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Midnight Oil

Midnight Oil was an Australian rock band from Sydney, Australia. Through a long and distinguished career, the band became known for its driving hard-rock sound, intense live performances and political activism, particularly in aid of environmentalist and indigenous causes.

Group lineup

Drummer Rob Hirst, vocalist Peter Garrett, and guitarists Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey formed the centre of the band from its formation to its breakup. Bass player Andrew James was replaced by Peter Gifford in 1980. Gifford was replaced in 1987 by Bones Hillman.

Early history (1973 - 1981)

Music

The group began as a progressive rock band called Farm in the early 1970s. After changing its name to Midnight Oil, the group began to develop an aggressive, punk - hard rock sound. The band built a dedicated fan base through constant touring, and furious live performances, featuring the twin guitars of Moginie and Rotsey, the drumming and vocals of Hirst and the manic presence of the towering, bald Garrett as lead singer. Its first two albums, Midnight Oil and Head Injuries mixed solid guitar rock with progressive flourishes, and further interest was generated by the popular Bird Noises EP, produced by former Supercharge member Lesek Karski, which featured the surf-instrumental "Wedding Cake Island" (named after a rock outcrop in the ocean off Sydney's Coogee Beach). The band's third LP Place Without A Postcard (1981) was recorded with English producer Glyn Johns. Creative tensions between band and producer plagued the recording, however, and the group were not totally happy with the outcome.

Fans, the Industry and the Media

Driven largely by commercial pressures to stay with reliable chart-toppers and teenage pop sensations, the Australian music industry in the mid-1970s cast a dismissive eye toward most bands with an alternative outlook. Although consistently championed by Sydney alternative rock station Double Jay and its FM band successor Triple J, the band in the early part of their career were almost totally ignored by Australia's mainstream commercial radio stations. Manager Gary Morris quickly developed a reputation as one of the toughest managers in the business, and became notorious for banning critics or journalists, who were usually given free admission to concerts, for writing unfavourable reviews. One famous case in the mid-80s involved writer and critic Bruce Elder, who in a newspaper review described the band's music as "narrow and xenophobic"; in retaliation, Morris banned him from Oils shows permanently. Elder later recanted, describing them as the only Australian band to have developed a truly Australian sound.

The frostiness of their relationship with the traditional music media quickly saw the band develop a strong "street cred", and a reputation for making no compromises with the music industry. In the early 1980s the band was scheduled to appear on an episode of the all-powerful ABC TV pop show Countdown, but on the day of the show found themselves "bumped" from the lineup. According to Countdown producer Michael Shrimpton, the band had arrived late for rehearsal, and due to the show's very tight schedule and budget there was a strict policy that latecomers were not allowed to appear, and as such they were told they could not perform that day. In retaliation, the group declared that they would never appear on the show, a promise they faithfully kept.

Fans of the group were drawn to the band's "us and them" mindset, and fan loyalty to the Oils' ideas and music was fierce. Two venues at which they built significant fan bases from their early live performances were the Sydney northern beaches pub The Royal Antler at Narrabeen and the Bondi Lifesaver club near Sydney's Bondi Beach. Politically-oriented rock of the style produced by the band was something of a new concept for the Australian music scene, and Peter Garrett quickly earned a reputation as one of the most charismatic and outspoken musicians in the country.

Rise to Fame (1982 - 1985)

10 to 1

Their major Australian breakthrough and their first international recognition came in 1982, with the release of 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, which included the singles "Power and the Passion" and "Read about It"; their denunciation of American military interference in foreign affairs in "US Forces"; and their critique of imperialist repression in "Short Memory". 10-1 was produced by Englishman Nick Launay, who had previously worked with acts including The Jam, XTC, Peter Gabriel, PiL, Gang of Four and The Birthday Party. Their ascendancy was signalled by a series of concerts on the release of the album at Sydney's Capitol Theatre, one of which was filmed and recorded, and which has recently been released on DVD. The band also played their first shows outside Australia during this time.

Red Sails in the Sunset

10-1 was followed two years later by Red Sails in the Sunset (1984), in which the band continued to expand their sound and explore themes of politics, consumerism, militarism, the threat of nuclear war and environmental issues. The album cover featured a photomontage of Sydney - both city and harbour - cratered and devastated after a hypothetical nuclear attack. Live concert footage from this time period was also used in the Australian independent anti-nuclear war movie One Night Stand. A promotional video for "Best of Both Worlds" received airplay worldwide on cable music TV station MTV.

Goat Island Triple J concert

In 1985, Midnight Oil performed another outdoor concert on Goat Island in Sydney Harbour to celebrate Triple J's tenth birthday, before a select audience of fans who had won tickets in a radio competition. This concert was also filmed and recorded by the ABC and was simulcast on ABC-TV and Triple J. It has recently been remastered and released on DVD.

International success and activism (1986 - 2002)

Diesel and Dust

After the release of 1985's Species Deceases EP including the single "Hercules", the band spent several months in 1986 touring outback Australia with Aboriginal group Warumpi Band, playing to small Aboriginal family groups and seeing first hand the seriousness of the issues in health and living standards experienced by Australia's outback indigenous communities. The band was galvanised by the experience and made these the basis of Diesel and Dust (1987), an album focusing on the need for recognition by white Australia of past injustices involving the Aboriginal nation and the need for reconciliation. Featuring the singles "Beds Are Burning" (their biggest international hit), "The Dead Heart", "Put Down That Weapon" and "Dreamworld", the album debuted to worldwide critical acclaim.

