The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins On Christmas, Bake Off, And Bohemian Rhapsody

"Stop fucking around! Stop settling for pastiches, let’s have a real fucking rock band now."

“I’m the Christmas and birthday guy today!”

Justin Hawkins is certainly full of the spirit of the season. The Darkness singer is currently prepping his vocal cords to sing 'Happy Birthday!' to his young niece, but takes time out to chat to Clash.

There's a festive nature to our conversation. The band will play the Great British Bake Off on Christmas Day, bringing some righteous rock 'n' roll – and the odd bell-end pun – to the nation's screens on December 25th.

It caps another remarkable year for the group, with 2018 bringing a new live album, extensive touring, and writing sessions for a brand new project.

Clash dons its Santa cap to find out more…

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The Darkness are playing Bake Off on Christmas Day, which is pretty damn exciting! How did that come about?

I’m not sure how much I can say! We were sworn to absolute secrecy. And it’s the biggest TV opportunity we’ve had in 100 years!

Apart from the World Cup final it’s about as it big as it’s going to get!

It’s wonderful. Such a brilliant opportunity. It was filmed at Pinewood studios, believe it or not, and we had a really brilliant day there. They’re also doing a James Bond movie or something right now… there was a lot of secrecy around even being there. If you were caught with your mobile phone out filming stuff then you got into a lot of trouble – which we actually did a lot. We saw cool cars going round all over the place!

We actually had a buggy race on the day. They give you these golf buggies to get around in, so me and my brother were racing. He was beating me, and I thought I saw an opportunity to beat him by taking this corner, and the barrier came down so I crashed straight into it! People were screaming. For a long time, as well. People were screaming and shouting, one of the security guards came running after me… and I was just so shocked by the experience of crashing that I slowed down, but was still just too fast for the security guard. Almost taunting him! It was a good day.

Who’s the most rock ‘n’ roll member of the Bake Off team, then?

It’s got to be Sandi Toksvig. I was really excited to meet her actually because I remember her from when she used to do Who’s Line Is It Anyway? And I always admired her wit. Her ability to say things that are funny and improvising and all that stuff… she was one of my favourite TV people. I was so pleased to meet her, and she was really cool!

‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)’ was released 15 years ago this week, racing against ‘Mad World’ for the number one slot.

Yeah! Except it was one of those races when you’re in the back of the boat and everyone else is rowing. The machine was carrying us.

I remember the week it came out we had just finished touring, so I had gone to France. Then we got a phone call, it was somebody saying: Holy shit, the midweeks are in and you’re number one! But the other one was gaining, and I think Radio 2 were hammering – absolutely hammering – ‘Mad World’ to make it an anti-Christmas song Christmas number one… I mean, fuck them!

They were determined to ruin our Christmas so we had to stop all our holidays and get back to the UK and do as much TV and interviews as we could to make it win. Which turned out to be completely waste of fucking time!

Every year it’s out there, and sometimes it creeps back into the charts. I’m really happy that we did a song that is that good… and we recorded it at Abbey Road, with Bob Ezrin. It stands up as a piece of music as well.

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Arguably the last blast in that Great British Festive Pop lineage that starts with Wizzard and Slade and ends… with The Darkness, perhaps.

Didn’t Coldplay have one that said something about Christmas in the title? Except it was ultimately just dour. Or was that even a single? I mean, by that point I had switched off.

When you wrote it did you think it would last? Thanks to streaming and Spotify playlists this gets heard every single year in shopping centres across the land.

I never thought I’d say this but it’s such a thrill to be on a festive playlist. Or on any playlist, actually, at this point in my career! Thank God for Christmas, that’s all I can say. It’s probably been our best move, really, in amongst a lot of really bad moves. It stands out as one of our best decisions.

What does Christmas hold for you this year?

My brother is hosting it this year. We’re trying to convince our parents to come, and his in-laws. All of our nuclear and extended family in one place opening presents and just pissing about. It’s gonna be awesome! A carvery affair. A buffet. I’m not sure which of the meats he’ll prepare but obviously I’m having the vegan option.

I haven’t had a Yorkshire pudding in about five or six years, but he’s been showing off about the size of his ones. He reckons it’s basically the size of the plate! So I’m looking forward to seeing his Yorkshires.

Are you a Brussel sprout fan?

I’m a sprout-man, yes. Have been for many years. Always been a sprout-man. All the veggies… love ‘em!

It’s been another good year for the Darkness – lots of live shows, and a full live album. A lot to be thankful for this Christmas.

