Some, especially in the image-conscious world of rock, enter into the festive period with reluctance, perhaps rustling a tentative sleigh bell here, and briefly slipping on a Santa hat there, hoping that nobody will notice – or remember.
The Darkness, by contrast, had put out a Christmas single before even their first album campaign was over: Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) – a smirkingly saucy anthem which forever defined their nudge-nudge Carry On humour – went to number two in December 2003.
Eighteen years on, what might have seemed then like a lightweight novelty act destined for cultural oblivion is still counter-intuitively packing them in on a mid-Covid school night, with singer-guitarist Justin Hawkins and his falsetto shriek feeling strangely reassuring.
Now 46, the frontman from Lowestoft, sporting flouncy blond highlights and an open-chested black glittery pyjama suit, resembled Buttons teleported to mid-Eighties Los Angeles, and sounded like Charles Hawtrey fronting AC/DC.
During cacophonous opener Welcome Tae Glasgae (which will certainly raise the roof at one stop on their 22-date jaunt), he beat his chest like a chimp, grinning all the while, and through much of the show improvised on a running gag about their stage backdrop, a gauzy curtain, upon which the band’s name was projected.
“Look at our logo, crinkled beyond all recognition,” he mock-tutted at one point. “We thought it would look good – [dropping his voice low] but we were wrong!”
If The Darkness come dressed up as a celebration of naffness, they’ve survived because, underneath, there lurks a band of rare substance. Justin’s younger brother, Dan, strikes poses with his guitar like an honest-to-goodness, legs-spread, rail-thin rock god, while his riffs, unreconstructed from the classic-rock idiom of the 1970s and early Eighties, are bolstered by drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor, who, as the son of Queen sticksman Roger Taylor, unquestionably has percussive power in his blood.
Tracks from this year’s Motorheart album stood up well, particularly glam-pop gem Sticky Situations. But these soon gave way to even better, hard-rockin’ favourites from the band’s debut album, Permission To Land, like Givin’ Up and Black Shuck.
As The Darkness careered into their biggest hit, I Believe in a Thing Called Love, the prize for them was clear to see: with bands like ZZ Top and Van Halen recently losing key members, and Kiss and Aerosmith forever teasing retirement, someone will have to headline all those rock festivals, and these perennial jokers are as well equipped as anybody for the task.
For the encore, they triumphantly returned for Don’t Let The Bells End, Hawkins in a Santa onesy with a neckline way below his belly button, and Taylor dressed as a giant inflatable Christmas tree but still pulverising his drum kit like a savage. Against all odds, The Darkness really could be contenders again.
For tour dates, go to thedarknesslive.com