When a musician joins a long-standing band there can be tensions and careful manoeuvring around established habits. There can be hazing rituals and “earning your stripes”, as well as bonding.
And in the case of Metallica when beloved bassplayer Cliff Burton died, there can be years of torturing his replacement, Jason Newsted, by the rest of the band as a kind of classic male displacement for unspoken grief.
But what kind of cruelty lay behind the Darkness’ Christmas show of 2016 when new drummer Rufus Taylor came out for the encore as, well there’s no delicate way to put this, a bit of a dick?
The rest of the band were dressed as fat Santas or turkeys but as Taylor remembers it he was “dressed as the traditional Christmas penis”. We’re talking the son of literal drumming royalty, Queen’s Roger Taylor here. Oh the humanity!
Sympathy though is wasted on Taylor, who loved it. He’d been a fan of the band who mix the pomposity of hard rock with the majesty of pop and a sense of the ridiculous a mile wide, since their first album. This was exactly what he signed up for.
“We instantly got on and I’m not afraid to take the piss out of myself,” says Taylor. “And everyone who has seen the Darkness knows they don’t mind either.”
True that. And Taylor got a sense of this not long after he took a call from Darkness front man Justin Hawkins, while holidaying in Australia, asking if he’d like to join the band in a few days when they were playing a high profile gig.
As Hawkins, who formed the band with his brother and fellow guitarist Dan, and then bassplayer and owner of a ridiculous ‘tache Frankie Poulin, remembers it, that first rehearsal had a potentially major awkward moment.
“I was worried he might feel a little uncomfortable with me having a tattoo of his dad’s face on my finger, as a reminder of how much of a huge dork I am,” says Hawkins.
Taylor confirms the story. “That was the first thing he said to me when I met him: “is it weird that your dad is on my hand?”. I said yeah, it is pretty weird, but I’ll get over it.”
Having gone through a series of drummers in almost comical fashion – though unlike another not entirely serious hard rock band with drummer issues, none of the Darkness stick wielders died choking on someone else’s vomit – this one looks like it may last the singer believes.
“Having Rufus has taken it to a new place. It sounds more accomplished, more ambitious and without being self-indulgent, more progressive,” says Hawkins, who once defined self-indulgence before self-imposed detox and the kind of clean living a man can have in his new home of Switzerland.
“We are sliding forth into the unknown again instead of trying to find the comfort zone.”
If they are becoming “more progressive” does this mean down the line there may be the Darkness doing their take on classic prog rock? Their own hubris-filled Tales Of Topographic Oceans?
“We will certainly endeavour to create something ridiculous,” he says. “But at the moment you can’t really do that until you’ve worked off some naked aggression. We are finding ways to chip away at that because we are all angry. Still angry.
“That’s the beauty of it. It’s very exciting finding new things to be angry about. We used to be angry young men, now we are angry middle aged men – brilliant.”
Hawkins concedes that this middle-aged white man anger may not be dignified – and he hasn’t even met Mark Latham! - but “that’s why we do this, to avoid having to display any dignity”.
Which is fair enough because while there are many things to say about the Darkness, dignity would not be the first or second words which come to mind.
“That’s very kind of you,” Hawkins says.