After 11 years away from the spotlight, multi-platinum selling former Savage Garden frontman, solo artist and godlike pop icon Darren Hayes has returned to the world stage – to say anticipation was in the air for the UK leg of the Do You Remember? tour would be the understatement of the century.
Hayes arrives silhouetted behind a simple but effective set of plain draped curtains (designed to transform from low-key mood-setting to reflecting the dazzling light shows the crowd has in store) that shroud a central staircase which forms a rainbow-lit platform upon which Darren’s performance is elevated in more ways than one at various points throughout the proceedings.
Opening with a glorious rendition of Pete Shelley 80s hit Homosapien (merged with teasing lyrics from Chained To You, Carry On Dancing and I Want You) the curtains finally part to reveal a beaming Darren Hayes. Placing his hands into a trademark heart shape above his head, bursting into hit Affirmation, we know we are in for a blistering performance ahead. The music briefly dips as Darren sings the line #I believe you can’t control or choose your sexuality# and is met with a rapturous applause (the first of many meaningful moments in the show) and Darren is welcomed back with open arms and mirrored hearts formed by adoring hands throughout the crowd.
25 years melted away in an instant as Darren’s exquisite voice resounded through the iconic concert venues ingeniously booked for this Do You Remember? tour. Full disclosure: this is a tour review glimmering with the blissful bias of having been a Darren devotee for the best part of three decades. I have booked and paid for tickets to four dates in the past fortnight (London, Manchester, Guildford and Sheffield) and I would have felt more than a little crazy if it were not for seeing that dozens (hundreds?) of other fans had felt compelled to do the same, leaving one gig on such a high they immediately booked more tickets to another date in the UK. It goes to show just how missed Darren has been, and how utterly unmissable this tour felt for fans who have patiently awaited his return for ten long years.
Following the pandemic, and seemingly endless lockdowns, to be amongst an audience of like minds enjoying music that provided a meaningful soundtrack to our existence would have been treat enough. But to witness Darren so viscerally happy in being 100% honest, and fully in control of his vision as a performer for the first time, left me elated in a way I had not prepared for. Since seeing Affirmation on the eve of my 17th birthday, back in November 2000, I have attended every tour, soaked up every solo album and devoured each new era of Darren’s music in its own fresh and beautiful way. I can faithfully say I have never seen him connect with a crowd in the same way as during this Do You Remember? tour.
As an artist Darren has always been full of surprises. Following the Savage Garden split in 2001, mercifully, it wasn’t goodbye, as Darren went solo. We were gifted the soul stirring pop of Spin, the pulsatingly moody The Tension and The Spark, an immense journey across time and space in This Delicate Thing We’ve Made and the hauntingly beautiful melodies of Secret Codes and Battleships. Each time, I believed he’d found his way ever closer to a creative freedom that he was content with. Following the magnificently intimate 2012 The Secret’s Out tour, I yearned to see what he next had in store. Then, of course, Darren decided to step away from music. It was devastating news but I understood it was for the best, for him, and that is what fans should want for their idol. Adoring from afar did not cease and loyal followers have clung to his back catalogue in times of celebration, and grief, and everything in between over the past decade.
While Darren took time out, I was thrilled to read about him starting studying comedy – I cannot imagine many better suited to improv than Darren, he’s got such a sharp wit. Without being consciously aware, though, it turns out I was waiting for a melodic rapture that was merely lying dormant inside me, ready to be reawakened. And the glorious new 2022 album Homosexual did not disappoint. It is absolutely Darren’s tour de force. Truly out and proud in a way that is beyond joyous. It is effervescent, it is mournful, it is devastating, it is bone-shakingly truthful, it is celebratory and every single track is absolutely bang on in its own inspiring way. If you haven’t listened yet, do yourself a favour and get it downloaded.
