and hand pumping choruses that will stay with you for years.

Comedy moments are everywhere, too many to mention, particularly when we get the new track ‘Solid Gold’ and the singalong chorus of “We’re never gonna stop – shitting out solid gold” or the superb and very heavy diss song ‘Southern Trains’ which I can’t reproduce the lyrics here – but if there was ever a national anti-rail company song, this would be it.

We get all the hits from Permission to Land and more, ‘Black Shuck’ and ‘Love is Only a Feeling’ are early in the set and the fantastic ‘One Way Ticket to Hell’ (was that also written about Southern Trains?). The performance is quite perfect, every falsetto note hit and every guitar pose pulled, exactly what we came for. They walk that fine line between comedy and rock’n’roll, but do so with incredible musicianship and a big smile on their face.

Of course, you save your best till last and the Christmastastic ‘Don’t let the Bells End’ rings out across the Yorkshire audience and arms are swayed in regulation and time. Christmas can’t start without The Darkness as they take on the mantle left by Noddy Holder and Roy Wood and pull off one of the best post 70’s Christmas songs with ease.

Finally, ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ is always their last song, and the Hawkins handstand appears again. It may be 15 years old, and like many of their tunes it’s clichéd to the hilt, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

In a world where every TV bulletin seems to plunge us further into darkness, it’s ironic that The Darkness tonight provide more light and fun than anything found on the box or on shiny pieces of tech. Let the Christmas season commence and don’t let the bells end!

Over 30 years’ gig going and has t-shirts older than most punters. Frequently found in pubs, concert halls and festivals avoiding any form of normal work

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