13 Feb 2009

Return of the prince of Darkness: Justin Hawkins, king of catsuits, has a new band and no regrets (except Eurovision)

+ posted by FlamingWhopper

There was a time when it seemed as if Justin Hawkins could do no wrong.

His band, The Darkness, were the undisputed kings of British music. They shot to the top of the albums chart, swept all before them at the Brits in 2004 and put on a series of lavish live shows.

Bringing a sense of humour and camp extravagance back to rock, Hawkins was a flamboyant frontman, as famous for his theatrical flair as his high-pitched vocals.

On one tour, he climbed on to the back of a stuffed white tiger and played a blistering guitar solo while suspended above the heads of the audience.

He was even afforded the accolade of his own waxwork (resplendent in a pink-and-white catsuit cut to six inches south of his navel, naturally) at Madame Tussauds.

But Justin's flirtation with household fame was short-lived, and The Darkness disappeared from the pop radar almost as quickly as they had emerged.

Their second album, released to muted reviews in 2005, failed to repeat the triumphs of a scintillating debut, Permission To Land, that sold nearly two million copies in the UK.

Disillusioned, Hawkins resigned from his own band the following year.

Looking back, though, he takes the Edith Piaf line: he has no regrets.

'The people who expect me to be apologetic don't know me,' he says.

'When it's your turn to do something like the Brits, you have to grab the opportunity with both hands. We had one big Brits moment and we nailed it. We stood up to be counted and I'm proud of that.

'We were the only band doing what we did. Unlike a lot of hard rock groups, we didn't sing songs about partying and we weren't sexist. We might have played with some corny ideas on our album artwork, but we sang about real emotions.'

Given that the tale of The Darkness is one of rock 'n' roll highs followed by a dramatic fall from grace, one might expect Hawkins, 33, to be a bitter man.


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But, as he chats over lunch in his North London local, Justin - now with a new band called Hot Leg - is philosophical about his brush with fame.

'I was well-equipped to deal with the backlash, because The Darkness were never critical darlings in the first place. We got bad reviews from day one. We'd already been through the "front-lash", so the backlash was easy.

'We didn't deliberately fade away. We were still working hard. But, ultimately, we didn't have any more songs left in us and I had no desire to pursue it any more. It got boring. We kept getting asked the same questions and it became tedious.

'Some of the best moments came at the smaller gigs.

'Just as we were taking off, we played in Wolverhampton and I dedicated a song to four of my friends in the crowd. It was the little moments that made it special,' he says.

I'm relieved, but maybe a tiny bit disappointed, to discover that Justin is dressed for our interview not in a Spandex onesie, but in regulation off-duty rocker uniform: circulation-stopping leather trousers, shapeless jacket and a woollen hat protecting his trademark blond mop from the elements.

He tells me that his decision to flee The Darkness, who split up shortly after his departure, was complicated by the fact that his younger brother, Dan, was the group’s other guitarist.

‘That was tough. I wasn’t bothered by any other sacrifices I might have to make, but leaving my brother was difficult. But that’s family business and we’re still on good terms.’

The demise of The Darkness was thrown into sharper relief in August 2006 when Hawkins checked himself into a rehab clinic, The Priory, for a month.

Treated for a drug problem, he has been ‘clean and sober’ for more than two years and is keen to get on with the next phase of his life. ‘That’s all behind me now,’ he says.

His new band reiterates Justin’s love for energetic, theatrical rock.

The group’s debut album, Red Light Fever, out this week, is punctuated by driving rhythms and memorable hooks, the latter a throwback to his days penning advertising jingles.

A knack for melody that produced Darkness classics such as I Believe In A Thing Called Love is still intact.

Hawkins stresses that Hot Leg - whose line-up is completed by guitarist Pete Rinaldi, bassist Samuel Stokes and drummer Darby Todd - are not merely the Darkness Mark II.

But, having spent the past three years working on solo projects the novelty electronic act British Whale plus a failed attempt to become the UK’s candidate in the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest (‘We don’t talk about that,’ he says, sheepishly) he is thrilled to be fronting a band once more.

‘I had written a lot of songs and I put some of them up on MySpace as a solo artist,’ he says. ‘But I always get more from collaborating with others. There’s nothing as magical as alive band.

‘Some of the new songs were written while I was still with the Darkness, but they weren’t right for that time. The Darkness was built on fragile foundations and it wasn’t going to last for ever.’

With Red Light Fever released on the singer’s own independent label, Barbeque Rock, the expensive special effects that were an integral part of a typical Darkness show are on hold at least for now.

‘I’m going to bring the catsuits back, but it might be some time before I can put all my new ideas into action.

'With The Darkness, the stuffed white tiger was a drawing on a napkin that became a reality. Now, the sketches on the napkins might just stay on the napkins.

'But if we ever have the money, I'll spend it on the live show again. You don't often see rock singers flying twice during a single gig, but I never felt ridiculous up on the stuffed white tiger. To me, that's all part of the rock 'n' roll dream. If you want to be in a stadium band, you have to do it properly.'

Born in Surrey, Justin was raised in the Suffolk town of Lowestoft, where his parents still live.

He studied music technology at a Yorkshire college before his brother spotted his potential as a singer at a party.

Justin, the story goes, had impressed party-goers with a high-pitched rendition of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.

The rest is history, although he says his voice has changed a lot since he began singing. 'I have a lot more control and my vocals are much stronger now.

'At first, I wanted to sound like Kurt Cobain, so I lay on my bed screaming for hours on end to try to achieve that rough-hewn timbre in my singing. But that didn't make any difference - my voice always repaired itself.

'I've been told by experts that the way I sing isn't actually a falsetto. It is more like a power-scream from the upper chest.'

Away from Hot Leg, Justin's theatrical leanings have found another outlet, although he admits that playing the role of Screaming Lord Sutch in Telstar (a forthcoming biopic about legendary Sixties producer Joe Meek) did not demand much in the way of acting ability.

'It just meant putting on a hat and basically playing myself,' he says.

But music is still his priority and Hawkins - who tours the UK this month - has no misgivings about playing in clubs rather than the huge arenas that were once his domain.

'I'm proud of everything we did in The Darkness, but that's gone now. This is my third album in total and it is the start of a brand new chapter. I'm coming back fitter and stronger.'

RED LIGHT FEVER is out now. Hot Leg start a UK tour at The Limelight, in Belfast, on February 26. For ticket details, visit myspace.com/teamhotleg

Credit: www.dailymail.co.uk
Follow Justin Hawkins on Twitter

Reassuring vet display. Link
2617 days ago

RT @etvapos: @DrBrianMay and @why don't you follow each other!? ;)
2619 days ago

Wowzers, Madrid folk really know how to make you feel welcome. This was a fun show. Right, home time for me :)
2619 days ago

RT @AlClarkofficial: Big cup game today, lovely weather for it. @jimbohuz @justinhawkins #NHTIFD
2619 days ago

@railcomjon soon, Jon, soon. 3 more shows and I get a little break. NHTIFD!!
2620 days ago

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