The Dark­ness

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Dave Ever­ley Por­traits: Will Ire­land

We gave Justin Hawkins and co £50 and took them record shop­ping in Lon­don. What did they look for? What did they buy? Did they all fit into one photo booth?? Find out here.

he world is in a cat­a­clysmic state. The Mid­dle East is a pow­der keg ready to ex­plode. The lu­natics have taken over the asy­lum in Wash­ing­ton, Moscow and Py­ongyang. The global ther­mo­stat is busted, the ice caps are melt­ing, and we’d all best start in­flat­ing our rub­ber wa­ter wings and learn how to pad­dle.

The Dark­ness are fu­ri­ous at this state of af­fairs. So fu­ri­ous, in fact, that they’ve chan­nelled their rage into a track on their new al­bum Pinewood Smile. The song in ques­tion fo­cuses its anger on the crum­bling trans­port in­fra­struc­ture of this on­ce­great na­tion. Its ti­tle? South­ern Trains.

“Me and Dan were up in Lon­don for some of the writ­ing process and it was the most dread­ful ex­pe­ri­ence,” says the band’s front­man Justin Hawkins. “There was so much arse-clown­ery in­volved. We man­aged to get seats, then the car­riage filled up un­til it was packed. Dan was try­ing to eat his bur­rito with some com­muter’s bum lit­er­ally in his face. And the place just stank.”

Such hot-but­ton con­cerns are re­flected in the song’s ver­ité lyrics: ‘It’s a jour­ney into pure de­spair… I can smell piss and shit in the air.’ So is it a metaphor for geo-po­lit­i­cal tur­moil?

“No,” says Hawkins. “It’s just about how shit South­ern Trains are.”

No mat­ter what’s go­ing on out­side your win­dow, the world is a bet­ter place with The Dark­ness in it. Pinewood Smile is the quar­tet’s third al­bum since their 2011 re­union and, like their best records, it fizzes with an al­chem­i­cal mix of largetes­ti­cled chutz­pah, arch self-dep­re­ca­tion and block­bust­ing tunes.

“The last al­bum [2015’s The Last Of Our Kind] had a backs-to-the-wall vibe,” says bassist Frankie Poul­lain, a man un­afraid to rock a triple denim jacket/trousers/waist­coat en­sem­ble in pri­vate or pub­lic. “There were prob­lems with Ed [for­mer drum­mer Ed Gra­ham]. That was tough and trau­matic for ev­ery­one.”

“This one is fronts-to-the-wall,” beams Justin, him­self sport­ing a natty checked suit. “Be­fore, we were just cow­er­ing in corners of the show­ers, now we’re top dogs. We’re of­fer­ing our ar­ses to peo­ple.”

With that vivid im­age seared in ev­ery­one’s brains, it’s time for The Dark­ness to hit record store-cumhip­sters’ hang­out Rough Trade East in the heart of Lon­don’s trendy Shored­itch dis­trict for Clas­sic Rock’s Record Shop Chal­lenge. There’s the prom­ise of £50 of guilt-free spend­ing money to get them through the door, al­though the prospect of flick­ing through some racks of proper old­school is lure enough.

“I want to find either of the two first Dread Zep­pelin al­bums,” Justin jokes, re­fer­ring to the long­for­got­ten 90s com­edy rock band whose shtick in­volved reg­gae-style Led Zep­pelin cov­ers sung by an over­weight Elvis im­per­son­ator. “I sold my orig­i­nal copies back home. The shop shut down and the build­ing’s been empty for years, but I think those records are still in the win­dow.”

In­stantly, they split up. Dan Hawkins, rock-solid gui­tarist and Justin’s younger brother, grav­i­tates to a wall of vinyl fea­tur­ing a te­diously pre­dictable ar­ray of ‘Al­bums You Must Lis­ten To Or Your Dog Will Die’-type LPs fea­tur­ing the usual sus­pects: the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Marvin Gaye’s soul clas­sic What’s Goin’ On, The Bea­tles’ Re­volver. Ig­nor­ing these, he picks up a copy of The Baby Huey Story: The Liv­ing Leg­end by cult soul man Baby Huey, re­leased posthu­mously in 1971.

“What the fuck is this?” he says, in­di­cat­ing the por­trait of the hero­ically Afro’d, 350lb singer on the cover. “And what the fuck is he wear­ing on the back? Is that a mu-mu? That’s fuck­ing amaz­ing.

I’ve bought loads of records just be­cause of the cover. In fact we some­times buy stuff just to look at the out­fits.”

Grow­ing up, Dan and Justin bought their records from Andy’s Records and Our Price in their home town Low­est­oft. “The bar­gain bin was a good place to find new mu­sic,”says Dan. “You know you’ve made it when you see one of your own al­bums in there next to The Best Of Michael Jack­son.”

Dan has his sights on some­thing by 60s croon­er­turned-avant garde eardrum-both­erer Scott Walker. “When I moved to Lon­don, I worked as a re­cep­tion­ist in a re­pro­graph­ics com­pany, and one of the guys in charge used to play Scott Walker and Patti Smith all day. It just re­minds me of mov­ing to Lon­don.” He spots a Walker com­pi­la­tion CD. “This looks good. And only

£6.99. Bar­gain.”

A few aisles along, Frankie is flick­ing through the ‘Sound­tracks’ sec­tion. “I like this stuff,” he says. “Ini­tially it was all the Ser­gio Leone stuff when I was younger, but I’m start­ing to get into Phillip Glass. I like his vi­olin con­certo. It’s a pow­er­ful piece of mu­sic.”

Frankie’s fond­ness for the or­ches­tral isn’t sur­pris­ing. His fa­ther was a clas­si­cal vi­o­lin­ist who won a schol­ar­ship at the Guild­hall School Of Mu­sic, played in the BBC Sym­phony Orches­tra and helped found re­spected Scot­tish cham­ber mu­sic col­lec­tive the Ed­in­burgh

“I want to find

either of the two first Dread

Zep­pelin al­bums. I sold my orig­i­nal


Justin Hawkins

“Here’s one you might not have heard of.”

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