FRANKIE POULLAIN of the DARKNESS talks about music, art, the romance of Somerset and their current UK tour with Black Stone Cherry

I think we're happy to go on first because we had these dressing gowns specially made, and we'd like to just swan around backstage and host people back there with a little satellite link to the Black Stone Cherry performance.

Interview by Mark Lacey

I went to study in Bath when I was 18, but then I dropped out pretty quick and just did the usual stuff that dropouts to do. I lived in a bedsit for ages. I wanted to be a writer, first of all. Did a lot of hallucinogenics. Somerset’s a good place to do hallucinogenics.

MGM: The last time we met in person was in 2013, when The Darkness played the Classic Rock Awards. I remember that show for the pissed industry guy who came up on the stage and hilariously got bumped off the stage by Dan.

FP: The occasion was great on so many levels. First of all, Dan taking the guy out with his guitar, which he did really well, I think, because he just carried on playing. It was a great Keith Richard’s moment for them. I was so proud because we had our accountant with us; he’s a very stylish guy with quite a badass gentrified gothic look. He’s got a very unique style, and doesn’t look like an accountant. And he also likes to get wasted as well. He’s very charismatic, and people were saying ‘who is that guy?’. And I take great pleasure in saying, yeah, that’s our account!

MGM: 2022 looks to have been quite a busy year for you guys. You’ve played the best part of 60-65 shows. been back to the USA for the first time in five years, and you’ve been back to Australia and New Zealand after lots of postponements. Does life feel back to normal?

FP: We’ve really pushed the boat out to take it back to normal financially, but that wasn’t the primary thing. The main thing was getting the album out. And it might have been a bit rushed, and the tours were a bit rushed, because some people weren’t ready to come back in the States. But we’ve done some great groundwork there because they really appreciated it there. Most of the people that came to see us in the States on that seven week tour, it was the first gig they’ve been to since lockdown lifted, and I think they really appreciated it, and there was a real connection. It was very intense, that tour, because seven weeks full on straight with not many days off, it’s quite challenging for bands who aren’t in their twenties. But we got through it and I’m really glad we did it. And I’m really glad we put out the album, too, because people needed it. We really had to work under quite tough circumstances with Motorheart, not being in the same room a lot of time. That album is a testament to the time, the conditions it was made in. And I think there’s some great moments on it, not least the title track.

MGM: Motorheart is a really good album, and it was great to see so many of those songs played live when I caught you at G Live Christmas show in Guildford in December 2021. That was a great night..

That G Live gig was the last time I actually saw Jeff Beck. He was a friend of Rufus’ and he came backstage at that gig. And I remember saying, that guy as well obviously as being the ultimate badass, he was also always just so full of vitality and health. He didn’t have those things that old guys had; those frailties. He was just unapologetic and yeah. But that was the last time that I saw him, and I got the privileged to meet him through Rufus.

MGM: You’ve had a lot of success since the Motorheart album came out. It seems to have really resonated. Since the band got back together in 2011-2012, and Rufus joined in 2015 the Darkness really seem to have grown. The last two or three albums have just got better and better from a song writing perspective.

FP: Yeah, well, I think Justin has really had a third wind. He’s just gone up a level and there’s something about his energy and he’s really turned into a renaissance man, and spreading his wings with his YouTube channel, of course, and then just also his collaborations with other people. I’m so happy to see him at 100%. I thought he was at 100% few years ago, but it seems he’s just got so much energy. And really he needs that. He kind of hit rock bottom; I think he’d be the first to admit that. He’s such an extravert and I think in lockdown it was tough for him. And then something clicked in his head and he realised that he needed that connection with other people. Whether the online things that he does, or just collaborating with other people and just keeping busy. He’s got to be heated up and working, but to him it’s not work …  to him it’s play, and that’s when he’s at his best. So I’m really happy about that. It’s great to see.

It’s all lightness. There’s no heaviness anymore at all. He’s a real advert for not drinking because it doesn’t just take a year or two. When you’ve had a history of drinking for 10-15 years, whatever it might be, it actually takes almost that amount of time to really get out of the system and to return to your childlike self. And he has returned to that state.

