It’s the final night of The Darkness and Ash arena double-header, and singer Justin Hawkins is feeling the pace. “I’m absolutely bloody knackered” he bawls to the crowd, sitting on the stage for a breather. Cue pantomime booing from the audience, which inspires a swift leap back into action. It’s a snapshot of life on stage, Darkness style, done in such a way you can’t help but get involved.
This is their biggest stage yet on tour, and they’re loving it. It’s Dan’s birthday, too, the rendition of the obligatory tune given a shy thumbs-up in response from the guitarist, a man whose onstage persona seems to be flourishing with every gig.
The perception before this show was that the Darkness cavalry, which previously swept all in its wake, might now be running out of steam. A few iffy festival reviews from the summer, some new material quickly canned by Justin and a few niggly offstage disputes. Fear not, for Admiral Hawkins was at hand to lead them into battle, striding onstage in a coat that made him look like a historical figure taken a wrong turn from Trafalgar.
The coat didn’t last long, only making it to the end of solid opening number Grief Hammer. Navel bared (of course!), Justin hollered his way through Give It Up, before a brace of new tracks bravely showcased the band’s second album, about to be recorded. The second contained the telling line “there’s life in the old dog yet”, a maxim proved by an exultant performance of Growing On Me and a tender, brilliantly lit Love Is Only A Feeling, the sign for some audience members to wave not one but two lighters!
Then the ‘key-tar’, or ‘gui-board’ as Justin referred to it, an ’80s throwback in the shape of a strapped keyboard. It was employed for a strong new ballad, Seemed Like A Good Idea, followed by the blustery English Country Garden, the instrument adding a harder edge to the undercarriage. Breaking the song for an interlude, Justin exclaimed “I hope you don’t mind paying to watch me arse around on the keyboard!”, and proceeded to give renditions of Chopsticks and Take That‘s Back For Good.
The best was still to come, however, as Justin changed into a slippery silver suit, bounding on the stage for Get Your Hands Off My Woman and Love On The Rocks, the singer soaring over the audience on the back of a stuffed white tiger. Pure 1970s!
Meanwhile Ash acquitted themselves solidly in the support slot, although the relief in Tim’s voice was tangible as he said “this is the last UK show of the year for us”. Their set revealed just how many good rock songs now lie at their disposal, with triumphant versions of Shining Light and Starcrossed balanced by the euphoria of Kung Fu, A Girl From Mars and the excellent current single Renegade Cavalcade. They included a couple of passing nods to the 70s as well, firstly in Tim’s flaming guitar entrance and later in a cover of Thin Lizzy‘s The Boys Are Back In Town.
There’s an assurance about Ash these days that seems incapable of producing a bad performance, and the band’s tightness was never forced, with Charlotte, Rick and the seemingly elastic Mark Hamilton strong in support.
It was a further reminder of the pool of talent available to British rock fans these days, and as thousands of people gave Justin a ‘D’ and an ‘arkness’, it was impossible not to be carried away on the euphoria of it all.