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Sixty Seconds with Justin Hawkins

The Darkness frontman, 43, talks about his new live album, touring with Johnny Depp and painting portraits

When did you record the live album?

At the Hammersmith Apollo in December 2017. We did it all in one venue — it’s not one of those cheaty ones where you take the best performances from different bits of the tour. There’s no tampering.

Who have you seen that’s better live than on record?

Lots of bands excel live as you respond to the room. Singers who don’t project that hard in the studio because they’re looking for an intimate performance can really belt it out in front of a live crowd and you hear how good they are. Tom Chaplin from Keane is better live than he is on record.

Do you always do your hits, like I Believe In A Thing Called Love, in your set?

Yes. They’re enjoyable to play and people want to hear them. Our job is to entertain and beguile. We can’t leave them wanting more at this stage. Leave them wanting less, that’s what I say. Some people won’t do their hits. I saw a famous singer finish a gig with a reworking of one of his most famous songs and it was a real letdown. You want to hear an authentic rendition of your favourite song. His name rhymes with Spruce Stringbean.

Live wire: Tom Chaplin from Keane

You’ve been supporting Guns N’ Roses — did you have a nice time?

It was awesome. We supported them in 2012 and 2006 as well — this time was better. The atmosphere was great. They were enjoying playing the music, there was less going on late, it was a good experience. We played at the racetrack at Imola in Italy. There were 120,000 people there. It was great.

Why was it better?

On the first tour there was a moment when Axl was trying to get from his dressing room to the stage and one of his bouncers picked me up and held me against the wall so I wouldn’t obstruct his way. That sort of thing was normal. The second time we toured with them we’d come off stage, have a chat with friends, go back to our hotel, have a few drinks and Guns N’ Roses still hadn’t gone on stage. This time they seemed like they were enjoying the show and they sounded great.

And you’ve been playing with Hollywood Vampires — how do you rate Johnny Depp’s guitar-playing skills?

Hollywood Vampires are awesome, absolutely brilliant. Johnny Depp’s been hanging out with us and I met Joe Perry, who is one of my all-time heroes. I wanted to become a guitarist because of him. The first album I bought was Raising Hell by Run-DMC because of his guitar-playing on Walk This Way. I’d never met him before and he was really cool. Johnny Depp is taking solos in a band with Joe Perry — that tells you what you need to know. I was startled by how good he is.

Guitar star: Johnny Depp

Do you have any hidden talents like that?

I like painting portraits. I used to do a lot of graphics and T-shirt designs for the band. I want to invent an easel made of Perspex so you can trace your subjects. I did a painting of Jean-Michel Jarre, which I sold at a charity auction. It was actually a generic figure that turned out looking like him, so I passed it off as a Jean-Michel Jarre portrait. I’d like to paint the Queen. She’s got one of those faces that paints itself.

Why did you move to Switzerland?

Because I have a wife and a child there, and it’s important to spend time in the same country as your family. Then all the Brexit stuff happened afterwards. It’s strange watching it from afar. It looks like chaos. I think common sense will prevail. The only thing I know is the one person in my family who definitely voted for Brexit has since passed away due to old age — and therein lies a clue as to how this has happened. I think she forgot she was Polish, forgot where she came from and was convinced by a man with a French-sounding name that foreigners are bad.

Do you miss anything about the UK?

I miss being able to converse in my native tongue. I miss my parents and I miss my football team. I used to play five-a-side every night and Sunday football. I used to play for a pub team. That was a level of camaraderie I haven’t experienced in music or anywhere else, and not living in Lowestoft means I can’t play with those guys any more.

What lessons has your career in the music industry taught you?

You can’t polish a turd. And try not to slag everyone off. I used to do that because it was great fun but now the climate has changed and everyone worries about offending each other and it’s really boring. I’ll always slag off Coldplay, though, because they’re s***. Slag off people but upward — don’t slag off people who are less successful than you. That’s the golden rule.

The Darkness Live At Hammersmith is out now