MGM: Talk to me a bit about the tour you’ve got coming up. It’s billed as a kind of co headline with Black Stone Cherry. How did it come about?

FP: We had the Thetford Forest gig together back in 2012. So we met them there and played with them and it went off well. It’s also something to do with the connection with the Deep South and East Anglia …  these little cut off old fashioned places. I guess it’s the closest thing to where Justin and Dan come from. It might also be something to do with the Lowestoft is Bird’s Eye and Kentucky is KFC so something to do with chicken and fish.

MGM: What point in your life did you move out of Scotland, Frankie? There’s quite a world of difference between there and London.

FP: I went to study in Bath when I was 18, but then I dropped out pretty quick and just did the usual stuff that dropouts to do. I lived in a bedsit for ages. I wanted to be a writer, first of all. Did a lot of hallucinogenics. Somerset’s a good place to do hallucinogenics. And back then there was a bit of a counterculture. There was a thing going on around the West Country with all the travellers. I was never a traveller, but I did go out with a girl who was involved in that scene. And the whole thing was just really romantic to me. Somerset was romantic. Bath was romantic. Of course, it was a bit touristy, but not nearly as touristy as it is now. And there was this street called Walcot Street, where there was these couple of great pubs, the Bell and The Hat & Feather. The Bell is still there. One of the oldest, most respected small pub live music venues in England. But the Hat & Feather is sadly closed, but that place used to be proper bohemian, and it was a great time to be in your twenties and hang out there.

And there’s bookshops everywhere, so I just be reading like loads of Henry Miller, Charles Bukowsvski … all that kind of stuff and that was the great decade of alternative music as well, the late eighties going into the nineties. A good time to be a dropout.

MGM: What can fans expect from the shows on this forthcoming tour? It’s billed as a co-headline, but are you and Black Stone Cherry alternating between opening and closing the shows? Do you know how that’s going to work yet?

FP: I think we’re happy to go on first because we had these dressing gowns specially made, and we’d like to just swan around backstage and host people back there with a little satellite link to the Black Stone Cherry performance. There’s a lot of catching up to do. There might be a couple of alternates, but at the moment we’ve said that we’re happy to go on first. Just to be polite, because they’re the guests in the country.

MGM: Fans will have so many memories of watching the Darkness at Wembley, and Justin coming out into the arena on a pair of flying tits or on that white tiger. Every Darkness show is always a lot of fun.

FP: We’ve done tigers and tits, so I guess the next thing should be coming out in a pair of false teeth as a little joke about ageing as well.

MGM: These dates are all going to be arena dates. The last time you played the UK, most of the dates were festivals. What’s your preference in terms of playing bigger venues versus being up close and personal?

FP: It all depends, really. It’s not only to do with the dimensions, it’s really just to do with where you are. Without getting too cosmic, it’s really where everyone’s heads are, and how they’re feeling, especially how Justin’s feeling, and just the chemistry of the band. And it’s really all about that. How much love you’re willing to put into it.

MGM: Your rhythm section partnership with Rufus is now the longest standing across the Darkness’ 20 year career. What is it about that partnership that you think has endured and makes it work so well?

 FP: I’ve just come back from a great holiday with Rufus. Believe it or not, we went on a holiday to Costa Rica and the Caribbean. It sounds wanky when I say that …. like we’re highflyers … but we had family; a bit with mine, and then a bit with his. It was delightful for both of us. Rufus is such easy company.

Really, it’s the four of us. He just gets on with all of us. He has a great energy. Sometimes he can be really childish and silly, but other times he can be surprisingly grown up and wise, because he’s been around rock musicians all his life. He’s seen a lot. He’s obviously a shit hot drummer too, and he’s really open to things. He’s open to everything except for Oasis. That’s where he draws the line. He won’t join in. When we jokingly launch into a bit of Oasis live … we might just do like a little snatch of it just for a laugh, and then he’ll refuse to join in, which really amuses Justin. So, he draws his line at certain things, but not many things.

MGM: This tour is going to come and go really quick. It’s going to be over in a flash. But what other plans do you guys have for 2023? Are there more dates on the horizon? Or plans for more recording?

