Reliant Regals, raw meat and Justin Hawkins
Updated: Nov 27, 2018
Now and again, people ask me if I actually wrote songs for the Darkness.
For the record, I have never, not once, ever written a song for the Darkness.
During the early 2000s, someone gave me a cassette (a throwback even back then) containing tunes that a student from Huddersfield Polytechnic had written for him and his friends to listen to in the car. Every track seemed to be played on a Bontempi organ and it was so quirky that we commissioned the maestro responsible to add his music to a radio ad for – of all things – the church.
Fast forward to the summer and the boy wonder responsible had signed away his publishing rights to EMI and had been flown to Cannes to mingle with advertising folk who might need his skills. By then, those few souls who had already entrusted the Bontempi genius to write jingles for them were now good friends with him and all four of us agreed to head to the south of France, even though none of us had created any work that been entered to the festival.
Jim Bolton flew but I drove as I wanted Andy Taylor from HHCL to come and he had a phobia of flying. The only car I owned was a three wheeled 1968 Reliant Regal but this didn’t deter Trevor Webb who jumped in for the ride. The three of us agreed to play the only genre of music that none of us liked, which was heavy rock, and listened to ACDC’s House of Jazz for three days until we pulled up outside the Gutter Bar where Justin was waiting, overjoyed. None of us knew he loved ACDC and that everything was about to change forever.
That week we drove out to the Hotel du Cap where the concierge valet parked my tatty, tiny car. We went to Juan-les-Pins, bought raw meat from a butcher and pretended to the waiter in the restaurant that our food wasn’t cooked. Trevor walked around in his pants. We visited the casino and had a memorable night in the Martinez bar where Justin sat at the grand piano and organized a mass clap-a-long because he couldn’t actually play. Thankfully Andy knew Eye of the Tiger, Justin sang and everyone went home happy.
The following year, the five of us drove a knackered VW van down to Cannes, winding through the Alps Maritimes with Meat Loaf blaring out from speakers on the roof. That Christmas, I shipped the three wheeler to the USA where Justin, Trevor and I drove it from Las Vegas to San Francisco. When he landed back in London, Justin formed a rock band and called it the Darkness.
Over the following ten years, Justin rose to astral heights, won Brit, MTV and Ivor Novello awards with his band and became friends with Steve Tyler, Brian May - and Meat Loaf. I spent my honeymoon in his tourbus, flying out to Phoenix and driving those same roads we once travelled on three wheels. We remained good friends and when he left the Darkness, he asked if I had any songs. I threw in three or four, he added music then toured them around Europe with his new band, Hot Leg.
One of the songs is Cocktails. One verse is:
“Honey I’ve got the van
So let’s go to Cannes.
We could do Manhattans
In Juan le Pins
And the Noga Hilton bar
We’ll drive out to the Cap
Where the cocktails are.”
The journey from receiving a cassette at HHCL to being deafened by fans cheering for a song that you wrote is even more exhilarating than threewheeling down to the South of France to ACDC, seeing a car you bought for £50 being valet parked at one of Europe's best hotels and clapping along to a man who isn’t playing a piano. Especially when that song describes one of the happiest moments in your life.