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Midnight Oil

 B i o g r a p h y

Midnight Oil was an Australian hard rock band who were active from the early 1970s until 2002. The band was known for its driving hard rock sound, intense live performances, and its political activism, particularly in aid of environmentalist and indigenous causes. The lineup included Rob Hirst on drums, Peter Garrett on vocals, Jim Moginie on keyboard/guitar, and Martin Rotsey on guitar. Andrew James was the band's first bass player, followed by Peter Gifford from 1980 to 1987, and replaced by Bones Hillman.

Early history (1973 - 1981)

The Oils, as they are known to their fans, began as a progressive rock band called Farm in the early 1970s. After changing their name to Midnight Oil, their style also quickly changed, the group developing an aggressive, punk - hard rock sound associated with the Sydney surfer community. Two of their early fan bases were the Sydney northern beaches pub The Royal Antler at Narrabeen and the Bondi Lifesaver club near Sydney's Bondi Beach. Although consistently championed by Sydney alternative rock station Double Jay and its FM band successor Triple J they, like many independent bands of the period, were almost totally ignored by Australia's mainstream commercial radio stations. As a result of this, the band developed a strong "street cred" and a reputation for making no compromises with the music industry. The band built an intensely dedicated fan base through constant touring, and blistering full-tilt live performances, featuring the twin-guitar attack of Moginie and Rotsey, the drumming and vocals of drummer Rob Hirst and the manic, whirling-dervish presence of their towering, bald lead singer Peter Garrett, who quickly earned a reputation as one of the most charismatic and outspoken musicians on the Australian music scene. Their first two albums, 'Midnight Oil' and 'Head Injuries' are now regarded as classics of Australian independent rock, mixing solid guitar rock with progressive flourishes; both were released independently through the M7 label (a subsidiary of the Seven TV Network) and both were produced by Triple J live concert sound producer Keith Walker. 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). This track 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". It was widely believed in Australian music circles for many years that the Oils were one of the few major Australian bands of the era to have refused to appear on the all-powerful ABC TV pop show Countdown. The band had in fact been scheduled to appear one weekend in the early 1980s, 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. Manager Gary Morris also developed a reputation as one of the toughest managers in the business and he became equally notorious for banning any critics or journalists (who were usually given free admission to concerts) if they wrote 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. In later years Elder recanted, and described them as the only Australian band to have developed a truly Australian sound. The band's third LP Place Without A Postcard (1981) was recorded with English producer Glyn Johns, but creative tensions between band and producer plagued the recording and the group were not totally happy with the outcome.

Rise to fame (1982 - 1985)

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". Their ascendancy was signalled by a series of concerts 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. 10-1 was produced by Englishman Nick Launay, who had previously worked with The Jam, XTC, Peter Gabriel, PiL, Gang of Four, The Birthday Party, and Killing Joke, and who had engineered for producers including John Leckie, Steve Lillywhite, Hugh Padgham and Tony Visconti. It was one of four classic albums Launay produced in Australia that year, the others being The Church LP Seance, The Models' commercial breakthrough The Pleasure of Your Company, and INXS's The Swing. It was followed 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 movie One Night Stand the story of which revolves around a group of teenagers hanging out in an abandoned Sydney Opera House as the outbreak of nuclear war in eastern Europe is set to bring about the end of the world. A promotional video for "Best of Both Worlds" received airplay worldwide on cable music TV station MTV. In 1984, Garrett ran for a seat in the Australian Senate under the Nuclear Disarmament Party banner, and narrowly lost after a recount. In 1985, arguably at their peak, Midnight Oil performed another outdoor concert on Goat Island in Sydney Harbour, in order to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Triple J, 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)

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 health and living standard issues 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 Aboriginal 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. Between 1990 and 1993, the band's Blue Sky Mining and Earth and Sun and Moon albums also drew critical acclaim and international success, as did their political activism for causes ranging from nuclear disarmament to indigenous land rights, reconciliation and environmental issues. In 1989 Garrett was appointed the President of the Australian Conservation Foundation. 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", in protest of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Their later albums sold less well outside Australia, but the Oils maintained a following throughout the 1990s and into the new century. 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. The band performed during the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics. Backstage the band removed boiler suits and walked on-stage revealing the word SORRY conspicuously printed on their clothes, serving as an apology to the Aboriginal people for their more than 200 years of suffering under white settlement. The SORRY shirts were also specifically aimed at conservative Prime Minister John Howard, who was in the audience. The Prime Minister triggered a degree of controversy that year with his refusal to embrace symbolic reconciliation and apologise to Aboriginal Australians and members of the stolen generation. The Midnight Oil line-up remained fairly stable over the band's long career: Garrett as lead singer (and, early on, synthesizer), Jim Moginie on guitar and keyboards, Martin Rotsey on guitar, and Rob Hirst on drums. Andrew "Bear" James, the first bass player, left in 1979, replaced by Peter Gifford, who left in 1989 to be replaced by New Zealander Bones Hillman (ex Swingers), who remained with the group until its dissolution in 2002. Gary Morris was the band's manager and effective sixth member (often credited with the simple title "Business" on albums) throughout.

Dissolution and reunion

Garrett decided to quit the band on December 2, 2002, to focus on his political career. He won the seat of Kingsford Smith at the 2004 General Election for the Australian Labor Party and is currently Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment, Heritage and the 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 January 29, 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. There are no current plans to reunite the band.


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 Australian 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.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 A l b u m s

Head injuries (Columbia Records, 1979)