In a world frequently dominated by PR trained artists, afraid to offend and with a stock range of pre-ordained interview answers, it’s genuinely reassuring to sit on the end of the phone to chat about “the things 11th century wood must have seen” with a character as engaging and fun as Frankie Poullain. And that’s how it should be. Frankie is, of course, the bassist for that most contrary of establishment belly-ticklers,
The Darkness, and they’re back once again to have some fun. “We just want to create something joyful, and embrace the ridiculous”. The course of believing in a thing called love never runs entirely smoothly though, particularly when fame appears to leap upon a band whose first album, Permission To Land, gained them three Brit awards and sold over 1.3m units. We touch on the wryly amusing idea that a band, particularly in the style of The Darkness, can ever really be an overnight success though. “People like the idea that in some cases it’s just like a switch has been flicked. I came to London in the early 90s and spent a couple of years selling grass and working as a jobbing musician. I met Dan in the mid-90s and then Justin, who played keys at the time. It took a lot of bloody minded perseverance before we really got noticed”.
Surely though, when I Believe In A Thing Called Love came into being, the band realized they had hit upon something major? “Men are the most delusional people. And a band populate with blokes is the most delusional of all. As a rule, you have to think that every song you write is unbelievably good, for other people just to think it’s okay”. A much-publicised split occurred following on from the incredible success of the 2003 debut album, which led to Frankie leaving the band to up sticks and live in a castle in France (hence the memory riddled 11th century wood), along with a stint in rehab for the band’s flamboyant frontman, Justin Hawkins. “Things broke down, relationships broke down and stuff became unpleasant. People just begin to lose their human qualities when they become spoiled and cossetted”. Like many bands that should, and do, exist on the fringes, being thrust into the mainstream began to take away the essence of The Darkness. It didn’t (and doesn’t) suit them.
They proudly live amongst us to challenge the notion that music is some terribly serious pastime – “we like irritating people, it’s what drives us on. Embrace the ridiculous. Choose bad taste”. In increasingly ridiculous times, their raison d’etre feels a solid one. However, being proud contrarians, surely it must be frustrating to an extent that as a band of seriously accomplished musicians, they’re not taken altogether seriously? “We take what we do seriously, but not ourselves. We just all think it’s so strange looking at rock musicians that take themselves seriously. It’s a genre that is, by its very essence, ridiculous. Look at people like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Comedy formed a huge element of what they did. Latterly the showmanship of Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne. How can you not look at this and laugh at it all? It’s fun. Enjoy it”.
It’s a fair point. It’s the acceptance that all rock and roll is, by its very nature, a little bit Spinal Tap. The Darkness will proudly turn those Marshall amps up to 11, and there can be few more Tap-esque things to do than buy up a 16th century castle in France, ostensibly to “retire there and have a very long-lost weekend. The castle was destroyed and rebuilt in 1559, but the cellar was from the original building. It was an 11th century cellar and I pulled open the door and just looked at this wood and thought about the stories it could tell”. Having added some undoubtedly bawdy tales to the wood’s memory, The Darkness decided to reform in their original incarnation in 2011 – “it was common sense to do so. Everyone knew we should do it apart from us. Time is a healer and if we threw the opportunity away we’d spend the rest of our lives thinking: ‘you dicks.’” Pogonophiles of Brighton rejoice though – Frankie still sports one of the finest moustaches in rock, – “do what works for you. It’s important to find something that suits your face. Not too bushy, and make sure you get a quality beard trimmer.” And beard oils and potions? “No need for that. No grease or oil. Just wash”.
So, they’re back ready but unoiled, and with a terrific new album to boot, mainly into the face of the unbelievers. Pinewood Smiles was released in October of this year, and a winter tour brings them to Brighton to perform at the Brighton Dome on Mon 11 Dec. Expect no holds barred rock and roll, big hair, and perfectly coiffed moustaches.
All Images by © Simon Emmett