By Darmin Cameron
I was asked by a friend to write about Mookx Brendan Hanley, a north coast identity who recently passed away. This is not an official obituary. I hope to give a feel for the man, these are my reflections on my time spent with Mook, looking at the impact he had on me, the north coast and the planet. Hard to talk about Mook without mentioning Shanto who also recently passed away. They were a powerful team. Vale Mook and Shanto.
I first met Mook in 1982, I had just got back to Australia from India and was looking for a new home and came to check out Nimbin. It was late in the afternoon and the eastern side of Cullen Street was bathed in golden light. Myself and my partner at the time Prem Devi were standing adjacent to the Freemasons Pub soaking up the innocence of 1982 Nimbin. Two people emerged from the shadows down Sibley Street. They were dressed in the ‘Osho sanyassin-fashion’ of the time, bright orange and red. As was I.
The two were resplendent in their Osho garments, loose robes, sarongs and scarfs all flowing and glowing in the setting sun. These two were exuding something special. They were arm in arm, and obviously in love, they spotted us, and a huge grin spread across their faces. We were pulled together like orbiting planets, we did not know each other from a bar of organic soap, but we rushed to hug each other, laughing and giggling, sharing in the excitement of meeting kindred souls. Mook and Shanto were the best welcoming committee on the planet. I knew I had found my new home and a couple of new buddies.
The pull of the ocean was too great and we all ended up in Byron Bay in the mid-eighties playing music in different bands around the town. Byron Bay was so damned sweet then, mostly populated by Surfies, Hippies and Wannabes and hardly any tourists. The New Age had not arrived and the Meat-works/ex-Humpback whaling station had just closed down and the town no longer smelt of blood and death. Mook and Shanto created the band Bahloo with David Hallet on percussion. Myself and S Sorrensen formed Joe’s World a four piece original rock band. These were great times in Byron Bay, before greed and avarice got out of control. It was one big party and we partied like it was 1999 even though it was only 1985. Mook and Shanto were stars in Byron and wooed audiences with their original music, heartfelt lyrics and Shanto’s min- blowing voice. Shanto could transport you to another world with her voice, she could create feelings in you, you never knew you had and leave you floating. She was a transcendent singer. To be in her presence when she sang was like being blessed by a Goddess. There were very few people in her league.
Mook and Shanto
Mook and Shanto were already kicking goals with their music: spiritually, environmentally and almost commercially. Mookx had written and with Shanto recorded ‘Leave it in the Ground” about the dangers of Uranium, they made a great video clip in the eighties and received some airplay. These two from Bahloo had very green hearts. Their whole life was dedicated to making Planet Earth a safer and better place to be, using the magic of music, songs and singing. Bahloo also recorded Living on an Island a song a about the sate of the planet. Mook was an early outspoken advocate for legalisation of marijuana and wrote the song Marijuana Australiana which was eventually recorded by the Bushwackers and became quite a hit for them, it all started in the creative mind of Mookie,
Mookx once came along to a Joe’s World rehearsal, his enthusiasm for what we were doing was an overwhelming tsunami of encouragement, we didn’t know we were that good, he made us believe we were the new Beatles. Mook’s enthusiasm was frightening, his positivity electric. If he liked an idea, God help it.
Unfortunately Joe’s World did not become the new Beatles and like most bands, broke up, so in the late eighties I teamed up with Mook and Shanto and we created Bahloo Recording Studio up on Coopers Shoot overlooking Byron Bay, long before Tom Misner and SAE hit town. Mookx was one of the most creative people I have ever met, a creative genius and creativity was my game, so hanging with Mookx was where it was at. Mook was a shit hot record producer. He was the Phil Spector of Byron, he could pull the best out of anyone and had endless stream of production ideas. Neurotic introverted but talented artists could believe in themselves, because Mookie believed in them, and when it came to songwriting his creativity was boundless. He could always make a song better. One highly memorable album Mook produced was Songs of a Green Guerrilla by Permaculture guru and Nimbin singer/songwriter Robyn Francis.
Dolphin Awards were born
Bahloo Recording Studio was bursting with creativity and had its finger on the pulse of the north coast music scene. One lunchtime, while we were sitting around the lunch table, the North Coast Music Industry Association and the Dolphin Awards were born. Again, Mookie’s enthusiasm and infectious positivity helped forge an organisation that is now 26 years old.
While at Bahloo Recording Studio Mookie wrote the soundtrack music for the award winning documentary Blowpipes and Bulldozers by Jeni Kendall and Paul Tait from Gaia Films. Mookie’s sad haunting soundtrack empasised the tragedy of one of the last remaining tribes in Borneo Malaysia , driven off their land by logging.
Mookie almost made it to Hollywood, he wrote and we recorded at Bahloo studios the original songs for the animated feature film Ferngully the Last Rainforest. But when the Hollywood producers got hold of the film they wanted big names and got people like Elton John to rewrite new songs before the film’s release. That was a big bummer for Mook as his songs were very funny and clever and would have easily captured the hearts minds of children from all over the world.
