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Last Updated: Monday, 12 January, 2004, 18:27 GMT
The Darkness convince the sceptics

By Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Flamboyant rock group The Darkness are at the front of the race for this year's Brit Awards after a meteoric rise over the last 12 months.

Most people in the music industry would have laughed at the start of 2003 if somebody had said The Darkness would be among the contenders for the 2004 Brit Awards.

The Darkness
The Darkness' debut album has sold 1.2 million copies in the UK
They were widely known at that time after two years on London's live music circuit - but generally ignored because most thought they would never get anywhere.

With a high-octane, high-camp style that had been out of fashion for 15 years, few in the industry thought the public would buy their records.

But the band always had a belief and enjoyment in what they were doing - together with an optimism that was partially-sighted, if not blind.

Brothers Justin and Dan Hawkins, from Lowestoft, Suffolk, had met bassist Frankie Poullain after they moved to London to try to make their rock dreams a reality.

They formed a prog-rock band called Empire with a singer who later left to join a rival group.

The Darkness' Justin Hawkins
Frontman Justin Hawkins is known for his flamboyant costumes
Justin Hawkins was the keyboardist for Empire, but discovered his talent for vocal histrionics on 31 December 1999 at a karaoke night at his aunt's pub.

Singing Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody complete with scissor kicks, his brother realised that Justin could be the man to front their band.

They called Poullain back from Venezuela, where he was living, and added school friend Ed Graham to the line-up on drums.

They began playing in small London venues and slowly found their style over the following months and years.

People began to take notice at two music industry festivals - South by South-West and In the City in 2002.

Word spread and the band steadily built up their fan base, winning a support slot on Def Leppard's UK tour.

And they astounded even themselves when they sold out the 1,600-capacity London Astoria in April 2003.

That was without any major releases or record label backing - but the music industry began to take them seriously when the strength of their support became clear.

The Darkness
The Darkness won twice at the Kerrang! Awards in August
Signing with East West Records, they went to number 11 with their first single, Growing On Me, in June.

Their profiles rose sharply with appearances at Glastonbury and Reading festivals, and support slots with Robbie Williams and Metallica.

The band said they were so popular because they injected some fun back into a rock scene that had become dominated by angst and strict rules about what was cool.

"There's nothing rebellious about standing in a field full of Marilyn Manson fans with your finger in the air, because everyone else is doing it," Justin Hawkins told BBC News Online in July.

"Let's do something different."

Their album, Permission To Land, went to number one in the UK in August, and has now sold more than 1.2 million copies.

Festive hit

Single I Believe In A Thing Called Love went to number two in October, while the follow-up, Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End), was aimed at the festive number one slot.

While it was narrowly beaten into second place, it was a triumph for a band who were regarded as a joke just a year earlier.

They are now making inroads into the American market - but the coming 12 months could be the real test for The Darkness.

After protesting that they were not a novelty band, six months of hype and one Christmas single could mean that the novelty could wear off for the public unless they prove they are here to stay.

The BBC's David Sillito
"The Darkness are the band of the moment"


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