2004. Two double-o four. A year which promises to go down in the annals of music history as one of the most exhilarating in the early bit of the third millennium, with McFly challenging for Busted's toaster-throwing rock n' roll crown, female singers from Christina Milian all the way down to Emma Bunton seeing who can take the most clothes off in their videos without being arrested, and Jamie Cullum's hair. But the main reason 'pop' of today is more thrilling and revolutionary than it's been in living memory can be summed up in two apparently
'The' and 'Darkness'.
Yes, four lads from our little isle in the Atlantic have taken on the world, sold millions of records, won countless Brit and Ivor Novello awards and even cracked America (nearly), with their simple but brilliant combination of flames tattooed near pubic hair and a vast reservoir of influences, running the whole gamut from early Aerosmith to mid-period Aerosmith. But where did these gorgeous boys with their scarves and their mouths spring from? They can't simply have materialised one day and clambered out of some pomp-rock Tardis. Or can they? No, no they can't. Don't be silly. Indeed, a brief glance into the Darkness biog shows that this band of bands, boys who've hijacked the nation's hearts, displacing Coldplay, Radiohead and even Shed Seven, were born, bred, met and shaped in that most average of home towns.
Lowestoft. Lowestoft Lowestoft Lowestoft. Just what is it about this modest Norfolk hamlet which could be capable of spawning such immense talent? Not only did The Darkness grow up there, but Tim Westwood was raised outside its bubbling hub, while former England player and man who holds the record for bleeding from the head most profusely during a football match; Terry Butcher, also refers to Lowestoft as home. The place was becoming increasingly mythical for me, the more I learned about these environs and their musical heritage the more I wanted to learn. The logical next step was to investigate this fabled land first-hand, so the first chance I got I booked a flight on EasyJet, packed thirteen issues of Kerrang!, cancelled my flight when it turned out to be going to a different Lowestoft in Denmark, hopped a train and went investigating. This is my story.
The pilgrimage began outside the train station as I looked for somewhere to go, quickly spotting a poster in the window of a nearby gastropub. Turns out the sonic adventures of The Darkness have spawned at least one tribute band already. The photograph showed four young upstarts named The Half-Light, an act very much in the spirit of their mentors, true believers keeping songs like 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love (Nimmy-Nimmy-Nimmy-Nimmy-Nimmy-Nim)' alive in Lowestoft while their composers tour the world's enormodomes. They also looked quite like the originals, only a bit older, fatter and hairier.
I called up The Half-Light, pretending to work for a national music weekly so they'd grant me an interview.
In person the tribute band certainly didn't disappoint, their drummer had the worst cough I'd heard on a
man under sixty while the guitarist looked more like Ricky Tomlinson than Dan 'The Axe' Hawkins. When
I asked them about the local band scene they grunted and burped for a while before telling me to check
out the seafront. And so, the following day I hit that shore, only to find a gang of urchins playing 'skater
hockey' and three donkeys suffering from exposure. In-between acting surly and gobbing on my shoes,
the yobs urged me to turn up that same night at their youth club because The Numpties were playing and
they "fookin' rock". A recommendation like that I can't ignore.
That night I got there early, paid my 50p subs and had a chat with Numpties' frontman and the only member of the group not to possess a severe learning difficulty, Albert Plowpod. We sat on tiny wooden chairs and shared a Diet Vimto while Albert told me of his act's place in the Lowestoft scene.
"I'm quite lucky with my band." Asserted Alb while behind us the guitarist attempted to plug an electric razor into his amp. "Since they're all retards I don't get the normal problems you usually have. There's no such thing as 'musical differences' with these Numpties, as long as we make some kind of sound they're happy. Loud noise stimulates the inner bit of their ears so they get very excited and don't remember to ask for payment. Our drummer loves hitting things so much he never thinks beyond the next whack." Plowpod glanced over at the percussionist who was trying to drown out our conversation with inept drum rolls. "You'd never guess it to look at him, but Sebastian can actually hold the beat quite well. That's handy when your bassist doesn't even really know how to hold his instrument, let alone play it."
I stayed for the show, a cathartic explosion of noise the watching kids seemed to enjoy, halting their ping-pong game to shower the band with orange squash then invading the stage at the climax to pile on a grinning Albert and wrestle his guitarist. But despite
this, I couldn't help thinking that no amount of music tutoring or personal stylists could get this bunch on Top Of The Pops, at least not while Andi Peters was running it like some power-crazed dictator with psioriasis. I asked one of the youth club helpers where the proper venues hosting Lowestoft's new generation of talent were and he laughed nervously. Apparently there's only one place in town, the filthy back room to 'The Triangle', a public house which lost it's entertainment licence a few months ago following an altercation between local fiddler Luke Dringo and a drunken stevedore on flexitime. Luckily The Triangle continued to put on the occasional gig, and I was informed that three bands were playing there illegally the very next day. So with a copy of Jockey Slut under one arm and mirrored shades on my head I slunk into the concert to watch a triumverate of acts which, in their variety of approaches, seemed to embody all sides of the Lowestoft experience.
First up were local boys made good Cloughie Likes A Bung, and when I say local I mean extremely local. All five of these teenage tearaways live on the same road as the pub while their sound is very much an amalgam of Britpop's tastiest leftovers, a swirling monster selection which combines the melodies of Hurricane No.1 with the depth of Cast.
I was gripped. and would become even more so when a leathery feather-cut woman with a face like Dani Behr's CV grabbed me by the arm and forced me to doh-see-doh with her to the next act, Pegleg Jesus and The Pirates of Christ. PJ&TPOC are a group of latent Scottish misfits who combine Nashville-style hoedowns with languorous ska-ballads. That night they filled the dancefloor with balding charisma and an irreverent tendency to refer to their audience as "cunts".
But my real amazement was reserved for the headliners, fresh-out of a Suffolk art school and playing a triumphant hometown gig for the first time in three weeks, Token Minger are a crazy, image-conscious five piece. They endeavour to replicate every artistic movement of the past fifty years, from abstract expressionism to pop art, through the medium of generic indie rock. Between slabs of noise and drum solos from a man dressed like a barrow boy, unique singer Barry Slap posed
like Morrissey on Sunny D before treating us to lengthy discourses on Jackson Pollock and how
he was nowhere near as talented as everyone thinks. By this time the crowd had been swollen by
scenesters and fashionistas, driven in from Norwich by their parents who were waiting outside in the
car and there to give Token Minger a rapturous reception. They encored with deconstructed Franz
Ferdinand and Keane songs, removing the melodies and altering the lyrics to critique post-capitalist
culture or extrapolate on contemporary trends. Unfortunately just as they were building to the grand,
theatrical climax their set was broken up by a police raid, but after that performance I predict big
things for Token Minger. With novelty bands all the rage they could even be as big as Jilted John
And so my tour of Lowestoft reached its end. I'd seen enough by now, enough to fuel my belief that
this charming East coast town bursts with enthusiasm and ideas, promising to become as epochal
to our contemporary era as Seattle was in the early nineties, London shortly afterwards, or New York
the week before last. Even as I type these words hundreds of aspiring musicians are relocating from
Camden to Suffolk, hoping to attract the A&R men reputed to flock to The Triangle every Friday and Saturday night in search of hot new properties (plus some Mondays and Wednesdays, clampdowns from the authorities allowing, ask behind the bar for details but please be discreet).
Believe me people, that wonder and magic we see in The Darkness is just the beginning.