The Darkness are here to save Christmas, everybody… (Picture: Simon Emmett)
As one of the most potent British rock bands this millennium, The Darkness have many skills at their disposal.
But until this year, you probably wouldn’t have had second sight down as one of them. The band’s sixth and latest album, 2019’s Easter Is Cancelled, has taken on new and ominously prophetic meaning, in light of April’s national coronavirus lockdown. It’s typical, then, that EIC has also been The Darkness’ best-received record since their reformation in 2011. They just haven’t been able to tour it. A fact that has had a ‘devastating effect’ on the band.
But luckily for them, The Darkness’ blockbusting, early-noughties success has kept the band afloat during such ‘lean periods’, as inimitable frontman Justin Hawkins calls them. Just this summer, the readers of Classic Rock magazine voted I Believe In A Thing Called Love as the greatest song of the 21st century. A magnificent badge of honour when you consider the competition. And there’s also a certain Christmas song that does the rounds every 12 months…
By all accounts, Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) – The Darkness’ 2003 festive anthem – deserved to be Christmas #1 that year. Despite being the bookies’ odds-on favourite, it was ultimately pipped to the top spot by Gary Jules’ cover of Tears For Fears’ Mad World, joining the likes of Wham!, Mariah Carey and The Pogues in having to settle for second place in the Christmas charts. Not that that has had the slightest effect on its popularity over the last 17 years. It’s a cornerstone of festive pop, and arguably the last truly great Christmas song.
So, who better to save Christmas 2020 than Lowestoft’s finest export? In the absence of their traditional winter tour, The Darkness are the latest band to embrace the marvels of live-streaming. Streaming Of A White Christmas, the band’s virtual gig, takes place Friday evening at the indigO2 in London. With just a week to go until the big day, Metro.co.uk spoke to Justin Hawkins about Christmas Time, the festive season and the band’s first live performance in nine months.
Justin Hawkins and the band are coming back with their first live performance in nine months (Picture: Simon Emmett)
Back in 2003, how did Christmas Time come about?
I think it was because we had a really good year. We’d come out of nowhere, had a hit album [Permission To Land], hit singles and the label just asked us what we wanted to do next. We thought ‘what would be the stupidest thing to do?’ We decided a Christmas song would be the best, and possibly worst, manoeuvre.
As a 12-year-old, I remember Christmas Time providing my first air guitar moment.
Cool! That’s the thing. I think people who are 12 don’t have that snobbery about them. And people who are over 90. Basically, people who are immune to Covid and people who are high risk, that was our target audience [laughs]. Those are the ones that don’t sneer. Not to mention, 12-year-olds don’t read things like the NME. They reject it as the nonsense paper that it is, and all those things about what people are wearing.
How do you make something sound Christmassy?
First of all, you put a Christmas jumper on, before you do anything creative. Then take a string of fairy lights and wrap them around yourself, and you become a sort of human Christmas tree. You exude everything that is Christmassy, the personification of Christmas. Then when you pick up the guitars, the rest just takes care of itself.
Was ‘bells end’ always your first choice for a double entendre?
To be honest, it was the first thing I came up with, and usually that’s a win. I think I was most pleased about doubling down on the ‘ring piece’. I just couldn’t believe that nobody had done it before.
Is it true that the music video for Christmas Time was filmed on the hottest day of the summer that year?
Yeah, I seem to remember that it was one of the most difficult weekends of shooting videos. We did Friday Night and that one over the course of two days. Luckily we did the Christmas one first. Then I think there was some kind of awards ceremony that evening, and we may have sailed a little close to drunkenness. We came back with terrible indigestion. All of us drank from a dirty glass, I think! There were a few headaches. Shooting Friday Night was a difficult day. We were actually supposed to do a double A-side with Friday Night and Christmas Time, which I think would’ve made it to #1.
Is it fair to say that Gary Jules stole that Christmas from us?
