Stately battle to host Darkness

JONATHAN REDHEAD In a quiet part of the Waveney valley, two wealthy aristocrats are going head to head in a fierce, but unlikely, battle to welcome home the current kings of British rock music.

JONATHAN REDHEAD

In a quiet part of the Waveney valley, two wealthy aristocrats are going head to head in a fierce, but unlikely, battle to welcome home the current kings of British rock music.

It's a scenario that would have been absurd little more than a year ago, when their fathers were in charge, and thoughts of inviting The Darkness round to stately homes to play in front of tens of thousands of fans would have been unimaginable.

But ever since the Earl of Stradbroke and Lord Somerleyton stepped aside and handed over the reigns of their estates to two men who are more lad than lord, the unthinkable has been thought.

And last night it appeared that the race to play host to the Lowestoft-based rockers was hotting up between the 26-year-old Hon Hektor Rous of the 4219-acre Henham Hall estate and the 32-year-old Hon Hugh Crossley of the 5000-acre Somerleyton Hall estate.

Both men are desperate to break with family tradition and offer a stage for the band, who are yet to play a concert in north Suffolk since hitting the big time.

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But while the four piece band including former Kirkley High School pupils Justin and Dan Hawkins and Ed Graham have always wanted to play a "homecoming" gig, it has never happened.

Now, Mr Rous appears to have stolen a march on Mr Crossley in the battle to make sure it does.

Yesterday, he revealed plans to transform his estate into a Glastonbury-style festival he calls "the biggest party Suffolk has ever seen".

Mr Rous says that he is in "promising" talks with the band's management over his idea to bring 100,000 fans to north Suffolk and to transform the estate into one of the world's most prominent music festivals.

He said it could turn into a "mini city" with space for revellers, overnight camping and car parking on site. And if the rural concert proves a hit he plans to make it an annual event.

He said he was hoping to book two support acts to complement the Lowestoft band and admitted the Scissor Sisters would be his perfect choice.

There would also be room for up and coming local bands to showcase their talents.

"There are seven or eight access points from the A145 and A12 so people wouldn't have to queue forever to get in and it would be great to get some of our American visitors here, there is so much space," said Mr Rous. "However it's a mammoth operation and I wouldn't want to jump to any early conclusions. The summer would be the perfect time but it really depends on the band's schedule and what they would prefer," said Mr Rous.

And although he would not be drawn on the cost of the venture he admitted it was "ridiculously expensive".

The 26-year-old who has been managing the estate for seven months said the idea came from a combination of too many nights down the pub and too much listening to the radio.

He said he had been in talks for three or four months but it felt longer because he is thinking about it most of his time. "I just like the Darkness style," he said. "But I want to make ticket prices affordable."

Mr Rous added that he had approached Waveney District Council for their support and that Events Management Group , who are responsible for the British Grand Prix and Knebworth music festival were looking into other issues including insurance and traffic management.

Meanwhile, north of Henham, Mr Crossley was staying tight-lipped on his own plans to attract the band to Somerleyton Hall, although it is believed he too has been in contact with the band's management.

A spokesman for the Hall said "We truly wish for the Darkness to come home to Lowestoft and do a homecoming gig, that would be fantastic."

They declined to comment any further. But both men could be in with a chance. A spokeswoman for the Darkness said the band yet to confirm their plans for 2005.

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