Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Justin Hawkins, The Darkness

In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the years in the rock trenches has affected the ol’ grey matter. This week: The Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins.

What is the number plate of the car in the ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)’ video?

“(Laughs) Fuck! How am I supposed to know that?! It’ll probably be DARK 1 or something like that?”

WRONG. But close – it’s DARK 7.

“Whoa! Why seven?”

Er…You made the video Justin….

“Yeah, I should ask myself that one! We recorded that song in August/September 2003 at Abbey Road, which was a dream come true, but then we forgot about it and it built its own momentum. We were on holiday and were called back to promote it when it looked like it was going to be the Christmas Number One ‘cos in the Wednesday midweeks we were winning [it was eventually pipped to the post by Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules version of ‘Mad World’]. It was a busy year – it’s all such a blur, I can’t even remember the number plate of the car in the video!”

Who did you play in the 2008 film Telstar: The Joe Meek Story?

“I played Screaming Lord Sutch, the pre-Alice Cooper Alice Cooper.”


“I only do things that I think are going to be fun – and I’m not always right about that! There’s a lot of sitting around when you film stuff and at the time, I was bored. But I really enjoyed working with the director Nick Moran, and we kept in touch afterwards. But I need to work on my (Adopts a theatrical voice) ‘acting’ if I’m going to more of that.”

Have you been offered a lot of roles?

“For whatever reason, I always used to get offered the role of washed-up rock star – and I don’t know why that is! But I’ve got a couple of short horror films that I’m filming in June. I have a heroic, grisly death in one of them which I’m looking forward to.”

“For whatever reason, I always used to get offered the role of washed-up rock star”

Who presented you with the British Album Of The Year award at the 2004 Brits?

“OK… it wasn’t Scarlett Johansson was it?”


“YES! We got three awards that day and I couldn’t remember who did what. That was a stab in the dark. I went for the only one whose name I could remember! [Poor Jamelia, presenter of British Rock Act and Martin Kemp, who bestowed them with Best British Group!] So yeah – rock ‘n’ roll does kill brain cells, but it keeps the ones that matter!”

 Any memorable celebrity encounters?

“The ones you’ve forgotten are often most memorable. I read an interview where one of the Spice Girls [Mel C] was asked ‘Who was the rudest celebrity you ever met?’, and she chose me – with the caveat that I’m probably not a celebrity anymore [Laughs], which I was really happy about! Apparently I was just morbidly rude – I don’t know what I said or did. I was probably just trying to be funny but failing. But that’s as much of an achievement as being the nicest person, isn’t it? It’s just as memorable. To them – but not to me, evidently. Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity on their part!”


Which actor did you once try to persuade to record a “gay anthem” you’d written called ‘Homosexual’?

“Are you talking about Dennis Waterman?”

CORRECT. Of Minder and ‘write the theme tune, sing the theme tune’ fame.

“Oh yeah! We were trying to convince him to do it because the vibe I wanted was a gay anthem that totally spells it out. ‘Cos I was thinking there’s gay anthems around – I mean, we’re responsible for a couple of them! – but they’re kind of implied. I just felt like instead of saying ‘YMCA’ or being a strong, empowered person despite the heartbreak and the segregation, why not have a song that completely spells it out? Back then, I wasn’t aware of a gay anthem that actually said that. I mean, obviously there’s loads of them now but it’s a different time, isn’t it? So I was thinking it’d be nice if somebody who’s not from that world would come out and say something like that. I thought it would be good, but he just looked at me like I was mad!”

“I did actually write a song called ‘A Gay Anthem’ which I’ve shopped around to other artists but nobody seems interested in that concept at that moment. Maybe it doesn’t need to be said.”

You appeared on Band Aid 20 in 2004. Who sings your lines on the original 1984 Band Aid version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’?

“Fucking hell! That’s a really difficult question! Um… I don’t even know what my lines were. Can you remind me?”

Solo, you sing ‘Raise a glass for everyone!’ and ‘Underneath that burning sun’.

“I can’t remember! I love the original, but the only line that anybody wanted to sing was the iconic Bono one. So it wasn’t really an exciting moment (Laughs) – and certainly not challenging in singing terms so I’ve completely forgotten it. Sorry!”

WRONG. It was Paul Young.

“Arrgggghhh! I wanted to say Paul Young! If you’d forced the issue, I would have said that! Band Aid 20 had a good atmosphere. Pretty much everybody who took part in it were team players. More or less – there were some contributors that were kept separate because they’d achieved a higher tier of success. But the recently successful flashes-in-the-pan were all together and had a good time – the pan-flashes, I like to think of ourselves as.”