FP: There should be one or two more things announced shortly. Yeah, there’s going to be some things happening for sure later in the year. But there’s also a lot of writing as well up in the Highlands of Scotland and maybe a bit in Switzerland as well, where Justin lives. We’re treating ourselves, really. We realise that the most important thing, really, is the writing, especially now. It’s like 20 years. So this is the time to come back with something really strong. We’re all digging in. Rufus is even playing guitar these days as well; coming up with little ideas on acoustic, and I am, too. We’ve all got the bit between our teeth, it’s fair to say. You can see that energy when you see Justin and he’s got a bit between his teeth. So it’s an easy thing to say. Bands always say that, but I think we really feel like we’ve got to do a legacy defining piece.

MGM: How has that writing process, and being able to come up with quality material, changed, do you think, during the 20 years of the band?

FP: I think it’s a process from formality to informality. It’s really all about being just so informal and not being literal either. That’s one thing I get from watching Justin, as well. The mistake people make of being too formal, too literal and too apologetic. I think that’s the three things that are spoiling modern culture; everyone is so apologetic and so literal and formal as well. So I think it’s avoiding those things. If that doesn’t sound too abstract. That’s really with the song writing, the space you want to be in. You want to be kind of childish and instinctive. You want to be almost like an animal, like a dog, like sniffing something out rather than consciously going for it. But it’s up in that state. You have to really be relaxed in each other’s companies and patient as well and just try to create good vibes, if that doesn’t sound too hippyish.

MGM: Someone who’s interviewed you in the past said to me, when you talk to Frankie, it’s a bit like talking to the rock star equivalent of Salvador Dali.

FP: That would have been on a good day, because a lot of the time I overthink. But anyway, I take it as a compliment because a lot of my best friends are painters. And in fact, I was at the Chelsea Arts Club last night. My two best friends are painters, and my grandparents were painters, too. I kind of idolised them, and some of the fondest memories of my childhood was visiting them in the south of France. I was very fortunate to do that. The other side is north of England. Coal mining, working class, very tough. So I guess I’m a mix of those two things.

MGM: Aa someone with a creative mind, how do you cope with the contrast between the creativity of writing and recording, versus the routine of touring and playing the same songs in the same order night after night?

FP: It can be tough, but we have a lot of laughs. That’s the bottom line. We got two brothers that get on really well, and that compliment each other so well. It’s a family. As I’ve said many times; Justin’s the trophy wife, Dan is the father, the drummer, Ed and now Rufus are the adolescent teenager. And I’m the weird uncle.

MGM: You wrote a book ‘Dancing in the Darkness’ in 2008 a few years after you left from your first stint in the Darkness. Any urges to write again?

FP: If I ever do write something again, it won’t be literal or factual. It’ll be more kind of far flung. It would probably be a collaboration. I was working on a documentary about the mandolin with a friend of mine, actually, in Italy in the summer. And that’s something I might carry on. Yeah, the mandolin and what it represents in Italy, and then maybe bringing in some British American musicians that have used the mandolin as well. It was when we noticed that when the mandolin were playing out in this outdoor recital that the cicada started to compete with the mandolin because the tremolo of the mandolin must have made the cicadas think it was a vibrational thing. So it was almost like a mate, because when they’re doing that, they’re looking for mates. I thought that was quite an interesting concept.

MGM: What keeps you busy when you’re not touring? Other than going to wonderful places?

FP: I don’t often go to wonderful places. I’m quite an introvert. I’ve been doing a lot of yoga recently, but I just get hung up on something like tennis or swimming or yoga. And I tried to force myself to socialise because sometimes I can lock myself away a bit. I enjoy going to the Chelsea Arts Club and I enjoy going to see painting exhibitions and I love Italian cinema and going to gigs. All the stuff people do in London.

For more information

From 28th January to 4th February, The Darkness embark on a massive co-headline UK tour with their friends Black Stone Cherry. Support comes from Danko Jones.

Limited tickets still available.

January 2023

Sat 28th    Cardiff Motorpoint Arena

Sun 29th   Liverpool M&S Bank Arena

Mon 30th   Glasgow OVO Arena

Tue 31st   Birmingham Resorts World Arena

February 2023

Thu 2nd   Manchester AO Arena 

Fri 3rd     Leeds First Direct Arena

Sat 4th    London Wembley OVO Arena


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