When The Darkness exploded into the public consciousness in 2003 they were a breath of fresh air. A riot of immediately catchy anthems and a healthy sense of their own ludicrousness, they also had an arresting frontman in Justin Hawkins with his penchant for eye-watering catsuits.
Debut album Permission to Land was an instant hit – selling 1.5m copies in the UK alone.
But the cracks soon started to show. During the recording of second album One Way Ticket to Hell... and Back, bassist Frankie Poullain left the band.
The album underperformed in the charts and the next year Hawkins ended up in rehab, quitting the band soon after. The Darkness appeared to be done.
So, was it too much too soon, Frankie?
‘No, because having too much is good fun.
‘You’re like pigs at the trough and you enjoy it. But when you get big and everyone’s sticking their nose in, you lose your identity and your purpose quite quickly and that’s quite frustrating,
‘You can also lose your feeling for what you’re doing and your sense of fun too, and I don’t miss that.
‘There are things I do miss of course – the luxury, the decadence and meeting interesting people.
‘The most important thing though was doing what you love, and as an artist the most important thing was creative freedom.’
We’re a cult band in The States, but now we’re a cult band everywhere because we’re not huge anywhere any more, and that kind of suits us because of the creative freedom.Frankie Poullain, The Darkness’ bass player
Was that why you left the band, then? ‘Technically I was sacked,’ he says bluntly. ‘But I kind of ostracised myself from the band. We didn’t really enjoy being with each other any more.
‘It was all really pretty unpleasant and there were people around us trying to squeeze as much out of us as they could as quickly as possible, because they could see what was happening.’
During his time away from the band, Frankie says he got married and divorced and bought and sold a French chateau, among other things, but he adds: ‘I was always picking up the guitar and coming up with stuff. I was asked to join a few bands.’
He also reveals that he was planning to start a band called The Shunned with other musicians who’d been kicked out of their bands.
However, the original quartet reformed in 2011 and released a third album, the well-received, Hot Cakes.
And in May this year the band released Last of Our Kind – preceded by the full-on track Barbarians.
Poullain is certainly enthused about the new album: ‘I would say it’s more passionate, a more red-blooded kind of album. It definitely comes from the heart.
‘It’s quite defiant and it’s got an epic nature to it, which could be coming from the landscape in which we wrote it. It was on Valentia, an island off the south-west of Ireland, it’s the most westerly harbour of Europe and a really unusual place.
‘It’s got this incredible landscape, and it’s got lots of history, so that kind of inspired us in writing the album. It’s quite an impassioned album.’
Do you see yourselves as the last of your kind, then?
Frankie laughs off the notion: ‘When you do an album, it’s how you feel at that time. And we were on that island, cut off from everyone and kind of isolated.
‘We’re creating a self-enclosed kind of universe that you can submerge yourself into, and we try to create that world for other people to enjoy as well.’
The Darkness’ drum stool has started to look a bit Spinal Tap of late. Original drummer Ed Graham left in 2014 to be replaced by Emily Dolan Davies. Davies played on the new album but left shortly after making her live debut. Rufus Taylor – son of Queen drummer Roger Taylor – is now in the hotseat.
Explaining the split with Emily, Frankie says: ‘She wasn’t really suited to being in the band. She’s well on the way to becoming a great drummer, but committing to being part of a gang with a certain philosophy, if you like – we have a different way of doing things, and she didn’t quite fit in with that.
‘It was like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.’
Rufus was recommended to the group by Brian May’s guitar tech.
‘The timing was perfect’ says Frankie. ‘He’s a great replacement and much more suited to being with us. We’ve already started working on the next album with him and he’s taking us in a different direction which is great. We’re going to do this one quicker because we tend to take three years between albums.
‘This time I think we’re going to try to capture some of the energy from the festivals and touring – take that into the studio while we’re going along and while it’s hot.’
Speaking of festivals, among a packed summer, they’re playing on Sunday , August 30, at this year’s Victorious Festival.
‘I would guesstimate we’ve played Portsmouth four times – there was one with Goldie Lookin Chain supporting us back in 2004 and the crowd was quite rowdy.
‘This looks like a nice line-up. It’s the first time we’ve been on the bill with people like Ray Davies and Johnny Marr. We’re really excited about it.’
Later in the year they’re off to tour America, where they’ve achieved reasonable success: ‘In The States, Permission to Land sold the best part of a million. But a million there doesn’t mean that you’re big league – if you sold a million in the UK you’re huge – but over there that makes you B league.
‘We’re a cult band there, but now we’re a cult band everywhere because we’re not huge anywhere any more, and that kind of suits us because of the creative freedom.’
The Darkness play at the Victorious Festival on Southsea Common on Sunday, August 30. The festival is also taking place on Saturday. Tickets cost from £30 a day. Go to victorious.seetickets.com