THE DARKNESS AT THE NEW CENTURY HALL MANCHESTER, 12-12-23

A first for me as I attend the New Century Hall for the visit of The Darkness. Revamped to bring back the glories of its 60’s heyday the NCH is a hidden little gem that will give the other music venues in Manchester a run for their money. Situated 5 minutes’ walk from Victoria train station the NCH has bars and restaurants to cater for your pre gig refreshments. The gig hall itself has a capacity of around 1300 persons. There is a decent size raised viewing area for those who require it. A further two bars make sure you won’t go thirsty! I found the staff and security to be friendly and attentive – a good start.
Positioning myself by the mixing desk I awaited the support band Bad Nerves, a punk band hailing from Essex. Opening track Don’t Stop was a fast and furious affair. My first impression was these are like The Ramones on speed. Without pause the band ripped through Baby Drummer, Palace and Terminal Boy. The crowd eventually began to respond to the energy coming from the stage and the songs Radio Punk, Electric 88 and USA were well received. Vocalist Bobby Nerves worked the stage as twin guitarists William Phillipson and George Berry also chipped in with backing vocals. A solid driving rhythm was maintained by Jonathan Poulton on bass and Samuel Thompson on drums. Can’t Believe, Mad Mind and Dreaming finished off the set.

All credit to the band for turning the crowd onto their music. Fast, uncomplicated and in your face maybe, but combined with catchy hooks, tight musicianship and a real passion for what they are doing, you can see these guys becoming the guilty pleasure of many.

Excitement grew as the lights dimmed and the Intro track played signalling the arrival of The Darkness. Billed as the 20th anniversary of Permission To Land Tour we pretty much knew what to expect. The opening riff of Black Schuck filled the hall as the band took to the stage. Just as you think the opening verse is about to kick in Justin Hawkins calls a halt to proceedings. The band falls silent as Justin proceeds to tell the phone wielding members of the crowd to put the offending mobiles away and asks them to watch and enjoy the show. Stage managed maybe, brave certainly – and not the start I was expecting. And then we have take off! Black Schuck #2 is accompanied by a shower of ticker tape which sets the tone for a fun filled party atmosphere. Even a faulty microphone cannot stop the jumpsuit clad front man as he simply grabs up another and gets the crowd rocking.

Straight into Get Your Hands Off My Woman, Justin has the crowd clapping along and already following his every instruction. The Best Of Me sees Dan and Justin show off their twin guitar soloing skills and is a nice nod to the influence of Thin Lizzy.

A sober moment sees Justin acknowledge his past problems with addiction and his apology to his band mates is honest and heartfelt. We are left in no doubt that The Darkness are four members that make the whole – although with a wink and a cheeky grin Justin tells us he knows as the singer he is still the main man!

Givin’ Up kick starts proceedings again quickly followed by Stuck In A Rut. Sing a long time, and Justin’s vocal acrobatics has the crowd struggling to compete, but we give it a good go. How Dare You Call This Love is followed by Street Spirit (Fade Out). Not many covers are better than the original, but this version has a hard rock edge to it and more than holds its own. The blues/rock vibe of Holding My Own slows it down just enough to set the tone for a high-octane sprint to the finish line. Friday Night has Justin getting the crowd to bounce in time with the music.

You can really feel the sprung floorboards of the venue under your feet. Crowd participation is definitely the theme here as literally everybody is singing and bouncing along.

Festive spirit is raised with Xmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End). More ticker tape and pyrotechnics keeps the party atmosphere going. Led Zep’s Immigrant Song leads us into I Believe In A Thing Called Love before the band leave the stage and we all get a chance to catch our breath.

For the encore, the band returns adorned in silk dressing gowns. If this doesn’t demonstrate their “anything goes and don’t take yourself too seriously” attitude to life, then nothing will. I Love you 5 Times sees the band swapping instruments. Dan takes the drums spot, Frankie Pouillain on guitar and Rufus Taylor on bass. Joining the band on stage are a couple of Techs, which shows this is a collective affair. More vocal wizardry from Justin has the crowd singing at the top of its voice. Love On The Rocks With No Ice rounds off proceedings. To our delight Justin and Rufus take a trip through the crowd carried by aforementioned techs, good time guys out there with us soaking up the atmosphere.

The Darkness did not disappoint, and they certainly know how to put on a show. Making sure we had a fun time was top of the agenda and they 100% delivered.

Words by Jonathan Venables 

Photos by Philip Goddard 

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