Live Review: Darren Hanlon, The Grand Magoozi

19 December 2015 | 11:49 am | Tim Kroenert

"If he loses a lyric he’s all too happy to be prompted by the audience. 'By the time Fleetwood Mac were my age they were using teleprompters,' he observes, reasonably."

More Darren Hanlon More Darren Hanlon

The Grand Magoozi's sound lies somewhere between the jazz bar and the barnyard. Frontwoman Susie Scurry rocks a glittering party dress, twangy guitar and sultry vocals, and receives support from a violin and laconic double bass. Her lyrics contain plenty of humour too, especially one song about love triangles and another about Elvis Presley: "There wasn't much he didn't do / for a man who died at 42" is one of the best epithets for the King we've heard.

By the time they finish we're not so much warmed up as settled in for Darren Hanlon. First though, comedian and self-professed “Fanlon” Tom Ballard appears to introduce the main event. Hanlon’s songs fill him with Christmas cheer, he says, “even though I’m a gay, vegetarian atheist”. Finally Hanlon himself arrives with some comedy stylings of his own, making a show of lowering the mic stand to a level more suitable to his diminutive stature.

Hanlon’s one-man Christmas shows are legendary and tonight he doesn't disappoint, performing for close to two hours, including three encores. The great thing about the one-man-and-a-guitar (or banjo, as the case may be) format is that Hanlon's gift as a raconteur — up there with his equivalent gifts for melody and wordplay — really shines, notably on songs such as the nostalgic Halley’s Comet, 1986 and the rollicking The Chattanooga Shoot Shoot.

Between songs the anecdotes come thick and fast. He recalls hanging out with a group of nihilists in Alice Springs, who mistook him for one of them because of his song Happiness Is A Chemical —“though they said it should be renamed Happiness Is A Social Construct”. The whole show is relaxed and convivial: if Hanlon occasionally hits the wrong string, he covers with a self-deprecating chuckle; if he loses a lyric he’s all too happy to be prompted by the audience. “By the time Fleetwood Mac were my age they were using teleprompters,” he observes, reasonably.

The setlist is like a Darren Hanlon jukebox, ranging from classics (She Cuts Hair), to recent songs (My Love Is An Ocean Away) to popular B-sides (Electric Skeleton). "Not only do you know all the lyrics, you know all the banter too," he zings one chatty audience member. Later, he gets the giggles during his sugar-sweet classic I Wish That I Was Beautiful For You when we keep calling out, “You are!” It’s all good fun, but Hanlon is also utterly workmanlike; the closest thing he takes to a break all night (aside from a minute or two between encores) is when Liz Stringer joins him onstage and he backs her up on her song High Open Hills. It’s a hell of a show and we hope to see him do it all again next Christmas.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter