Darren Hanlon grew in a place described in tourist brochures as: “the town that saved Queensland”. The grandiose statement refers to the discovery of gold in Gympie in 1867. The house overlooking the river in the Southside of the regional town contained his parents, his sister and their scant record collection but it seemed the two albums played continually were Kenny Rodgers ‘Greatest Hits’ and Slim Dustys ‘This is Your Life’ which they’d all listen to from their rooms at bedtime. “We might even get to hear side 2 if dad stayed awake long enough to get out of bed and turn it over,” he remembers.
Darren and Slim Dusty, Hamilton Hall, Gympie QLD
Scarily, his musical education could have started and ended there if it wasn’t for a music teacher from a rival school who lived on his street. Owning a record collection that spanned 3 double arm lengths and 4 shelves high, it was from this stack miscellaneous enlightening gems would be plucked at random on the afternoons Hanlon would arrive uninvited. Whether or not the teacher put them on to actually educate this inquisitive rural nerd or simply shut him up was unimportant. He would sit there bug-eyed hearing everything from the Sex Pistols to the Smiths for the first time (and that was just the selections under “S”). The pestered neighbour eventually moved away but Hanlon found his new address by simply asking another teacher.
Flood relief concert, Gympie Civic Center
Fleeing Queensland after high school to Music College in Lismore his eyes were opened wider. If one would visit the town now it’s hard to imagine that at the time it was a hotbed for original music and creative energy. From a long list of local bands, the 7 or so venues would fill their chalk boards most nights of the week, Hanlons favourite being University art-pop combo, Playground. He slowly got to know them by loaning them his guitar leads and was soon asked to join as guitarist, was fired on grounds of being “too country” and then rejoined in time to record their first EP under new name ‘The Simpletons’ and with them he toured Australia for the first time. Over five or so years, standing stage right of songwriting genius Shane Gelagin, he was happy to embellish tunes rather than build them. “To witness Shane working out songs was equally awe-inspiring and intimidating. He had limited musical background so therefore had no pre-conceived ideas on harmonic or melodic theory. He made his own rules. I wouldn’t dare try compete.”
But songs did slowly materialise over that period, mainly written for friends to perform at parties, some of them intended to be played once at the most. By the time the Simpletons dissolved messily at the Plantation Hotel in Coffs Harbour, Hanlon had a small but growing rucksack of tunes that he started performing on low-key early weeknights in venues around Sydney. After a brief stint touring as guitarist/keyboardist for Simpleton label mates the Lucksmiths and the Dearhunters and a year with Weddings, Parties, Anything leader Mick Thomas, Hanlon was finally convinced by Candle records mogul Chris Crouch to commit some of his songs to tape.
Getting the ‘Early Days’ EP out of the way quickly Darren headed to America for a whistlestop greyhound bus tour. National radio network Triple J back at home picked up on an unlikely banjo driven last-minute track called Falling Aeroplanes, which meant he had some kind of career to return to. “I’m as surprised as anyone” he was heard muttering at the time.
During the recording of ‘Hello Stranger’ in 2002, Hanlon collaborated with drummer/instrumentalist Bree van Reyk on a couple of tracks and a musical partnership was formed which came to full fruition when the pair traveled to Tucson, Arizona in 2004 to record the next collection of songs. This time not only did van Reyk contribute all percussion but also helped with a lot of arrangement and melodic ideas as well calming his nerves on turbulent plane journeys. They both bought ice-creams from a little shop under Wavelab Studios served by Mexican children. The words ‘Little Chills’ were crudely written on a piece of paper stuck to the window and were soon borrowed by Hanlon and van Reyk to be the banner under which the new recordings would lie. The success of this album slingshot the pair into fairly constant touring splattered throughout Australia and the rest of the globe it belongs to.
In 2005 Darren moved to Oxford, UK to live for 7 months. His writing for the next project was interrupted briefly with a couple of trips to Scandinavia to support and play in that years line-up of Ladybug Transistor, as well as yet another tour in the US with NYs the Magnetic Fields. Darren explains, ”we first played together in Australia years ago and got along quite well. They seem to think I’m low maintenance and that suits them. I’m not sure how. I’ve lost a backpack, guitar and a passport while touring with them. But hey, they keep asking me back and I’m not complaining.”
After returning home to Australia in 2006 plans were made to record the next album in a place that meant a lot to the singer spiritually and geographically. The Majestic Theatre in Pomona, QLD is but a few kms from the Hanlon family farm and Darren spent a good few Sunday matinees trying to get comfortable in the lumpy old seats. His own grandmother attended school dances there and now years later the building could boast being the oldest operational silent movie theatre in the world.
Darren, Bree and good friend Mark Monnone (Lucksmiths) ensconced themselves in the pub opposite and for 2 weeks recorded the album ‘Fingertips and Mountaintops.’ This would also mark the first of a long collaboration between Hanlon and Portland, OR piano/trumpet wiz Cory Gray (Carcrashlander) who flew to Australia to contribute.
”We’d met while I was recording at Type Foundry Studios in Portland and hit it off. Cory has been playing piano since he was 2 years old and you can hear that it’s instinctual when he plays. He dreams up grand, nostalgic, mournful tunes in his sleep,” said Hanlon.
Hanlon added lyrics to one of these very tunes for his first co-write, included on the album as ‘Old Dream.’
‘Fingertips and Mountaintops’ yielded radio songs and new live favourites which began a relentless touring schedule for the next few years and yet another support tour with the Magnetic Fields, this time in Europe.
In early 2009 a Rarities collection was released called ‘Pointing Rayguns at Pagans’.