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Leaving The Darkness behind

March 13, 2009
Justin Hawkins
Justin Hawkins
Justin Hawkins
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Published Date:
13 March 2009

Softly spoken self-deprecation is the last thing you expect from a flamboyant rock god.

But Justin Hawkins is even polite, gentle and affable when he refuses to talk about leaving The Darkness, because it’s ‘too old’, and says his personal life is none of my business.

The catsuit-clad, poodle-haired falsetto singer once admitted spending £150,000 in three years on cocaine while his band were dominating the charts, TV schedules and airwaves.

His problems with alcohol and bulimia were also well publicised, as was his stint in The Priory shortly before he left The Darkness, in October 2006.

What he will say about his stereotypically steep fall from the top, is: ‘I’m quite philosophical about low points. Everything happens for a reason.’

If the reason for hitting that rock bottom was to shake Justin into cleaning-up his act, then it certainly seems to have done the trick.

‘I look after myself now’, he tells me as he munches on some goji berry and seed mix.

Not only has Justin got his health back on track, but also his music career.

His new band Hot Leg is a glam rock outfit, similar to The Darkness, but described by their management as ‘an entirely hairier beast’. Short of having a gorilla on drums and Rapunzel on bass, it’s hard to imagine how this is possible.

Their debut album Red Light Fever was released in February and, though it hasn’t come close to matching his Darkness success, Justin says he’s much happier in his new band.

‘It’s all fun. There’s no bickering,’ beams the singer who turns 34 on Tuesday.

‘Everyone’s on the same page which is creatively liberating and it’s inspiring to be surrounded by better musicians than me.’

As far as the fans are concerned, Justin says the difference between The Darkness and Hot Leg is that Hot Leg produce ‘Man Rock’.

The band came together after a mutual friend suggested Justin should work with drummer Darby Todd.

‘Our worlds collided early last year and we’ve been in each other’s pockets since,’ says Justin who was born in Surrey, raised in Suffolk and now lives in Hampstead.

‘He helped me to put the band together because he’d worked with Sam (Samuel SJ Stokes, bass] in America and Pete (Pete Rinaldi, lead guitar] is Sam’s brother. It was a chain of events.

‘Pete is an absolute legend. It’s a supergroup for people who know musicians. Except with me singing, it’s just a normal group,’ he continues bashfully.

But as much as Justin tries to share the limelight and promote his bandmates, there’s no denying that the majority of those buying the record and attending the gigs are doing so because of him.

A born entertainer and shameless crowd pleaser, Justin’s live shows with The Darkness were legendary and involved props such as a giant stuffed tiger and flying around the stage on wires.

But his gigs with Hot Leg don’t yet have the budget or facilities for that sort of thing. Justin explains: ‘We do the biggest shows we can. It’s always been that way.

‘Obviously at smaller venues pyro (pyrotechnics) is a no no because of health and safety and there’s no hanging above the stage because there’s not adequate rigging. We’re restricted by the equipment at each venue, but it’s good because every show’s different.

The band are midway through their current tour and Justin, who had some solo success as British Whale and made a bid for the UK’s Eurovision entry in 2007, says it’s going well.

‘The first night of the tour in Ireland was brilliant because it’s the first tour since the album came out and the first few rows knew every word.

‘It was amazing and moving. It felt like we’re a proper band. We’ve got touts and bootleggers and everything now – things have really gone up a gear.

‘At first the tour didn’t seem to be selling so well, but on the night it’s selling out. I think it must be to do with the credit crunch. People don’t want to commit to spending cash, but if they’ve got some left over on the night they come along.’

Though getting punters through the doors has never been a problem for the band, meeting expectations can be.

Justin explains: ‘We weren’t winning the crowd over at the Bristol show. The first three rows are always into it because they’re our hardcore fans, but I could see that beyond that they were just waiting to be impressed.

‘Then I spotted a slightly overweight and topless ginger-haired man really going for it so I got him up on stage as a vibe controller, a Bez (the dancing mascot of Happy Mondays]. Then I saw another bloke who was just like him and we put one on either side of the stage and it turned out to be the best show I’ve ever done in my whole life.
‘I’ll be on the look out for vibe controllers at every gig now.’

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