The Darkness, ‘Permission To Land’ | The Album Story

As they hit the road for their debut album’s 20th anniversary tour, The Darkness members Justin and Dan Hawkins reflect on the making of their 2003 megahit ‘Permission To Land’.

Featuring the iconic singles ‘Growing On Me’, ‘Love Is Only A Feeling’ and ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’, it hit No.1 in the UK album chart and has since been certified 4x Platinum.

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“We were really busy all the time at the end of 2002. We went on tour with The Wildhearts at the beginning of 2003. We were on tour with Def Leppard and we went on to support Alice Cooper, Deep Purple and The Rolling Stones. Plus, we had loads of our own shows in between. So the sort of ‘overnight success’ thing that a lot of people seemed to witness in 2003 was the result of years of solid work.”

To the untrained eye, The Darkness may have exploded out of nowhere to conquer the music scene in 2003 with debut album ‘Permission To Land’. Yet, as frontman Justin Hawkins correctly points out, their journey to superstardom and Platinum success was not quite so sudden.

“We released ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ as an EP and we pressed 200 copies of it. All of them sold in a week. It went to number 180 in the charts. But that was the first time anybody heard that. Then Jo Whiley on Radio 1 played it just to sort of startle her audience and I think Dave Grohl was in the building at the time. And he was like ‘this is awesome’. And then suddenly, everybody was going ‘this band is awesome’.”

As they celebrate its 20th anniversary by playing the album in full on tour, Justin looks back on its creation and impact alongside his guitarist brother Dan, from winning over mainstream pop audiences to bringing a distinctively British sensibility to a style and era often associated with the bands of the Sunset Strip.

This is The Darkness on why two decades later, ‘Permission To Land’ still truly rocks (with no ice).


“20 or 30% of the record was poured over” says Dan. “Things like ‘Love Is Only A Feeling’, there’s hundreds of acoustic guitars on that. Then the other section of the record pretty much went down live. Both sections of recording that album were self-funded. There wasn’t a label involved until the album was completely finished and mastered. We just had to do what we had to do.”

“We had a little production studio in Willesden. It was just a tiny little room with a Pro Tools set up and we were building some of the album there. It had an amazing drum room next to it. It was part of a studio called Two Kilohertz and it had an old EMI desk, and it belonged to Mike Hedges, the producer. So the bonus of having that little production room that we could go and work in whenever we wanted was that every now and then we’d be able to go into the main live room, steal a few live drum takes and then bring them back to our studio and work on them. And that kind of informed the sound of ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ and ‘Love Is Only A Feeling’. You can hear the production level is a bit higher on those, a lot more ‘over dubby’.”

“We weren’t perceived to be occupying unique space in the months preceding the period of immense success” adds Justin. “You know, there were other bands that were sort of doing twin guitar stuff. People were sort of hedging their bets, but they were always gambling against us and imagining that one of the other bands that were doing something similar would be the one that prevails. But, you know, unfortunately, for them, we were the ones that knew how to write songs.”

And what songs they were. Instantly catchy and steeped in nostalgic love for a period of rock music that had been deemed unfashionable by haters of fun everywhere, ‘Permission To Land’ was a friendly reminder to mainstream audiences who grew up on Queen and Bon Jovi that when it comes to so-called ‘guilty pleasures’, the second word is the key one.

“In that period, the two really memorable shows were supporting Robbie Williams at Knebworth and then also supporting Metallica at the RDF Arena in Dublin” Dan reflects. “That gig in Ireland was just mental because we were fully expecting the Metallica front row treatment of fingers in the ears and an endless stream of bottles of piss. But it was amazing. It was a massive mosh pit. There was a very sombre, indie thing going on at that time with Coldplay and Radiohead being the big hitters, and there was a huge movement towards that. That kind of darker side of music, post-grunge. We didn’t really fit into that at all. But the pop crowd and the metal crowd both just loved it for what it was.”

“On the occasions when we played to an audience that actually would go to a rock gig – supporting Def Leppard or a Rolling Stones audience – I felt like it took us maybe two or three songs to really win over their hearts and minds because there’s probably a slight suspicion that we were doing something that was maybe parodying the main act of the evening” adds Justin. “A suspicion that there was something cynical at play because it was so different to everything else that was new. But we’d eventually win them over. But what we found was when we played to a Robbie Williams audience, there was none of that cynicism. There was none of that suspicion. I think there was less snobbery about a general, mainstream audience. And they just saw it for the fun that it was, you know?”


