Do you remember twenty years ago when “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” was everywhere? And subsequently, The Darkness were everywhere? It does seem fitting that as The Darkness celebrate two decades of seminal album Permission to Land, we get an insight into the band from their humble beginnings, slogging it out on the local circuit (like so many of the bands we feature here), their explosion into the mainstream and the trials and tribulations they’ve endured since reforming.
Welcome to The Darkness isn’t quite the warts-and-all portrait of the band you’d be hoping for and if you’re a big enough fan, you’ll probably know most of what’s contained in here. Certainly, if you’re an avid watcher of Justin Hawkins’ YouTube channel, he’s recounted most of these stories. There’s still likely a few anecdotes that will be new to you unless you’re the hardest of the hardcore fan. At the heart of the documentary is the Hawkins’ brothers and their relationship as bandmates and as family as well as the highs and lows of the band has endured on and off stage.
We see the band do some warm-up dates with Emily Dolan Davies who played with them for a brief spell and the band had already been “back” for a handful of years. And after a successful first gig with them, the elder Hawkins (Justin) is caught on a run remarking it went well and bands should have a mix of genders. Cut to an image of text which reveals she and the band parted two weeks later. Welcome to The Darkness. However, the drumming focal is laid fully on Rufus Taylor thereafter (Davies’ successor) and is cited as the missing piece, turning the band back into a “gang”. And all the best bands, at their qualitative peak, is when it’s a gang.
There’s also a brief look into the band’s origins before a decent chunk is given over to Justin’s experience with drugs and alcohol and why he felt it was necessary to be an authentic rock star. But even that merely scratches the surface compared to his YouTube channel and doesn’t go into the full explanation of why he got into that and why The Darkness went away for a time and if such a thing does interest you, as he’s said himself in the past, he’s discussed it on his channel. Elsewhere, Justin’s vocal issues a number of years ago are shown in the form of a polyp on his vocal chords. Whilst he valiantly struggles through a tour and doesn’t suffer any permanent damage, his frustration in both talking head moments and one candid scene before a show is affecting for any fan watching. A person’s instrument isn’t working and it’s not a guitar or amp or drum which can be swapped for a spare.
It’s in this where you see the true relationship between the brothers and bassist Frankie Poullain. As Justin travels to his surgery appointment to have the polyp removed, he’s in high spirits despite no well wishes from his bandmates. Instead, he’s full of quips for why they’ve not wished him well. However, as the younger Hawkins and Poullain explain in their own way, they knew it would be fine. For Dan, it was a state of mind, that saying “It’ll be ok” means it will be and at other points is very obviously masking his nerves by saying he’s got a new career as a sex worker lined up, whilst Poullain, in his dry Scottish way, cares for him whilst cracking his own jokes that his career could be over because his singer’s iconic voice could be irreversibly changed.
While much of The Darkness’ career is covered, there’s nothing spoken of with Poullain’s own decision to leave the band before they disbanded and it’s treated like it never happened. Whether it’s been left on the cutting room floor or it simply wasn’t tackled is anyone’s guess. There’s also not much of Rufus Taylor to be seen throughout but the parts where he does feature he shines in showing a down to earth guy whose origins of coming from rock royalty is merely a factoid at this point; he just wants to play music with his mates and create his own legacy.
Welcome to The Darkness doesn’t break any new ground on the music documentary front and if you weren’t a fan before, this won’t change your mind. This is for fans of The Darkness. And whilst you may know the stories, it’s the themes and through line which makes it an enjoyable ninety minutes. There’s a gentle balance of them accepting their status as a cult band but there’s still that spark from the turn of the century – maybe they can make it big (again) because you need something to aim for. It’s earnest, it’s funny, and touching, showing everyone can be worthy of redemption and love set to the backdrop of the power and glory of music and The Darkness.
Header image by Simon Emmett
Welcome to The Darkness is in cinemas for one night only on 9th November (book your tickets here) and will be released on digital and Blu-Ray on 4th December