I’m not sure what brand of buoyant innocence drew four hundred and eighty fans to see Darren Hanlon singing in St Stephen’s Church beside the mossed and crumbling graveyard to his guitar, ukelele and banjo in Newtown last night, and the twelve-old-girls behind me, one with braces on her teeth, to sing along word-perfect his complicated lyrics for the ninety minutes he was on stage. But it was a rare and luminous Christmas event, thronged with non-believers and tottering infants in wet nappies but stirred by the cheery, stoic, benevolent knowingness he has made his own special flavour since he first looked eleven years old, and beguiled a kindergarten audience in, I guess, the 1980s. He looks about thirteen now and, at thirty-seven, carries the burden of his middle years with equanimity, wiliness, honour and grace.
One song was about hating Lismore, my home town. One was about the need for more songs about squash. One, as good as a Simon and Garfunkel classic, was about ‘The Last Night Of Not Knowing You.’ He was joined on stage for two numbers by Holly Throsby, and their joint song, by him, about them wondering what country, and what city, or town, or village, they should now, as glum and wandering musos, at last settle down in, was as good, in its way, as ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll I Gave You All The Best Years Of My Life’; and the special melting wifely softness of Throsby, who looks like a cross between her mother and Liza Minnelli and has a voice like a midnight autumn fog in Paris, added a further wayfaring innocence to the pilgrim flavour of the evening, much like the one you get on TCM from the Mickey-and-Judy Backyard Musicals of 1939 and 1940.
Lucy Lehmann, beside me, explained young Darren’s apparent unblemished vagrant pure-hearted winningness with the one word ‘Queensland’ — and, coming from up that way myself, I could see, and hear, what she meant. It was not quite innocence, but a big-skied starlit mixture of innocence-and-cynicism one sees in other Queenslanders, Gerry Connolly, Judy Morris, Jim Killen, Geoffrey Rush, George Miller, plus the blithe-and-quirky John Denverish or do I mean Doris Dayish quality that irradiates him from within, a product of many, many years on the road, and talking back to his audiences with guile and good humour and perspicacity.
He’s worth looking up on YouTube, if I’ve got that name right, for one particular rock clip especially, Looking Beautiful For You, which he enticed the ninety-two-year-old Eli Wallach to make with him a couple of years ago. He shows big, easy skills as a Capra-like auteur, with a smattering of Woody Allen and Richard Curtis, as well as a songwriter-singer in the league of McLean, Simon, Kelly, and, on a good day, Dylan.
He apparently has, Lucy Lehmann tells me, small covens of devoted fans in many countries across the world, but he should in my view be doing better. He has taken up my proposal of a film of him touring several countries, shot in 3D.
Lucy Lehmann would be in it, of course. Her song of urban exile, Six Hours West, is one of the best two hundred of the last hundred years.
Watch this space.