In recent interviews, Darren revealed how he was previously forced to hide his true self by music industry execs around fears of him appearing “too gay”. The fact that this horrific homophobia restricted his career, creativity and very essence makes me want to scream in anger. Especially when you understand that Darren had such a long journey to personal acceptance of who he is, which can only have been compounded by such disgusting attitudes. As a female fan who will freely admit to having posters plastered across her bedroom wall in the 90s, when I discovered Darren was gay, it didn’t change an ounce of the admiration I felt for him and his talent. If anything, it made me love him even more. His sexuality is an essential part of the man he is, and it is no doubt one key reason he is such a uniquely sensitive artist with an inimitable ability for writing poetic lyrics that resonate with fans all these years later.
Throughout this triumphant string of UK gigs, Darren was not simply going through the motions to capitalise on nostalgia by doing a hits tour. He speaks so earnestly to his crowds, confessing moments of regret, and explaining that much of his life was spent shrouded in shame. I have seen him engage with audiences before, working the room to both inconsolable tears and ecstatic hysteria, but this tour reached another level. Finding myself moved to cry, to joy, to sing, to dance (shouting so much I have lost my voice) throughout the 2 hour set, I rediscovered not just my admiration for Darren and his perfect falsetto renditions but my love for letting my spirit fly to music that fills you with hope – and a healing reassurance that you can make peace with everything that has gone before. Darren thanked us all for helping him find a way to breathe again, and survival in the face of adversity is a recurring theme that connects us all. New tracks Poison Blood and Hey Matt explore themes of depression, suicide, guilt, burden and loss of innocence – Darren delivers such impactful physical performances on stage, I felt more profound chills with every rewatch.
Darren has never shied away from wearing his heart and soul on his now superbly shimmeringly sequinned sleeve. Palpable vulnerability is something he has always shown as an artist, and fans will have previously heard him reference the terrifying trauma he endured through his childhood living with an abusive, alcoholic father. This time around, though, with his voice often breaking, he opens up and shares the heartache and lessons learned… never to protect an abuser by keeping their secret. It is a powerful bonding moment between Darren and his audience that comes after he sings the achingly beautiful Two Beds and a Coffee Machine. A cathartic outpouring of love was felt throughout the room as each night he spoke from the heart, not from a pre-rehearsed script. In Manchester, he recounted how despite the violence, his mother always made him feel like an angel. “You are!” came a fervent reply from a fan. Hear, hear! His talent is sent from above, and we lowly mortals cannot thank him enough for sharing the heavenly gift that is his breathtaking vocal range. No-one else on this earth can come close, in my humble (correct) opinion.
Darren goes still further than laying bare his painful childhood memories, and reflects on his life and career. He confides the shame he felt hiding another secret: he is gay. He could not share the truth, even with himself, for years. He exposes the casualty of his first marriage to childhood sweetheart Colby, and expresses his gratitude that she loved him enough to let him go and be able to live to his full potential. With the audience in the palm of his hand, Darren sits alone on the stage under a stark spotlight and launches into a rendition of I Don’t Know You Anymore so impassioned the shivers ripple like shockwaves through the crowd.
Exposing his regrets on stage brings a level of intimacy I have never before seen between a performer and fans. But this special connection is not all about the lows. Darren’s notorious sense of humour peppers his performances – engaging in skits with actress, director and incredible vocal talent Madeleine Coghlan, who he met doing improv classes. There is abundant laughter as well as contemplative moments in this show – Darren and Madeleine act out “backstage chats” via telephone which we are privy to. Darren cleverly uses this as a device to admit that he is nervous about the next section of the show: a spectacular showcase of high energy synth pop tracks from new album Homosexual. Labelling it the “party” section, boy, can Darren get us to strut! He looks absolutely untouchable up there as he throws shapes that confirm his status as the ultimate GBF I could only ever dream of getting the chance to tear up a gay club dance floor alongside.