Into the 1990s

Between 1990 and 1993, the band's Blue Sky Mining and Earth and Sun and Moon albums also drew critical acclaim and international success. The subject matter of their singles included the CSR asbestos mine incident (Blue Sky mine) and racism (Redneck Wonderland, White Skin-Black Heart), while the song Truganani referenced multiple issues including the 'last' Tasmanian Aboriginal, the treatment of Albert Namatjira and the Australian flag debate. In 1989 Garrett was appointed the President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, and in 1990 Midnight Oil played an impromptu lunchtime set in front of Exxon headquarters in New York with a banner reading, "Midnight Oil Makes You Dance, Exxon Oil Makes Us Sick", protesting the Exxon Valdez oil spill the previous year.

In 1993, the band participated in the Another Roadside Attraction tour in Canada, and collaborated with The Tragically Hip, Crash Vegas, Hothouse Flowers and Daniel Lanois on the one-off single "Land" to protest forest clearcutting in British Columbia.

Sydney 2000 Olympics Performance

The band again brought the politics of Aboriginal reconciliation to the fore during their performance at the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics. Then Prime Minister John Howard had triggered controversy that year with his refusal to embrace symbolic reconciliation and apologise to Aboriginal Australians and members of the stolen generations. The group performed their reconciliation-themed single "Beds Are Burning" at the ceremony with the word SORRY conspicuously printed on their clothes as a form of apology to the Aboriginal people for their suffering under white settlement, and to highlight the issue to Howard, who was in the audience at the Olympic stadium.

Dissolution and reunion

Garrett decided to quit the band on 2 December 2002, to refocus on his political career. In 1984, Garrett had stood for the Australian Senate under the Nuclear Disarmament Party banner, and narrowly lost. He won the seat of Kingsford Smith at the 2004 General Election for the Australian Labor Party and was selected as Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment, Heritage and the Arts. On Thursday, 29 November 2007, Labor Prime Minister elect Kevin Rudd named Garrett Minister for Environment, Heritage and Arts. The other members of the band continued to work together, but not under the Midnight Oil name, bringing the band's career to a close. After a warm up gig the previous evening at the Manly-Warringah Leagues Club the band, including Garrett, reunited to perform at the WaveAid concert on 29 January 2005, to raise funds for the victims of the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The concert, which took place at the Sydney Cricket Ground, also included performances by Powderfinger, Silverchair, Nick Cave, the John Butler Trio, the Finn Brothers and others.

Post-dissolution

On 29 October 2006 Midnight Oil was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. The group was also rumoured to be reunited for an appearance at the Sydney Live Earth concert in July 2007. Though this rumour turned out to be false, drummer Rob Hirst's band Ghostwriters (including former Oils guitarist Martin Rotsey) performed, while singer-turned politician Peter Garrett held a speech introducing Crowded House at the Sydney Live Earth concert. As a result of the Australian Labor Party gaining power in November 2007, Garrett has been named Environment Minister.

Trivia

  • The band's first album "Midnight Oil" was released independently through the M7 label (a subsidiary of the Seven TV Network) and was produced by Triple J live concert sound producer Keith Walker.
  • The instrumental "Wedding Cake Island" from the Bird Noises EP originally featured a vocal that was removed prior to release, supposedly because of its forthright lyrical content. Only one line of this is currently known publicly - "Red sails in the sunset".
  • "Red Sails In The Sunset" was one of a number of classic albums Nick Launay produced in Australia in 1984, the others being The Church LP Seance, The Models' commercial breakthrough The Pleasure of Your Company, and INXS's The Swing.
  • Gary Morris was often credited with the simple title "Business" on Midnight Oil albums.
  • Peter Garrett often played synthesiser on the band's early productions.

Personnel

Discography

Albums and EPs

Numbers in brackets indicate original release year and peak position in Australian charts.

Compilations and live albums

Singles

Year Title Chart positions Album
Australia US Hot 100 US Mainstream Rock US Modern Rock UK Singles
1978 "Run by Night" 100 - - - - Midnight Oil
1981 "Don't Wanna Be the One" 40 - - - - Place Without a Postcard
1981 "Armistice Day" 31 - - - -
1982 "Power and the Passion" 8 - - - - 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1
1982 "US Forces" 20 - - - -
1986a "The Dead Heart" 4 53 11 - 62c Diesel and Dust
1987a "Beds Are Burning" 6 17 6 - 6b
1987 "Put Down That Weapon" 32 - - - -
1988 "Dream World" - - 37 16 -
1990 "Blue Sky Mine" 8 47 1 1 66 Blue Sky Mining
1990 "Forgotten Years" 26 - 11 1 97
1990 "King of the Mountain" 25 - 20 3 -
1990 "Bedlam Bridge" 46 - - - -
1990 "One Country" 51 - - - -
1992 "Sometimes" 33 - - 20 - Scream in Blue
1993 "Truganini" 10 - 10 4 29 Earth and Sun and Moon
1993 "My Country" 52 - - - 66
1993 "In the Valley" 57 - - - 60
1993 "Drums of Heaven" - - - 10 -
1993 "Outbreak of Love" - - - 9 -
1996 "Underwater" 22 - - - - Breathe
2000 "The Real Thing" 48 - - - - Real Thing

  • a 1988 releases in US/UK
  • b 1989 re-release; originally peaked at #48
  • c 1989 re-release; originally peaked at #68

Videos

  • Black Fella White Fella (1987) - Australian Broadcasting Corporation documentary on the Black Fella White Fella tour of Indigenous communities with the Warumpi Band which inspired the writing of the album Diesel and Dust
  • Black Rain Falls (1990) - Footage of the 1990 Exxon Valdez protest
  • 20,000 Watt R.S.L. (1997) - Live footage, video clips and band interviews
  • Best of Both Worlds (2004) - Footage from two live shows including the Triple J 10th anniversary performance on Goat Island, Sydney Harbour

References

External links

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