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Back from The Darkness

July 24, 2008

Paul Taylor
24/ 7/2008

WHEN Justin Hawkins plays at Manchester’s Roadhouse next month, it will be the eve of an important anniversary.

“I will have been clean and sober for two years on August 9,” he says. “Generally people do remember the date because it’s a one-day-at-a-time thing.”

Hawkins addressed his drink and drug problems in 2006, then promptly announced he would quit The Darkness, the flamboyant and smile-inducing pomp-rockers.

Why come out of rehab and then quit the band?

“Anybody who has hung out with The Darkness would recognise that that band is incapable of running a dry ship,” says Hawkins.

There were also the time-honoured musical differences – in Hawkins’ case with brother Dan, The Darkness’s guitarist.

“My brother and I, creatively, always pulled in different directions,” he says.

So Dan is involved with the more metal-oriented Stone Gods – essentially, The Darkness minus Justin – and Justin now starts back on the first rung of the rock ladder with his new band Hot Leg. Relations between Justin and his former band mates, especially Dan, are `fine’, he insists.

Last time he hit the road, Hawkins was playing the arena circuit. Hot Leg’s first tentative tour will bring him to venues such as the Roadhouse, more usually a proving ground for up-and-coming talent.

“It’s not quite starting from scratch,” he says. “In a way I wish it was starting from scratch{hellip}that would be pubs. We’re doing quite ambitious-sized venues considering we haven’t got anything out there.”

Hot Leg’s debut album is set for release in October. Its style will not be wholly unfamiliar to those who enjoyed The Darkness’s fun-laced rock.

Proud

“People will spot the similarities and there are many,” says Hawkins. “I’m pretty proud of what I did with The Darkness, particularly on the first record. Hot Leg is an intensified version of that. The record is a concise 10-song rock document which I’m really proud of. I think it’s like The Darkness… only better.

“I’ve played everything on the songs and it was going to be a solo record but half way through it I realised I would get to the point where I finished the record and would be looking round for musicians and wondering how I would do it live.”

So he recruited bass player Samuel SJ Stokes, drummer Darby Todd and guitarist Pete Rinaldi, who is, according to Hawkins, `half man, half guitar’, practicising alone for two hours even before band rehearsals and winding down by playing the Guitar Hero game.

Lowestoft

Hawkins, 33, began playing guitar 20 years ago in Lowestoft, Suffolk, inspired by Queen’s Brian May. He studied music technology in Huddersfield before crafting music for adverts. With the falsetto voice, the jumpsuits and the whiff of Spinal Tap about the on-stage persona, Hawkins and The Darkness were bound to provoke a reaction.

While their debut album was hailed as a celebration of such classic rock influences as Queen, many pundits hated them on sight. Even before the usual backlash encountered by any wildly successful band, The Darkness, says Hawkins, experienced a `frontlash’.

“It varied from country to country,” he recalls. “For example, in Australia, we were winning awards right up to the point where the rest of the world were slagging us off. Italy was amazing, Malaysia fantastic. In Germany, they were a bit non-plussed. France couldn’t care less. Scandinavia – they liked it.”

The cracks began to appear with The Darkness’s second album One Way Ticket To Hell {hellip}And Back. Bassist Frankie Poullain left during the recording of the album. It later transpired Justin was spending £1,000 a week on drugs.

“On the first record we were definitely in charge. But from the second record onwards we were being pulled from pillar to post right around the world.

“Our manager lost control of the situation because she wasn’t allowed to do her job. We lost control of the situation because we were so tired,” he says.

“I really hated being on a major label. When it came to the crunch I really didn’t like having any creative decisions taken away from me. I didn’t like being told to wear jeans and a T-shirt and told to say this and not that in interviews.

“I was always quite reckless and I decided to shoot myself in the foot and end it all really. All the other stuff was clouding the bit that I enjoyed – the songwriting and the performing.”

Hot Leg play The Roadhouse, Manchester, on August 8. Visit: www.myspace.com/teamhotleg for tickets, priced £10, and for a free download of Hot Leg’s track Heroes.

Manchester Evening News

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