AT this time of year, it seems like you can’t go anywhere without hearing The Darkness’s festive hit Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) blasting out.
But while Mariah Carey and the lads from East 17 can lie back and watch the money roll in, lead singer Justin Hawkins says writing a Christmas hit didn’t make him “as much as you might imagine” – and he only treats himself to Tesco’s Finest range when he hears the song played in store.
Back at the height of the band’s fame in 2003, the song made £1million in the month of December alone – and Justin embarked on a life of rock-star excess where he famously blew £150,000 on cocaine over a three-year period.
He’s now living a much cleaner existence with his family in Switzerland and still performing with The Darkness but tells Sun Online that it is “difficult to gauge” exactly how much he’s made from his Christmas song over the years.
Blowing £150,000 and wetting himself on a plane
Back in 2003, The Darkness were one of the UK’s most successful bands.
Their debut album Permission to Land stormed the charts, spending four weeks at number one and selling 1.5million copies.
During that year, Justin says he was “too busy to do anything stupid”.
However, with such sudden fame and increased wealth inevitably came the temptation to live an excessive rock star lifestyle.
Famously, Justin spent the next three years from 2004 onward hooked on cocaine, previously telling The Sun that he’d spent an estimated £150,000 on the drug and would take five grams a day.
Their second album One Way Ticket to Hell – which cost a staggering £1million to make – even began with the sound of a line being snorted.
He later checked into the Priory to deal with his alcohol and drug problems, disbanding the group in 2006.
One of his lowest moments was waking up in first class on a plane dressed in a a microphone fancy dress costume having wet himself.
There was so much bitterness in the group due to Justin’s behaviour, he didn’t speak to his brother Dan (the band’s guitarist) for two years.
Now clean, Justin says he lives “a much healthier lifestyle” now, spending most of his time in Switzerland, where he moved last year with his wife and daughter.
“Aside from that, little has changed. After The Darkness got back together in 2011 we are touring for half the year, we had an album out last year and we are putting another record out in October 2019,” he says.
They also supported Johnny Depp’s band Hollywood Vampires at Wembley Arena in the summer.
From rockstar excess to hearing his tunes in tesco
But it’s for his earlier work – especially Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) – that he is most recognised, he admits.
“If I’m back in the UK around this time of year and shopping at the Tesco near my mum’s I hear it in the aisles and I’m surprised at how good it still sounds.”
“I don’t think sometimes it gets put on because I’ve been spotted in the store. But I ride it out and sometimes have a little dance to it in the aisles.”
The band are still releasing music[/caption]
Justin also says he gets people singing it to him in the street and mention how much they love it – “though when people just call it our ‘Christmas song’ I find it a bit rude as if you liked it you’d know the title,” he adds.
“I get our other big song I Believe in a Thing Called Love sung to me as well. We see ourselves as a two-hit wonder.”
Justin has previously told The Mirror: “When you can hear our Christmas song from mid-November I do hear the sound of a small pound coin entering a piggy bank in my head.
“Then I think, ‘Ah yes, I will buy the Tesco Finest range instead of economy’.”
The reason why Christmas hits aren’t money-makers anymore
Christmas songs were once big business: East 17 have made an estimated £550,000 in royalties for Stay Another Day, Mariah Carey is believed to earn £376,000 per year in royalties for All I Want for Christmas is You and Slade are thought to get £500,000 per year for Merry Christmas Everybody.
And in the film About A Boy, Hugh Grant’s bachelor character doesn’t need to work a day in his life thanks to the royalties from his father’s successful Christmas song.
But Justin tells tells Sun Online: “You don’t make as much from that as you might imagine.”
“If we’d released it in the 1980s, we could have made an awful lot of money. It does sneak back into the charts a lot – especially now they are structured around streaming, but you don’t see much cash from that.
“The way the royalties work is you have a deal with a publisher and they give you a portal where you see where the money comes from. If somebody uses your song in say, a movie, then you get a bump of cash.
“There really are so few hard copy sales these days that royalties from that are extremely small.”
‘We didn’t expect it to do so well’
The song came about after their record label sat the group down and asked them what they wanted to do next.
“Dan had the idea for a Christmas song,” recalls Justin.
“We are quite an old-fashioned band, and writing a song like this is quite an old-fashioned thing to do.
“Mainly, we saw it as a bit of fun – the label gave us a list of studios we could use to record it in and we chose Abbey Road, so it was a brilliant chance for us to live out our childhood dreams.”
Although you may think Justin and his bandmates would have been frustrated at missing out on the top spot, the singer says they didn’t expect it to even make the Top Ten in the first place.
“We’d actually just finished the tour and were resting when our label rang us on the Wednesday after it came out to say it was number one in the midweeks, and we’d have to come back and promote it.
“That was the first time we realised it was going to do really well.”
Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) sold £385,000 copies over the Christmas period in 2003, being one of the most popular-selling singles that year.
It also charted again in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2010, and, as streaming has started to dominate how music is consumed it has achieved over 10 million views on YouTube as well as 20 million audio streams.
It’s a pretty great feat for a song that was written in just a day and took only one week to be fully completed.
Justin's tips for writing a Christmas hit
- Christmas songs should always have a quite sad verse and an uplifting chorus – and if you can get a sexual inneundo in there as well like we did with “bells end” that’s brilliant. If you a juvenile person like I am you are going to find amusement in it.
- Don’t just modify a lyric to turn it into a Christmas song. In 2015 we did another song called I am Santa, which was a spin on one of our older songs and it was stupid.
A Christmas song has to be designed as one from the first note that you write, you can’t just sing Christmas at the end of the chorus otherwise it’s not believable.
- You need to have dramatic percussion and sleigh bells.
- Children singing on it is also essential. We had a kids’ choir that the record label found for us, and it turned out they were from the school mine and Dan’s mum went to, which was a nice touch.
- Finally, the video has to include Christmas jumpers. They are the garment you wear to envelope you in the Christmas spirit.
- I actually wear a festive tank top because if you overheat you can still keep it on.
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The band re-recorded the song five years ago, for the ten-year anniversary of it, but Justin says if they were writing a Christmas song now they’d “ask somebody more high-profile to do it”.
“If we did it this year it would be a drop in the ocean but in 2003 everybody cared,” he admits.
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