I first saw Dark Dark Dark at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, in August of 2012. The only song I knew was Bright Bright Bright, heard on Gideon Coe’s show on 6music some weeks before. The crowd was small. No-one stood; there were so few people, all could find seats on the handful of chairs dotted around the edge of the room. I found a spot on a bench against the wall, near to the stage, and the keyboard that Nona Marie Invie sat behind and sang.
The songs were unfamiliar and with a sound that was new to me. Piano, electric banjo, trumpet, clarinet, accordion, drums, bass and a voice with such warmth and complexity. At one point, Nona emerged from behind her keyboard with extraordinary reluctance and stood at the front of the stage to sing two songs. I have never seen a front woman of a band look so awkward. But she held the small crowd and I felt such warmth for her coming from the room. By the time she returned with evident relief to the safety of her keyboard, my love for the band had taken deep hold.
I last saw Dark Dark Dark at the Georgian Theatre in Stockton in July of 2013. Another small crowd. There were ranks of chairs in front of the stage that gradually filled up, with a few more people stood behind. I bought vinyl and a band t-shirt at the merchandise stall, then sat with their latest record propped against my leg while I waited for the band to come on stage. A young girl had been brought to the gig, by her Dad presumably, and was bouncing with excitement. Her Dad bought her a copy of the score for Daydreaming from the merch stall, and I think Nona signed it for her after the gig. Such is Dark Dark Dark’s devoted fanbase.
Mark Trecka was the first of the band to arrive on stage. He took his position behind the drums and started to tap out random chimes of cymbal. Gradually the other musicians emerged and joined in. Each musician tentatively sounding their instrument. Gradually, the sounds gained structure and a song emerged. It was The Great Mistake, the closing tune from their most recent album, Who Needs Who. The song built and built, circling around until it reached that beautiful coda where Walt McClements’ mournful trumpet takes the song into a wholly different place. It was one of those moments where a song I had little noticed, was revealed in such splendour when played live that it became a clear favourite.
Since then, Dark Dark Dark announced that they are on hiatus. There was a bit of excitement when they came together to soundtrack the film, Flood. There are hints they might tour again, but nothing concrete. Nona has other projects on the go, as do other band members. The tour page on their website simply says, “No upcoming dates”.
I know from experience that their gigs had sparse crowds, so I worry. And yet, I love their records and I loved seeing them play. It breaks my heart to think they may never tour again. A band can be rare and precious. Each time I hear it, the opening refrains of The Great Mistake transport me back to that room in Stockton on Tees when I saw Dark Dark Dark take the stage. I hope it is not the last time.