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Darkness Man Frankie Poullain's Memoirs: The NME & Eating Your Own Shit
The Quietus , November 13th, 2008 14:06

Former Darkness bass player Frankie Poullain has returned from his French castle to write a warts-and-all account of his time in the band. In these extracts, he recalls eating his own faeces as a child and the band's infamous spat with the NME.

'The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.' George Bernard Shaw.

How To Eat Shit

No one wants to be a runt but sometimes being a runt can work out better than not being a runt.

It's fair to say that I was the runt of the litter. It wasn't just that I was frail and not quite all there, I also suffered from severe mood swings. Even as a baby. At least that's what I'm told - I'd be gleefully happy for brief sunshine filled moments, then the merest trifle would send me spiralling into a black hole. Perhaps it was the sherry that did it.

Or it could have been my ultra competitive 'alpha male' brothers born a year either side of me. They were hungrier, stronger, noisier and cuter than me for a start. It wasn't a state of affairs I was over the moon about, if you want me to be frank. Mum would confiscate my comfort blanket and strip the crib for my own safety. When I look back, it must have been tough on her having a baby boy on suicide watch at barely18 months old.

Once I even ate my own shit. The Belgian au pair Antoinette was too busy varnishing her nails to notice. I could have grabbed a handful from the potty and smeared it over the kitchen floor, spelling out the words HELP-ME-I-AM-ABOUT-TO-EAT-MY-OWN-SHIT-YOU-DOPEY-BELGIAN-COW, for all the good it would have done. But being a curious toddler, and half French to boot, the inclination was to stick it in my mouth. I've tasted worse. It's probably on a par with undercooked liver or stewed tripe.

It should have been my first life lesson – if you don't concentrate and pay attention you'll soon find yourself eating shit. But if you don't concentrate and pay attention, how are you supposed to learn lessons anyway? They say I was a spaced out kid. I like to call it deep thinking. It's hard to tell the two apart sometimes so let's just split the difference and call it 'growing pains'.

The upshot was that as the years rolled by I just got used to the taste. And the funny thing is, almost forty years later, I still fantasise - from time to time - about Antoinette scooping up my waste with those immaculately manicured fingernails. Of course she never did, but that's not the point. Why absorb a boring life lesson when you can dream the light fandango?

How to Make NME Your Enemy

NME magazine placed me at number 28 in their 'Top 50 Coolest People' of 2003 because I was supposed to have said, 'When you're climbing a mountain you don't stop halfway and start sucking your own cock.' I suspected the real reason for my favouritism was they wanted to wind up our singer because he wouldn't play ball – preferring to get in bed with the more rock orientated Kerrang magazine.

Justin got sick of the personal attacks on him and developed a persecution complex, and the NME vultures just licked their lips (though it would be more accurate to liken them to King Kong, and Justin to the damsel in distress', as I'm convinced that they secretly loved him). All the while they would compliment my moustache and 'youthful' virility, though I was clearly older and punier than our iron pumping front-man. I was perceived as the band mascot, the odd looking underdog that you're supposed to empathise with or feel sorry for.

But that didn't stop me defending the band's honour, along with the rest of the guys. We used MTV, the style mags and the world's music press as our launch pad against the NME's scathing reviews and barbed asides. Of course we were on a hiding to nothing. Radiohead and U2 had both similarly tried going to war with the publication before eventually relenting. It was very much a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. Admittedly they were just 'groupies with pens', but it was the industry standard and, let's face it, not talking to music critics is a bit like not paying your gas bill – they'll only cut you off in the end, leaving you to freeze to death.

It all started at one of our early showcase gigs, when we were pitching for a record deal. We got absolutely slated, with Justin in particular coming in for some stick. The review, penned by Mark Beaumont, concluded that the only people who'd still like the band in a year's time would be "Japanese tourists and retards".

The tide turned when Darkness mania swept the country a few months later, and the NME, in their innate wisdom, changed their tune, utilising their own unique brand of investigative journalism: How do you make your own cat suit? Is it glam metal or hair metal? Is it cock rock or peacock rock? Basically they didn't have a clue, but as always they got their knickers in a twist about the cool factor: perhaps it was just about un-cool enough to be cool? Or perhaps it wasn't? Without our co-operation they were forced to cobble together features from 2nd hand sources, just enough to justify a front cover mind, motivated as they were by a circulation war with the more rock based, Darkness friendly Kerrang magazine. (We joked at the time that we'd consider talking to them if they did a commemorative Darkness issue and adjusted the lettering from 'N.M.E' to 'M.E.N' – but the advertisers wouldn't let them).

One piece in particular rhapsodised about Justin's ability to marry the poetry of Morrissey and showmanship of Dave Lee Roth while concluding that the merits of yours truly could be summed up in one word: Saxon. I was just tickled to be mentioned, but when I read the piece out to the guys later, Justin's face broke into a grin that looked like it would happily eat as much shit as you'd care to shovel his way. And with that shit eating grin plastered firmly across his mug he was determined to rub the NME's nose into the leftovers.

We were backstage at The Reading Festival in Aug 2003, weaving our way through the press caravans and marquees, fulfilling our promo commitments after a triumphant set. The editor of the NME Connor McNicholas appeared out of nowhere, a little wobbly on his feet. It was early evening, backstage, and no one else seemed to be around. "Justin!" he exclaimed, "I am so sorry!" He literally fell to his knees and clasped his hands together in entreaty: "Please forgive me, make peace with the NME."

In our surreal universe nothing was surprising, but I'll admit even we were caught off guard. Perhaps that would excuse Justin's retort: "Fuck off, just F-A-C-K O-F-F you waste of fucking space, I will never talk to the NME, you're all a bunch of c**nts, fuck off!" He was rabid, livid and probably one or two other words ending in the letters 'id'. They had to pretty much drag him off, calm him down and confiscate his nose candy.

Conflict is undeniably one sided when a stoner comes up against a coke fiend - a helpless yogi pitched against the abominable snowman. I almost felt sorry for the stoned, or, should I say, stunned editor. He had tried to take a light-hearted approach to the situation, and no one, not even a yogi, deserves to have their nose literally rubbed in it. Before I knew it we were whisked into the BBC tent for a TV interview and it wasn't until later at the hotel bar that the events of the day really sank in.

Looking back, it was more than a little odd. The NME literally begging to get into bed with officially the un-coolest band in the land. And of course me recounting this tale isn't the smartest move either, as it's sure to backfire – these days if you crave success you're expected to defer to the press and instead here I am relating a tale which compromises the integrity of editor Connor McNicholas. So what WILL I do after the inevitable slating in NME? Whatever happens, it's reassuring to know I can always set a stall up outside Madame Tussauds, and flog the book to Japanese tourists and retards.

Visit Frankie's website to find out more about Dancing In The Darkness, his account of "begging for sex, smuggling drugs, and pretending to be rock'n'roll".