September 6, 2003, Bristol, United Kingdom.
I remember it as if it were yesterday, so it’s pretty damn scary to think that it was almost 19 years ago.
Nineteen years since I entered my friend Jessica’s house in a red anorak and came out in a white sparkly catsuit and tiara, so to speak.
It was her 13th birthday and she had invited me and several other friends to her house to watch Grease and eat pizza.
After two fun-filled hours of singing and dancing, she ejected the VHS and flipped through the TV channels looking for something to watch. I asked her if she could put on The Box – the UK equivalent of MTV. We only had the five basic channels at our house, so part of the reason I loved going to Jessica’s was to watch the latest chart releases.
Jessica agreed. And just like that, with a click of the remote, my life changed.
I looked up at the screen and my eyes were met by the one of the most peculiar sights I had ever seen in my 12 years of life: a half-naked scrawny man with long curly hair sitting in a, er…, hot tub on a, er…, spaceship surrounded by, er…, furry monsters.
What the hell am I watching? I thought. Yet somehow, I couldn’t tear my eyes away.
But it wasn’t just the visuals; it was the sound, too, that had me transfixed. I had heard nothing like it before. That falsetto voice. That killer guitar riff. That pounding bassline. It was, quite simply, mind-blowing.
I looked at Jessica with my mouth wide open and asked: “Who … are… they?”
“Oh, they’re this new band called The Darkness,” she replied casually with a shrug, “They released their first album a few months ago.”
How have I missed these guys? Had I been living in a cocoon or something?
A cocoon, no, but wrapped up in my own world of Westlife, Will Young and countless other pop acts that I’d rather care to forget.
I grabbed the remote from Jessica, cranking up the volume. It was like nobody else existed but me and the television at that moment.
I sat watching the rest of the song in silence and when it finally came to an end, I turned to my friends and exclaimed: “Girls, I think I’m in love!”
I didn’t even know the lead singer’s name at this point, but he had captured my teenage heart.
And so, the obsession began.
I came home that evening and, bursting with excitement, I told my dad about this new band I had discovered.
My dad was a huge rock music fan and had been trying to “educate” me for years, but I had been too into my boy bands to pay him much heed.
Now things were different.
I sat with him and listened intently as he told me about all his favourites: Deep Purple, Rainbow, Queen, Black Sabbath, AC/DC. He dug out their records and played them to me.
I was converted from the opening sounds of Rainbow’s Tarot Woman.
The very next day, we took a trip to Woolworths and went halves on Permission to Land. I took the CD up to my bedroom and played it nonstop the whole afternoon. It was the best 40 minutes of music I had ever listened to.
Down came all the posters in my bedroom. Out went my CD collection. All traces of my previous life gone in one fell swoop.
By the next month, my room was plastered with Justin Hawkins, there was just one CD in my collection (Permission to Land), and I had started dressing in denim, leather and a touch of spandex.
People can say what they like about The Darkness — that they’re a joke, a parody, a poor version of Spinal Tap — but the impact they had on me, as well as a whole generation of other young girls and boys, is undeniable.
They were not only my gateway to classic rock, but my gateway to independence, to a new-found confidence, to learning who I was as a person. They are the reason why I discovered Thin Lizzy, who have gone on to become my favourite band (guitarist Dan Hawkins is pretty much surgically attached to a Thin Lizzy shirt!). And, through the power of their music, they created a special bond between me and my dad.
I can’t thank them enough.
Nineteen years later and I am on my fourth copy of Permission to Land, having played the others to death. And yes, I Believe in a Thing Called Love still sounds just as good as the first time I ever heard it. But no, the crush on Justin has long faded away.
Stereo Story #670