While The Darkness are certainly not the first band to throw a jaunty ‘motherfucker’ or two into a chorus, it is still rare to hear the C-bomb dropped into an album with this level of mainstream success to its name. Yet the falsetto swearing in the lyrics to the likes of ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ somehow never feels gratuitous.

“There is a time and a place for it” says Justin. “Those words are in our lexicon and they’re there to be used. But it is about context and when to pull that trigger. Our parents have two contrasting approaches to the use of swear words. Neither of us have heard our father swear since we were born. But our mum speaks like a docker, basically. But the thing is, that’s just my mum’s upbringing and it’s just southeast London. But our dad never swore once. I asked him recently why that was. He said it was because him and his mate bet that the next person who swears has to give the other one a tenner. And it lasted for like 60 years.”

There is also something distinctly British about the lyrics on ‘Permission To Land’, whether on opener ‘Black Shuck’ and its tales of a mythical East Anglian wolf or in ‘Friday Night’s nostalgic look at after school activities.

“I always think about U2 and how they talk really specifically about the troubles in Ireland from the perspective of people who are actually Irish” says Justin. “That’s really exhilarating. All of the emotions that you hear in those songs you can relate to. It doesn’t matter what town you’re from, there’s always going to be allegorical experiences that you can take from other people’s music, because if they’re being regionally specific and talking about stuff that’s in their lives, it’s going to be in other people’s lives as well. We’re all just small town people. All of us. Unless you’re a big city person, but that’s a different story, isn’t it? But yeah, I think most of us are small town people. So small town stuff matters, I think.”


Among the list of increasingly ludicrous and hilarious title options for The Darkness’ debut album were ‘Thank You, This Will Suffice For Me. Now, I Believe Some Sex For My Friends’, ‘Guitarchitecture’, ‘Apocalypso’, ‘Death In Both Ears’ and ‘Rock Bottom’. But in the end, ‘Permission To Land’ was an idea that, rather appropriately, just sort of fell out of the sky.

“We were sitting in our manager’s garden and we were talking about what it would be like if the album started with ‘Bareback’ which ended up being a b-side” Justin reflects. “It was an instrumental b-side and we were talking about having a pilot’s voice on there requesting ‘permission to land’. I like it because it’s the double meaning for me, kind of like when people are circling a love interest, he’s waiting for that moment. It harks back to a less sort of coercive and digital time in suitor-ship when you would just wait for your moment to try and endear yourself to your paramour. I don’t know, I liked it because of that, but also, you know…spaceships.”


“I think this album is really special to a lot of people,” Justin reflects. “For a lot of families it’s one of those generational things. It’s dad rock now, because it’s been out for 20 years and people are playing it to their kids. We know that it’s happening because people tell us that. It wasn’t the goal when we recorded it, obviously. But it never seems to lose its energy that record and we’re seeing it in the ticket sales. We tour every album, and it always goes well. But when we put this stuff on sale, it just went way more quickly than anybody had anticipated and we had to add a lot more shows. I think that’s because it’s that record.”

“It’s going to be a thrill to play those songs, because even the rarities and the scarcities and the stuff that wasn’t on the main vinyl, people know that stuff. It’s been 10 years since we played ‘Holding My Own’ I think, so we practiced that last week, and it sounds fucking massive. ‘Making Out’ and ‘Physical Sex’ are really challenging songs to actually play and sing. I know why I recorded it like that – it’s because I didn’t anticipate having to sing it again, 20 years later. It’s a nightmare, but the best kind of nightmare.”

The band are in a suitably reflective mood, having completed work on their new documentary, ‘Welcome To The Darkness’, made with their longtime photographer Simon Emmett.

“I think the challenge that we had really was finding a narrative that you could actually pin all of that footage onto. Because you could tell any story you want. If you follow somebody around for five years with a camera, you can make anything happen in the final edit, because you’ve only got to condense all of that into two hours. What we wanted to see was something that showed what actually is in the heart of the band, you know, the relationships, the characters, and all the daft stuff that happens. Not too much of that David Brent style, staring down the camera and telling the story the way you think your audience wants to hear it, because that’s bullshit. I think Simon is an interesting filmmaker because his instincts aren’t to follow those tropes that just make every documentary that’s about music so unwatchable. The difficulty really is trying to find the heart of the project. But the last edit we saw was great. Today, we saw a trailer for it, which we’re excited about. I think it’s going to be an interesting and quite weird film.”

As they look beyond this latest milestone anniversary for ‘Permission To Land’, is there anything they learned making that first, spectacular, explosion of a record that still rings true when making new music today?

When it comes to the mix approval of each song, the bass will want to be turned up by the bass player” deadpans Dan.

“That is basically it” laughs Justin. “I have nothing to add.”

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