The Darkness, Download Main Stage, June 10 2011

When The Darkness reluctantly stamped their one-way ticket to hell – and watched in despair as their star fell as rapidly as it had risen – there was still an endearing irony about it all.

Only the most pompous hair metal act of the 21st century could use a pair of giant, elevated breasts in arenas across the UK at the very time their career was going tits up. 

But that powerful imagery kinda fitted with the whole Darkness vibe. Even in the face of adversity there was a (dark) sense of humour and an ultimately successful return to the festival circuit proved this band can still put a smile on the face of just about any music fan.

Sure their Download set was far from perfect. Throwing Justin and co. back into the spotlight on the main stage, immediately prior to headliners Def Leppard, was always going to be one of the biggest gambles of Andy Copping’s Donington career to date. And for 20 agonising minutes it seemed the gamble hadn’t paid off.

The Darkness were all over the place – missing notes, missing cues, missing the point and struggling to revamp the ropier moments of a back catalogue infamous for its extremes of quality and crap.

But as the hits started to roll so did the band. It was like a switch had suddenly been flicked as the Hawkins brothers were transformed from former stars feeling their way back into the big leagues to bona fide celebrities playing with the crowd and playing on their new-found confidence.

And let’s face it. In their pomp, The Darkness were always confident, always super cool in the face of pressure and always liable to entertain like no other band on the planet. The second half of their set brought it all back and even the most wizened sceptics were choking on their beer as the crowd favourites hit the mark. And then some.

Justin – still lithe, laugh-a-minute and liable to moments of sheer magic – was, and still is, the ace in the pack but the return to action of bass player Frankie Poulain is most welcome. After ignoring his instrument for six years following his departure from The Darkness there’s a new enthusiasm about the man with the finest handlebar moustache and floral shirts in rock.

Download was the first step on the road to recovery where The Darkness is concerned. On this evidence their autumn tour will be one of the must-see events of 2011.

Simon Rushworth