Every artistic decision is so carefully thought out by Hayes and his stellar team, and I was deeply moved to learn that the gorgeous disco track All You Pretty Things pays tribute to the 49 people who died in the 2016 mass shooting at Orlando gay club Pulse. During Homosexual (Act One), a projection of the bust Antinous as Dionysus spins upon the stage – Antinous was the young lover of Emperor Hadrian who is believed to have been murdered by people who objected to their homosexual relationship. It goes to show that while time may have moved forward, we have not necessarily moved on as a human race. Darren presents a layered show with such powerful messaging it is impossible to express how much it has meant to fans to be back in his presence. I wish we lived in a kinder world where Darren had never been subdued because of his sexuality. The only consolation I can take from the injustice is that it has added to the arrival of Homosexual, and this tour, being ever more euphoric. It is 2023 and fans are at long last getting treated to Darren in all his crystal technicolor neon glory.
Undoubtedly, this is a hits tour that celebrates all that has gone before – and what is yet to come – and Darren repeatedly expresses his gratitude that fans have taken good care of his songs. “They belong to you, now,” he asserted. For me, the Savage Garden days were filled with promise and hearing Crash and Burn, I Want You, To The Moon and Back, The Animal Song, Truly Madly Deeply, I Knew I Loved You and The Best Thing felt transcendent. I think I actually gave myself whiplash during Break Me Shake Me and the delightful inclusion of a snippet from lesser known bonus track All Around Me transported me to my teen self, thrilling in blasting out the sassy lyrics in my bedroom. They were a real insight into Darren’s humour and his penchant for flamboyance shone through way back in 1997.
Darren has a knack for giving fans what they want. Littered with covers and nods to Darren’s 80s idols such as Madonna, Indeep and George Michael, Darren is a self confessed geeky pop culture fan which, besides being one of the many reasons fans adore him, is why he includes little nuggets for us to spot and reward our loyalty – they do not go unnoticed or unappreciated. With a back catalogue as long as a disco ball can spin, Darren crams the show with solo career favourites such as Insatiable (expertly mixed with Forget Me Nots by Patrice Rushen), Casey, Dublin Sky and Pop!ular (all personal favourites and highlights of the show for me). The inclusion of Hold Me, following a request in Newcastle, was a touching addition to the set that I will be forever grateful that he continued to play in Manchester and Sheffield.
As the UK tour approached its conclusion, this week, Darren was struck down by a cold and had to slightly shorten the set list in several cities, including Guildford. I can hand on heart say it did not dampen the show at all. In fact, the Guildford gig saw Darren in such a cheeky mood, affected by his cold meds, that brought about some hilarious blooper moments such as missing his cue to pick up the phone (apologies for heckling you to answer it, Darren! I couldn’t resist!) and forgetting to thank Maddy during the encore (she forgave him!) In a Covid-hangover world, Darren could have cancelled the final shows altogether. The fact he kept his commitment to perform the added dates despite being in much need of bed rest shows how much he cares about his job, and his fans. He’s a dedicated professional, and the energy thrown into each and every performance was nothing short of astounding.
Darren bowing out of the limelight his talent so clearly deserves, and flourishes in, for the last 11 years was undoubtedly a vital personal choice for him, but I cannot help but mourn the lost time and potential for more music that was quashed. The fact music industry bosses perpetuated the homophobic shame he felt after he had the courage to come out is unforgivable. But, where we find Darren now feels so good – it is a privilege to have witnessed him return as his authentic self.
In summary: Do we remember, Darren? A resounding yes. We always have, always will, and I think I speak on behalf of the UK when I say thank you, and we will be back to share the memories whenever you next return. I have seen many fans urge him via socials “please don’t leave it another 10 years” which I must reiterate, otherwise, I fear I will need a hip replacement after Break Me Shake Me come 2033…!
The Do You Remember? UK tour leg has now finished but USA fans can book for upcoming dates here: www.darrenhayes.com – and why not sign up to the newsletter so you do not miss out on future tour updates.
(#You’re a legend, you’re a glamour queen. God, I’m running out of words, but you know what I mean…#)