Yeah it’s been pretty good! We’ve started to work on the next album which is out in October. We’ve got some exciting news happening next year which we’re all excited about. The main one being the album itself. We’ve got a deadline in the diary to come up with the album title and concept by January 1st so that’ll be our final act of 2018. Rather than leaving it all to the last minute like we usually do! Everyone’s really focussed at the moment, I think that the music is really going to benefit from that.

So round about 11.45pm on December 31st that album title is going to pop into your head!

Yeah! We’ll be running down to Midnight like: fuck, what are we going to call it?!

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Do you tend to make New Year’s Resolutions?

Not really. But I do think it’s going to be a good moment for me to reflect on how things have been for me personally. I’m actually quite excited as I’m moving back to my favourite city. I’m going to be chilling and living in a new place. That’s really exciting for me. I was living in the country for a while, and I think I’m actually a dazzling urbanite, as opposed to a rural-ite. And I can’t wait to be around culture again. No offence to country folk!

It’s that ying and yang of rock culture – Led Zeppelin make two blazing rock records, then pack their acoustics and head to the country.

I’ve never been an acoustic guy! I mean, I kind of know why that is attractive but there’s something about being able to walk out of your house and hit some kind of commercialised American coffee chain. Just knowing it’s there is comforting to me.

I was looking through some facts and figures earlier: ‘Permission To Land’ went five times platinum, sold 1.5 million copies in the UK, and The Darkness won three BRIT Awards…

You missed the best one! Ivor Novello Songwriters Of The Year 2004. Which is the only award that my brother and I ever wanted, really. It was all: oh maybe one day… Then we won it in 2004. I mean, holy shit! And I still gaze at it longingly – with pride – because it was the only ceremony where the people who win really, really deserve it. I’ve never been to one of those and thought, oh hang on! They don’t give them away like sweets. So for us to be one was just brilliant. A brilliant moment.

Did the pace of it all seem surreal? It felt like one minute you were doing the Astoria, and the next it was Wembley Arena.

Astoria to Wembley was about a year, actually. It was great but we always felt that we would get there. And you’ve got to remember that before 2003 my brother and Frankie and I had all been working on music for about six or seven years at that point… to no avail! And in different permutations.

When I started playing with those guys I was doing keyboards, then I did some additional guitar, then we chucked our singer out, and had a year looking for a singer… we were all just as ambitious, and working just as hard, but we found it really impossible to make any progress. So then I said, if you can’t find a singer then I’ll just do it! That’s when it all started to change, really.

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Bohemian Rhapsody has just come out…

You know that song – ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – was number one at Christmas in the year I was born.

Have you seen the film yet?

It’s really good fun to watch! I had to put aside being a Queen nerd, really, because the timings of certain things are out but once I got used to the fact that it was just telling a story – even if it’s not an entirely accurate story… But then, half the things I say aren’t exactly true and I guess it’s important to be revisionist, and to make you’re own narrative. And the thing is, the music is fucking amazing!

That’s the central appeal of the film, really: sitting in a cinema listening to Queen at an incredibly loud volume!

But those songs – even without the screenplay – they send shivers down my spine. Still. If you hear them loud you can’t help but think: fuck, this is ace!

I DJ’d the other day – and I’m not very good at Djing – and I was losing the crowd, but someone came up to me and asked for ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ so I played the full length version from ‘Jazz’ and it was the best moment! People love it… it sounds amazing when you crank it right up – the production is amazingly good!

Do you think that could happen again, though? Can Britain produce another group like Queen? Or the Darkness?

I think there’s a real longing for that approach. I mean, obviously some of the bands that are emerging are so derivative of a certain period of a certain band that unless they develop their own thing it’s not going to go as far as we would all like it to. And it certainly wouldn’t develop as an artistic prospect.

But I do think that the reason why those bands are coming through – and have that sudden rise – is that there’s a longing for it. When there’s a void like that it’s natural that somebody steps into it and fills it. I don’t think we’ve got the next Queen, or the next Led Zeppelin, or the next whatever… yet. But it will come. Just needs somebody with the right charisma, and the right approach to songwriting. They’re out there.

Maybe that’s a good New Year’s Resolution for us all: listen to more rock!

Yeah! Listen to more rock… stop fucking around! Stop settling for pastiches, let’s have a real fucking rock band now.

Or… just listen to The Darkness! Failing that, just listen to The Darkness who are an impeccable rock band of impeccable quality and does it own thing as well as other people’s things.

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The Darkness will appear on The Great British Bake Off on December 25th.

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