Two of the north coast’s veteran eco-warriors and elder songmen are collaborating again to put some fun and music into environmental activism with regular all-in singalongs kicking off at Lismore Bowling Club this Sunday afternoon.
Known as the Sunday Arvo Sing Up! Sessions, the pair has described them as ‘old-fashioned variety meets multimedia in a time warp of massively participatory fast-paced entertainment around themes of CSG and water!’
The last few years have seen the pair come together again for film projects. The singer-songwriters, who have been rurally based for more than 40 years, have ventured into new technology to merge the old skills into a product that can go up on YouTube and be brought to life.
Paul and Mookx entered one of these projects into a video competition held by the ABC program Q&A to produce a video that would encourage people to register to vote. An auspicious collaboration, they won first prize.
The pair met back in 1975 and first collaborated on Save the Trees – a documentary that captured the very first action of the Terania Native Forest Action Group that was successful in saving the rainforest. This was the first community in the history of the planet to protect rainforest and have a law enacted to protect that rainforest forever.
Paul Joseph told Echonetdaily: ‘The last of the Big Scrub was about to be destroyed and we didn’t have a lot of resources, other than our music, art and talents. Original music, a bit of humour and an emotional message went into this five-minute film that the ABC used as a filler. It was played up to nine times!’
The pair’s pioneering collaboration continued with the soundtrack being the first recording to be made on the north coast.
Paul continued: ‘Friends of ours were setting up the first recording studio, called the Music Farm, at Coorabell. They had built the studio and brought the equipment in from Abbey Road I believe, but it hadn’t been installed. So the crates were unpacked and we did it in the lounge room.’
From auspicious beginnings, the pair continued songwriting with a lean towards environmental issues. They performed individually in Nimbin for many years as well as producing many touring shows such as The Nimbin All Stars, which toured to Sydney, and the Tree Family Circus, which was in 1982, the Year of the Tree.
Songmen traditionally sing songs from the past and create songs of the time.
Paul elaborated: ‘Song has been the reliable means of sharing stories and culture forever. You tell a story once, by the time it has been told twice it is a different story and the third time it bears no relationship to what you started with; whereas a song is fixed in form that maintains that message much longer.
‘The role of song people in that ancient tradition is where Mookx and I have had the great honour and pleasure to have had that in our community. We have sung in the forest and focused the people in a really positive way.’
Paul added: ‘We are all on the same side of this planet, it is just a whole bunch of us haven’t realised it yet. One thing hippies can be really proud of is we realised a long time ago that we need to do something on this planet in order to save it.
‘Music is our way of sharing the spirit and inspiring the action in the ancient ways.’
Brendan ‘Mookx’ Hanley has the same relationship to music and believes we lack tribal activities in our modern world.
He told Echonetdaily: ‘When I was a kid we would go down the lanes in Melbourne on a Thursday night and in a hall there would be sixty people sitting around a piano singing their hearts out. It was healthy and involved family and friends. Along came television and a lot of that died.
‘It is a vital part of what we do and it makes you happy. You get a tribal feel when you are all flying together, running with your tribe. There is nothing like it. Islanders know about this in a lot of cultures.’
The Sunday Arvo Sing Up has full intention of tapping in to this largely lost collective endorphin. Between the pair, they have a huge collection of environmental sing-a-long songs with some future classic anti-CSG anthems that they will impart via the sessions.
‘We will provide the lyrics and chords and the songs are accessible. Add them to your repertoire. When people are sitting around their campfires or lounge rooms, they can use these songs to sing together,’ said Mookx.
The northern rivers is fortunate to have choirs and ukulele clubs. Here is an opportunity for people with a variety of talents to express themselves within their community. The eclectic mix of performances for the first session includes sing- and play-alongs, a radio play and puppet show. Some of the puppets have been around for more than 20 years and have a history of their own.
Mookx added: ‘Paul and I are very experienced in community interaction activities in a big way, instantaneous choirs at anti-nuclear protests as an example. We know the power of songs and know they work. There’s a time, there are people and a place and a song becomes a part of that; it welds things together and it belongs to all of us.
‘We all have a right to be playing music and in my opinion we all have talent, you just have to find the instrument you like to play best, and until you have met them all, you may never know. You might be the best bagpipe player in the world and you don’t even know!
‘I’m into people coming along and having a good time, even if you just want to click sticks together.’
The threat of coal-seam gas (CSG) mining in the northern rivers has generated a strong united and creative social movement and the community is starting to share their values of the region. Water is such an integral part of our way of life, whether it is for sustenance or appreciation.
Mookx quoted Dr Masaru Emoto, who said, ‘we should be singing sorry to the water at Fukushima so we can take on the healing of it… don’t ignore the elements’.
Mookx continued: ‘We can do conscious things together that aren’t religion, but are “real-igion”. People need to express themselves and it can be done in a fun way. There is a revolution here and we want to do it in the funnest way.
‘In times like these it is dangerous if we don’t have a “we”. We have lost that to a certain degree and one of the things that art must do is to confirm the “we”; in rough times music of light and hope always comes to the fore. The songs are very relevant.’
The format for standard entertainment is predominantly us and them and usually requires esteemed talent to take the role as performer. The Sunday Arvo Sing Up breaches this old adage and invites participation from the audience and there are no expectations. I asked Mookx if he thought we might be reaching a saturation point with that well-worn dynamic.
‘The recent CSG The Musical proved that empirically. They weren’t rock-stars up there performing and the community responded to that. This is about real people with real messages.’
The Sunday Arvo Sing Up begins its inaugural session this Sunday 5 August, at the Lismore Bowling Club on Molesworth Street from 2 to 5pm. The community is invited to ‘Roll up, tune up, front up and sing your hearts out, learn new songs to spread around and sing around campfires, protests, weddings, funerals and revolutions’.
There will be a $10 cover charge, which will fund ongoing anti-CSG productions.