Name two things you’ve flown over the audience on.

“A simple trapeze attachment with two pivots on the hips to enable me to do somersaults. Also, a white tiger and the boob chariot.”


The Struts have cited you as an influence and Greta Van Fleet have been compared to you. Who do you see picking up your baton?

“I don’t know. We always hoped there would be a movement – we’d have been delighted to be the grandfathers of it. I’m looking forward to when we can genuinely be described as ‘wrinkly rockers’ – we’re getting there! Ten albums and then you’re wrinkly rockers and start wearing blazers, tight jeans, and futuristic trainers. Can’t wait!”

You wrote ‘Music Again’ for Adam Lambert’s 2009 debut album ‘For Your Entertainment’. Which other frontman of a British rock band has a writing credit on that record?

“That would be Matt Bellamy out of Muse”.

CORRECT. Matt wrote ‘Soaked’. Adam Lambert now fronts Queen, and Rufus Tiger Taylor, your drummer in The Darkness, is the son of Queen drummer Roger Taylor…

“Yeah, we’ve been to a few Queen shows and Brian [May, Queen guitarist] took us to the musical as well. We’ve been to both their houses and played with them. You’re always aware that’s literally what you dream about as a child – playing with the greatest rock band that ever lived. It’s like playing football with your favourite team with all the legends still in the team. And more or less keeping up with them – because they’re old (Laughs).”


Which festival did you turn down the headline slot at?


CORRECT. In 2004. Any regrets?

“No, because we headlined Reading – we couldn’t do both. There’s an implied and often written contract clause that you can’t headline more than one main UK festival. I mean, we did that year because we also headlined T in the Park but only by default because David Bowie was too ill to perform. We had an agreement in place with Reading for a really good amount of money and then Glastonbury came in late and asked us to do theirs and we had to refuse. You book these things way before Christmas and we asked Glastonbury back then if they’d be interested in booking us and they said: ‘No – we don’t think you’ll still be around next year’. And then Glastonbury realised that we were still around and they wanted us, but they came in too late. This is all very vivid in my mind!”

Ever turned down anything else big?

“Once I was offered a commercial where I was supposed to be acting as myself – I was expected to sit there in a catsuit and be a prick. Which I can do! I can do that in my sleep! I said: ‘I’ll do it for this amount of money’, and the money came up and up but didn’t reach where I wanted so I turned it down. The next thing I know, Elton John did it! (Laughs)”

According to rock legend, what did you insist the then-NME editor did in order for you to appear on the cover?

“The way I remember it, he offered to kiss my shoes. (Laughs)”

CORRECT. Kiss your shoes.

“I wasn’t interested at the time. NME was the thing that tried to kill us before we started. We were overlooked in the early days and I was bitter about that. And also drunk so forgive me!”

Water under the bridge – it was a different time….

“Actually, that culture of slagging people off really excited me – I used to enjoy it. Now you have to be careful what you say – which doesn’t suit me. That’s not what I got into this business for! When you slagged people off and saw them in real life, there was always an understanding that was the game. Tom [Chaplin] from Keane is a lovely guy and I really respect his singing, but I always used to slag him off because he’s not us – and as such he deserves to be slagged off (Laughs). He was the one who took it the best. We slagged The Strokes off and then we went on tour with them round Australia and we got on really well with those guys. Well, until they read what we said! (Laughs)”

That ‘Big Day Out’ 2004 Australian tour line-up was bizarre…

Metallica, Muse, The Strokes, us, The Black Eyed Peas. On paper, you wouldn’t expect it to be compatible but it was a great laugh. I remember [Metallica frontman] James Hetfield was always trying to look after me and get me to moderate my behaviour and then, conversely, I had Lars [Ulrich, Metallica drummer] doing the opposite and totally enabling me and getting me to be even worse than I was! And it was fun to see the contrasting approaches within one band. Everybody copes in a different way – well actually, not everybody copes (Dry laugh).”

You won Bargain Hunt this year, beating Feeder. What was your total loss?

“Ooooh…good question. £45 or something?”

WRONG. You made a loss of £20, compared to Feeder’s loss of £88.

“Hmmmn – I said ‘or something’!”

What was it like doing it?

“Two surprisingly long days, actually. I enjoyed working with [antiques expert] Phil Serrell who knows what he’s talking about. But you can’t even trust your instincts. Our win was a complete fluke. I had no idea what was going to happen. It was edge of your seat stuff – really thrilling.”

The verdict: 7/10

That’s why it said ‘7’ on the number plate of the ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)’ video! It was a premonition! I’ll never forget that now!”

The Darkness are on tour throughout December. For full dates, see: