During the eighties and nineties, Midnight Oil were untouchable.
For a period of twenty years they filled venues, sold a truckload of albums, annoyed large oil companies and refused to perform on Countdown. With their roots in the northern suburbs of Sydney, the band played a mix of hard rock and surf guitar. Their live performances (particularly at the notorious Royal Antler Hotel in North Narrabeen) were high octane affairs with a smoking moshpit and hot sweat dripping from the ceiling.
In 1980, Midnight Oil released their four track EP Bird Noises. The instrumental track ‘Wedding Cake Island’ (a rocky outcrop offshore from Coogee Beach in Sydney) featured a cacophony of surf guitar sounds and captured the imagination of surfers everywhere. The Oils adopted a tough touring schedule heading up and down the East Coast playing every coastal town they could (Geelong as a regular venue for Oil’s tours).
In1982, the Oil’s had their first mainstream hit record with the release of 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 4, 3, 2, 1, which included the hit singles ‘US Forces’, ‘Power and the Passion’ and ‘Read About It’. The album remained in the Australian charts for 171 weeks and could be heard blasting out in coastal car parks around the country. For a generation of young Australian’s, the raw energy, sound and passion of the Oil’s captured our imaginations. Their live shows were blistering affairs with Rob Hirst’s hard drumming and Peter Garrett’s wild singing and dancing style. They played loud, protested and gave a generation voice at a time when our cultural identity was being shaped by music, film and art.
For two decades the musical landscape in Australia and abroad was theirs to plunder. They toured Europe, they toured Uluru, they played on the back of a truck in the middle of New York holding up traffic and drawing worldwide attention to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
In December 2002, Peter Garrett announced his decision to quite the band and refocus on his political career. For the next 15 years the band remained ‘dormant’ apart from a short performance at WaveAid in 2005. For ten long years, Peter Garret was a senior Australian politician rising to the key roles of Environment and Education Ministers in successive Labor Governments.
Fast forward 15 years and Midnight Oil have just announced their first world tour in almost two decades. The original band are now in full rehearsal for a tour which starts in Brazil in April. I’ve got my tickets for the Hanging Rock Concert and I couldn’t be happier. Next November the Oils are back on stage in Australia… and like the old days it is just in time for summer.
By John Foss