Some of the concerts that I cover with my little camera, really hurt because they are such an emotional affair. The final few concerts by Rowland S. Howard, The Last Drinks at The Tote, The SLAM Rally all really tugged on my heartstrings. After a thousand local gigs and over a decade of documenting the Melbourne scene, there is nothing that comes close to this Brian Hooper benefit concert at the Prince Of Wales in St Kilda. It was the most emotional concert that I have ever had to photograph. Performing on the night were Kim Salmon and The New Scientists, SixFtHick who flew into town from Brisbane, Tendrils, Adalita, Gareth Liddiard, Rosie Westbrook and Penny Ikinger. There was also the Brian Hooper Band without Brian but made up of a supergroup that comprised of Mick Harvey, Hugo Race, JP Shilo, Tim O'Shannassy and Steve on keyboards.
It was announced that the hard-drinking, hard living swamp-rock supergroup Beasts Of Bourbon would be reforming for this benefit for Hooper.
There was a heavy sense of anticipation in the air, as we didn't know if Hooper was physically capable of playing with his beloved band of hard men because of his deteriorating health with lung cancer. Word had got around that the Beasts performed a sound check with Boris Sujdovic on bass guitar duties earlier on in the day.
Brian had certainly walked down the hard road. Resilience and toughness are two words that come to mind. This guy has got guts. In late 2003, he fell from a balcony and broke his back and he was paralysed from the waist down for six months. Despite the initial grim prognosis and with Hooper's upbeat positive outlook, he was able to walk and perform again.
Seeing the Beasts Of Bourbon reform and come together for their solid set of six song was a sight to behold and for everybody in that room that night - legends are made of this. There was not a dry eye in the house.
Surrounded by the angelic nursing staff from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Hooper appeared on the stage with his plastic oxygen mask billowing smoke. He was carefully pushed in a heavy wheelchair with oxygen tanks in the back, as Hooper cheekily pinched Neil Wedd's bottom, who was doing MC duties at the time.
The band didn't pull any punches. See my video of the band blasting 'Bad Revisited' for example (see above). There will be no easy to play, laid-back blues ballads tonight. It was straight into Tex Perkin's growling "COME ON!" with 'Chase The Dragon', as Hooper was being flanked with a caring Charlie Owen on guitar. You could see Tony Pola beaming a bright smile behind his drumkit. It was so great to see our very own Keith Richards of Australia, Spencer P. Jones on stage laying down some menacing guitar riffs. Spencer has been suffering health issues with his liver in recent times and rarely performs these days. He was in good spirits that night and it was so lovely to see him play one more time. At one stage Spencer laconically quipped with a glint in his eye...."where are my nurses?"
The camaraderie on stage between the mutual brotherhood of these men who performed in a rock band was on show to everyone. At various times during the set, Tex choked back a tear and gave both Spencer and Brian loving hugs.
From 'The Low Road' until their final song 'Drop Out', it will be a set that I will remember for the rest of my life. The courageous Hooper humbly thanked the crowd for their support and quietly stated that his "ship was coming in". I lost it. As I photoshopped in the wee hours of the morning as the birds started to sing, the last photograph of Brian being wheeled off stage, as he smiled at waved at me....I lost it again. Exactly one week later on the next Friday morning, Brian left us. His loving partner, Ninevah Hooper posted, "Brian’s ship peacefully sailed this morning."
Brian Henry Hooper the fine songwriter, brilliant musician, caring family man and loving friend to many, will sail on forever in our hearts.
Photography by CarbieWarbie
Please contribute to Brian's I Get Up Again fund, by clicking on the following link, as his family needs money.
For more videos of the night, Carbie Warbie has listed them on our sister music website, TheDwarf.com.au.