Well, I don’t think it was Gary Jules’ fault. I’m gonna say that and defend him. I met him at an airport and he was lovely, almost apologetic, but not quite. Just as nice as you’d expect a person to be under those circumstances, very gracious. But I don’t think it was his campaign that got their song to #1. At the risk of sounding like Alan Partridge, I think the Radio 2 programming chiefs were the Grinches who stole Christmas from us [laughs]. They basically campaigned to get that to the top spot. Forces extra to Jules were responsible. Not that I was aware of any of that. I was too busy being on tour, misbehaving and clutching my stomach in agony after yet another incident with a dirty glass!
What was Christmas like growing up in the Hawkins household?
Quite traditional. A textbook British family Christmas, really. The main part was the big meal, but we’d always go out and sing carols to the locals. Not for money, just for the joy of singing. Dan [Hawkins, brother and bandmate] and I do a really great Mistletoe and Wine. You’ve probably never heard ‘really great’ and ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ in the same sentence, but when we do it, it’s extra special.
With full falsetto?
I never needed to use that voice in those days, because some of my anatomy hadn’t descended, you see. I was just roaring it from the chest.
There have been suggestions that you caused the coronavirus pandemic with your last record, Easter Is Cancelled. Surely the only way to make amends is to include a nativity segment at this Friday’s show…
Well, Strativity, if you will! But we play Les Pauls, so it’s probably not gonna happen. We have toyed with the idea of simulating the birth of the boy child. Christ, that is. Not Tutankhamun. But we were quite taken aback by the recent developments and the fact that there won’t be an audience there. When there’s an audience there and you’re doing the nativity, you get a bit of a reaction and you play up to it. Dan’s Joseph really comes into its own with a little audience participation. I don’t know how we’re gonna play it this time around. We might just do the straight Three Wise Men… and Me.
After this week’s Tier 3 announcement for London, the show is now just a live-stream, and not a socially distanced gig as originally planned. How much has this disrupted your preparations or changed your feelings towards the event?
It’s more the business side. We haven’t been able to perform to people since March, and as you can probably imagine, that has a fairly devastating effect on a band’s finances. We were supposed to be in America for six weeks, among a lot of other things we had planned this year, but none of it’s happened. So we’re just doing it for our fans now. The financial boost that we were hoping for will not materialise on this occasion, but we’re still gonna do our best to connect with our fans after a long period of inactivity. We live for our fans and we would not be able to do this without them, so it’s just going to be nice to do something cool for them.
The Darkness is one of the best live bands in the business. Will you approach this show just like any other?
Thanks for saying that, it means a lot to us. Doing gigs is our bread and butter and reacting to the audience is what excites us. No two shows are the same. It’s very much a collaborative experience between us and the audience. It’s gonna be very difficult to pull that off without anybody there, but that is the challenge before us! We’ll just give it our best shot and see what happens.
How’s the set list shaping up?
We want it to be a classic Darkness show with the best of the six albums. We’ve been working on the set today and it’s sounding pretty hot, so we’re excited about it.
What does 2021 look like for the band?
No, we can’t plan anything until we know what’s going on. We tried that and then Boris pulled the rug out from underneath our feet. I do think a lot of this has been mishandled, and I feel like music is coming last in their priorities.
What have you made of the government’s response to the pandemic?
I’ve been living in Switzerland for the last seven years, but a lot of the decisions being made make me scratch my head. But I can’t tell you that Switzerland’s done it any differently, really. I mean, Switzerland’s completely f**ked it up. I went to see my friend play a gig and I saw people without masks hugging, yelling and being drunk, and I just couldn’t believe the behaviour like it’s all gone away. There’s such desperation for life to go back to normal that people aren’t prepared to take the steps to make that happen. It’s a very difficult thing to enforce, so it’s a bit of a poisoned chalice being in charge of the country when something like this happens. Whatever you try to do, you’re f**ked! But I do think that these measures should have been put in place in a much timelier fashion. Despite the fact that it’s killing our business, if you put the economy before people’s lives, you’re not gonna have either. Just put a mask on and f**king wait it out.
The Darkness will be live-streamed from the O2 TONIGHT at 8pm. Book your ticket here.