One of the most ‘interesting’ recording sessions I ever had with Mook and Shanto was when we recorded the Gaia Choir album. The Gaia Choir was an all female choir based in Byron Bay, it had twenty very good singers lead by choir-mistress, Shanto. The album recording needed a place that had natural ‘cathedral like’ reverb, plus be a quiet place, no traffic or people noises. We eventually found an old abandoned, mushroom factory out in the hills behind Byron, perfect. The recording equipment was set up outside, the choir inside. It was a hot afternoon and things had been going well.
But Mook the producer, wanted a more intimate sound for the next song and I had to reposition the microphones. I went into the Mushroom Factory to be confronted with the sight of twenty naked women huddled around the microphone. It was getting a bit hot in the old windowless building, so, clothes off, that was how Mook and Shanto rolled, gets too hot, take your clothes off. They were true blue, dyed in the wool, fair dinkum, genuine hippies. Being nude was also a tactic Mook used to scare off proselytizing religious door knockers, they quickly excused themselves at the sight of a naked Mook. Mook had little time for organised religion.
Mook and I had a radio show in the early days of BayFm when it broadcast from a caravan up on St Helena overlooking Byron. Local Nimbin identity Paul Le Bars was the station manager. The show was called the Naked Lunch and Mook and I told listeners we were naked in the studio while broadcasting, that could have been hard to take for some listeners. Luckily, Paul the station manager was open-minded and let us get away with murder, Mookie was a terrorist on the airwaves, nothing was sacred or untouchable. He would rip into politicians, local councillors or anyone who was behaving badly. He was a strident environmental advocate. Mookie especially loved taking the piss out of the ‘blow-in Osho Sanyassins’ that flooded Byron Bay in the nineties. The Caligula Brothers as we were called, were either loved or loathed by listeners. Mookie was an incredibly funny person with a highly developed sense of humour, he could improvise or jam on any topic and burst into song at anytime and write a new song on the spot related to the current topic. He was irrepressible.
Mook was also instrumental in the creation of NimFM, Nimbin’s community radio station.
I called Mook up one day and said, ‘Hey Mook! Nimbin needs its own radio station!’
After our experience on BayFM, it seemed silly to both of us that the counter culture capital of the universe, Nimbin did not to have it’s own radio station. He went crazy with the idea, he was an out of control bush-fire on a hot windy day, as far as he was concerned Nimbin would have a radio station.
He organised a public meeting that was held out the back of Birth and Beyond. Mook had the foresight to invite Paul Le Bars who was instrumental in creating BayFM and knew how to create community radio stations. Nimbin now has that once fantasy radio station, created by an idea. Mook was an idea’s man, he could have made it in corporate advertising, instead he choose to try and save the world and live a life about sharing, caring and contributing to his community.
Wherever Mook and Shanto went they created a choirs. They could turn amateurs into polished choir members with their clever arrangements and choice of material.
The Billen Cliffs Community Choir in the nineties was a great example of what the magic of Mook and Shanto could do, it was a real community choir, from three year pre-schoolers to grannies. belting their hearts out. This choir performed at the Lismore Folk Festival and blew the audience away with their amazing sound, enthusiasm and sense of togetherness.
Not many choirs had three-year-olds performing in them, such was Mook and Shanto’s spirit of inclusivity and community.
The one thing I am eternally grateful for is Mook and Shanto’s generosity and immense musical talent and creativity. While at Bahloo Recording Studio I recorded two albums, Legend of the Golden Dolphin and Guardians of the Legend. Mook and Shanto can be heard liberally sprinkled throughout these two instrumental concept albums, from Shanto’s soaring angelic vocals and Mook’s tin whistle, guitar and vocals, they added so much to these recordings, like they did whenever they came into contact with a creative project.
Mook was not all love and light, like all of us he had a dark side, we called him Black Mookie he was aware of it, but sometimes had no control over it. This part of Mook was intensely dark and not great to be around. Fortunately the good outweighed the bad, but over the years, the bad builds up, this may be some of the reason Shanto choose to leave the relationship. This was a huge blow to Mook and fair enough, Shanto was the love of his life, mother of his children, musical collaborator extraordinaire and just an exquisitely beautiful person in spirit and physical presence. He took a longtime to get over losing Shanto.
Mook was also an amazing astrologer, illustrator. comedian and writer if there was a field to be creative in, Mook was there. He was a highly inspirational person and inspired all who came into contact with him.
Mook and Shanto’s light burnt brightly they were super novas. They both left the north coast and the planet a better place for having been here. I sit here with tears in my eyes as I write this. Thanks Mook and Shanto for absolutely everything, you are gone but will never be forgotten. Mook was one ‘Crazy Diamond’ and his legacy will shine on.