The Darkness Almost Didn't Happen Because of South American Bees

The Darkness
The Darkness
Photo courtesy of The Darkness

The Darkness return to Denver to perform this Friday, October 16, at the Summit Music Hall. The U.K.-based rock band made a big splash with its 2003 debut album, I Believe In a Thing Called Love. Its brash and theatrical performance style and music sounded like it could have existed alongside bombastic '70s rock bands like Queen and AC/DC. But original and current bass player Frankie Poullain says that he and lead vocalist Justin Hawkins bonded over their love of '80s and early '90s alternative bands including My Bloody Valentine, Suede and the Smiths. And it is that unexpected depth of influences that separated The Darkness from many other bands that have tried to resurrect the sound and spirit of the classic rock era.

Justin Hawkins, although nearly a decade younger than Poullain, had a successful career as a writer of jingles, but he had wanted to do something more genuinely creative that spoke more from his heart and intentions as a musician. So he brought together, among other people, his brother Dan and his friend Poullain to form the Darkness. Following a bevy of personal issues, the Darkness split in 2006. But in 2011, the band's management helped to get the band back together, and it has been an active and viable unit since, with two albums, including 2015's Last of Our Kind. The Darkness was even invited by Lady Gaga to open for her on the European and African leg of the 2012 Born This Way Ball tour. But all of this might not have happened had Poullain not been rescued from certain death in the jungles of Venezuela by an unlikely benefactor while he had been a tour guide in the late '90s.

“I took a group of students to an isolated group of students to the Orinoco Delta and I was looking into things for them to do,” says Poullain. “So I got a bunch of balsa wood so we could have a sculpture competition. I was in a canoe with a couple of students and I was hammering at some branches with a machete. I wasn't looking properly and I managed to put the machete right through the middle of a wasp nest. Actually, it was brown bees, and they hone in on the enemy.

"They didn't sting other people, they knew it was me. Every time I came up from the water there was a black ball of these things angrily hovering and waiting for me to resurface and sting me again. I finally swam a hundred meters upriver to the camp and I collapsed again and again. We didn't have a first aid kit because this was the first time we'd done this trip. Thankfully, the most annoying student in the group, who was psychosomatic, saved my life because she had antihistamine. I took a bunch of those and had all these strange dreams and woke up eleven hours later and I was still alive. My whole head was swollen and red. That's the closest I've been to death.

"A year and a half into doing that I got a call from Justin Hawkins telling me he was ready to stop pissing around and that he'd found a keyboard player and he wanted to be the singer and form a band called the Darkness with a more classic rock sound. That's when I decided I would leave Venezuela and have a last stab at music and do it properly.”

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