07 Feb 2009

Exclusive: I've put my addiction problems behind me, says former Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins

+ posted by FlamingWhopper

FIVE years ago, Justin Hawkins was on top of the world. His band, The Darkness, had won Best British Group, Best British Rock Act and Best British Album at the Brits.

Later in 2004, they headlined T in the Park after David Bowie cancelled because of illness.

But after a stint in rehab with a drink and a cocaine problem that saw him spend £150,000 in three years on the drug, Justin is back.

His new group, Hot Leg, have all the vocal gymnastics and Eighties-flavoured classic rock sounds that fans of The Darkness will love.

Their debut album, Red Light Fever, is out on Monday and Justin, who wrote and played on all the tracks, reckons it's better than his two Darkness long-players.

He said: "It would be nice for Hot Leg to be as big as The Darkness, but I can't see it happening with this album.

"We've had a couple of singles out and national radio haven't played them. We don't fit in.

"But I think the new album's better than The Darkness ones. The songs are better and the writing is stronger."

Justin, 33, knows all about being the underdog. After winning three Brits in one night, he was given one of the most vicious verbal bashings of any musician in British music history.

But he's a big boy and shrugged: "That's what happens in music in this country. Everyone saw it coming.

"It was unavoidable really because we'd got too big."

And what about accusations that The Darkness were just a joke band, taking the mickey out of Eighties groups such as Queen, Van Halen and AC/DC.

The rocker, from Lowestoft, Suffolk, sighed: "People who say that don't understand rock music.

"I don't mind if people say it's a joke.

I can't avoid it. As for AC/DC, they've got a person wearing a school uniform. They're not really taking it that seriously, are they?"

While Justin's cat suits and the fun filled pomp rock of The Darkness wasn't everyone's cup of tea, for many back in 2003 it was light relief from post-Britpop guitar bands and pop acts such as Busted, Gareth Gates and Daniel Bedingfield.

While their first album, Permission To Land, sold 1.5 million copies in the UK and the band - Justin, brother Dan, Scots bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Ed Graham - scored two No.2 hits with I Believe In A Thing Called Love and Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End), their second album in 2005 wasn't as successful and doubts began to set in.

One Way Ticket to Hell ... And Back charted at No.11, but fell to No.34 in its second week, going platinum rather than Permission's five times platinum.

IN 2006, Justin went into rehab, and quit the band. It was this rather than the lack of success of the second album which finished The Darkness.

Speaking in his new home in London, Justin said: "We didn't split because of the record. There were a lot of reasons, some personal, why The Darkness split.

"But I'm still friends with my brother and I've been speaking to Frankie a lot. Everything is on better terms now but, despite some rumours, we aren't reforming."

After his stint in The Priory, Justin is sober and looking, well, a bit like David Lee Roth, with bleached blond tresses and even more tattoos.

Perhaps Justin is now in a better place that he has ever been since 2004. Certainly after The Darkness, he was all over the place.

Asolo effort, released under the moniker British Whale, reached No.6 in the singles chart with a cover of Sparks song This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us.

In 2007, he competed to sing in Eurovision and, when he was beaten by Scooch (who then came second last in the contest), claimed the British public must be either "racist or stupid" for not choosing his duet with black singer Beverlei Brown.

Justin groaned at the very mention of Eurovision and whispered: "I don't want to think about it and want to forget I even tried for it."

He then threw himself back into making music, working on what would become Red Light Fever in the middle of 2007, which he recorded before forming the band. First came drummer Darby Todd.

He found bass player Samuel SJ Stokes, whose brother found guitarist Pete Rinaldi.

They will all work on Hot Leg's second album.

"When we all get into a room together, it's pretty magical," said Justin.

The new album's You Can't Hurt Me Anymore is as good as I Believe In A Thing Called Love, as is I've Met Jesus.

Last year's debut single, Trojan Guitar, and next single Cocktails, which is out on February 23, are poodle-perm-busting rock at its best, while final tune, Kissing In The Wind, is Justin's best ballad.

There's also the controversially titled Gay In The 80s, which will raise eyebrows just like Justin's revelation that, when he was five, he wanted to be a girl and tried to get his schoolmates to call him Rose.

With a role as Lord Sutch in music producer Joe Meek biopic Telstar, Justin's second coming is well and truly on. Hot Leg kick off a UK tour this month and play Edinburgh's Cabaret Voltaire on March 5.

But what about T in the Park? After headlining, would he come back with Hot Leg, further down the bill?

Justin cackled: "T was amazing.

The year before we opened the festival and then the next year we ended up headlining.

"I would love to do T again."

Hot Leg's debut album, Red Light Fever, is out on Monday.

Credit: Rick Fulton | www.dailyrecord.co.uk

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