Review: The Darkness – O2 Academy, Edinburgh

Kicking things off tonight are Bad Nerves, who I’m told have been invited on tour with The Darkness by Justin Hawkins himself, having featured them on his YouTube channel and praised them highly. Bad Nerves are an Essex five-piece knocking out short, sharp punk tunes. The influences are apparent. Stooges, Ramones, and New York Dolls all ooze through this band’s veins. Whilst I don’t feel they are doing anything groundbreaking, they sound fucking awesome, and I was too young to witness those original punk bands so this is a welcome treat. I look forward to hearing more from them in the future!

How do you celebrate your twentieth birthday? Well if you’re The Darkness you take your debut album ‘Permission To Land’ out on the road and show it a damn good time.

Yes, that’s right, ‘Permission To Land’ has turned twenty years old. To celebrate this milestone the band are touring and playing the album in full. I wasn’t going to miss this as I remember obsessing over this album as a fresh-faced twenty-two-year-old. I headed into Edinburgh hoping for a slice of cake and a goody bag.

How do you start a show dedicated to your landmark first album? Well, you start with track one. Dan Hawkins blasts the riff to ‘Black Shuck’ and the place starts jumping as the band backs him up. Justin Hawkins strides on stage dressed in a black and white striped catsuit. No sooner than they start, Justin halts proceedings midway through the song

“Wait, ok guys who’s been to a gig before? How many times have you stood behind someone filming and thought what a fucking prick?” Oooh this is gonna be good I thought to myself. “I’m looking out here and seeing fuck loads of people with their fucking phones. Is that fun? Are you enjoying yourselves? Are you taking part in this fucking experience? Or are you filming it for posterity for when you get to be my age and you don’t have full use of your mental faculties? Are you gonna be looking at your phone because you went to a Darkness gig in 2023? No, you’re not, you’ll be trying to remember your children’s faces. PUT YOUR FUCKING PHONES AWAY!” There is an almighty cheer so loud the people filming must have cheered too. “If you see someone filming, snatch the phone, chuck it to me I will shove it up my fucking arse, I promise you!” Glorious!

Annnnd back into the song. As the dust settles from the opening number Justin formally greets the audience “We are the Fucking Darkness, make some noise!” Once again the crowd roars at the flamboyant frontman. As expected the band rattle through expletive-ridden ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ and ‘Growing On Me’. We’re treated to confetti cannons, indoor fireworks, and a Freddie Mercury-esque call and response sing along with the crowd. “I keep forgetting to do the thing. Remember the thing?” remarks Justin, who is already halfway out of his catsuit.

“Gimme a D”

“Gimme an Arkness”

“We are the Darkness”

As Hawkins addresses the idea behind touring the album he points to the backdrop that isn’t actually there. Yes in true Spinal Tap form the backdrop the band had planned, featuring the spaceship from the album cover, is too big for the stage so we all had to imagine it.

“I should probably apologise for the outburst in that first song,” Justin says cheekily. “I should apologise but I’m not fucking sorry. Isn’t this awesome we’re all fucking here and we’re present” It’s utterly refreshing and he’s right, for at least the next 40 minutes I don’t see a single phone in the air.

With an album this well-known, I don’t feel I have to talk about the music as much. The Darkness play everything with style and sound incredible. Rufus Taylor’s drums are especially booming, adding some severe power to the songs. Now here’s where things shift. Instead of playing the album’s smash hit too early on they opt to jumble things around and throw in some of the album’s b-sides starting with the awesome ‘Best Of Me’. It’s the first of many twin guitar solos between Justin and brother Dan.

Now ‘Permission to Land’ is only 40 minutes long so Justin regales us with a story from the previous show in Ireland.

“So we started this tour in Belfast and it was fucking freezing. It was -1 degrees inside the venue and I spoke to the security personnel and asked if it was always like that. Yeah, we have raves in here, people get fucked up and they piss on the floor and it freezes. It becomes a uriney [the first and only time I will ever use that in a review] ice rink. I think we’re having the opposite thing here. It’s really fucking hot”. He’s right, the temperature is sweltering. I can feel the sweat pouring down my back. “I don’t feel as though I’ve taken off enough clothes, but this is a onesie”.

“I’m not sure if I told you this but I used to do lots of drugs in the olden days” States Hawkins as they storm through ‘Givin’ Up’. It feels strange not hearing the opening chord of ‘Stuck in a Rut’ immediately after the song ends like it does on the record. ‘Love Is Only a Feeling’ is up next with lots clapping along in true arena rock fashion. I even heard someone in the audience declare it was the greatest ballad ever written.

‘How Dare You Call This Love’ is dedicated to Frankie Poulain’s mum who is watching the show from the balcony (Frankie, incidentally is dressed in a sequinned jacket and trousers and looks epic!)

There’s even time for a cover, hurtling through their Iron Maiden-esque version of Radiohead’s ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ which segues straight into ‘Holding My Own’ which is a huge shift in pace and tone. Suddenly Dan goes silent, takes off his guitar, and walks off. “Dan Hawkins, electric guitar” exclaims Justin. Turns out Softy, the guitar tech for Dan and Justin who has been running guitars back and forth for them, has forgotten to tune one of Dan’s Les Pauls. Naughty Softy! “He will not play an out-of-tune guitar. He believes you deserve better”

The band nips offstage for a second and when they return Justin is sporting a sparkly red guitar and a Santa hat which can only mean one thing. It’s time for their festive hit ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)’. Naturally, the whole place is singing along and having a tremendous time (it’s worth noting that The Darkness don’t just wait till December to play this one). It’s finally time for the big one! ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ has people pushing their way to the front of an absolutely jam-packed venue as Justing demands bouncing; “Everybody should be bouncing, if you’re not bouncing and people land on your feet you’ve only got yourself to blame!”

And we’re not done yet. The band leaves the stage and keeps us waiting for the inevitable encore (after all we’re still one song short of the whole album, a fact overlooked by many who are now heading for the door after hearing that one Darkness song they know). Back onstage in silk dressing gowns, including guitar tech Softy who is joining them on keyboards. The band has also swapped instruments with Rufus on bass, Dan on drums, and Frankie on guitar for ‘I Love You 5 Times’. Softy has to run offstage halfway through to grab Justin’s guitar in time for the solo and is straight back on the keys.

“This is our last song of the evening,” Justin says solemnly. A huge “Booo” fills the venue. “I love it panto season, I say this is our last song of the evening”.

“Oh no it isn’t ya c**t!” comes the single response with absolutely perfect timing. And with that, The Darkness brings the house down with a staggering ten-minute ‘Love on the Rocks With No Ice’.

What a fantastic way to celebrate an album many grew up with, and looking around at the audience tonight many are still discovering.

A triumphant happy twentieth ‘Permission To Land’

Permission Granted …Again!

Remaining live dates:

08 Dec – Norwich, UEA
09 Dec – London, The Roundhouse
11 Dec – Glasgow, Barrowland Ballroom
12 Dec – Manchester, New Century Hall
14 Dec – Bristol, Beacon
15 Dec – Nottingham, Rock City
16 Dec – Wolverhampton, The Wulfrun at The Halls
18 Dec – Leeds O2 Academy
19 Dec – Nottingham Rock City
20 Dec – Brighton Dome
22 Dec – London Roundhouse

Review – Colin Plumb

Live images – Callum Scott Photography

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