[Powderworks] Oils on Sydney Morning Herald/ Sun-Herald Website
Tue, 30 Jul 2002 11:32:56 +1000
The following article is in today's SMH. Story on Oils upon return from
successful US tour and involvement in M-One Festival in October. Pretty
lengthy but well worth the read !
Oil fired up
July 30 2002
After 25 years and 14 albums, Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett is still
being driven by the power and the passion.
Fans expecting to see Peter Garrett in full flight at the upcoming one-day
rock festival M-One in October, should perhaps avoid the main stage - and
check out the wrestling sideshows.
Garrett, with his looming stature and iconic bald head, is tempted to go up
against a sneering Billy Idol, a fellow M-One act, in the wrestling ring.
"It's a scary thought, isn't it?" Garrett said, roaring with laughter. "One
man spouting constitutional law and the other guy reciting the number of
nightclubs he's been dragged out of."
Despite their shared 1980s music heritage, Garrett hasn't had the pleasure
of meeting Idol in the flesh.
"I only know him by the way he manipulates his upper lip," Garrett said.
"But I thought Billy would be a natural partner to the wrestling."
It's easy for the lead singer of Midnight Oil to chuckle over the inclusion
of his band, and Billy Idol, in the M-One line-up. The festival, the
brainchild of executives at FM radio station TripleM, unashamedly targets
mainstream rock'n'roll fans, who hunger for "real" stars and their anthems.
But when the line-up was announced, even those fans could have been forgiven
for thinking they were in a time warp. Midnight Oil? Billy Idol? If it
wasn't for Garbage as the headline act, things could have seemed very retro
But the reality is, nothing about Midnight Oil is retro. Despite 25 years of
performing together, their music remains strong, fresh and raw. Unlike other
Australian bands who hit the big time in the 1980s, they don't sit around
talking about "the good old days". Instead, they push themselves to create
great new ones.
The band have just returned home after a road tour of the US and Canada
(plus festival appearances in the UK), where they performed songs from their
According to Garrett, they are likely to start working on another album
early next year - which would be their 15th studio album.
"We don't pop them out like mums who have 10 kids - we're not a Catholic
band," Garrett said, with a chuckle. "We're not stuck with any recording
contracts, which is a blessing. We go in there because we want to."
In the meantime, the band members leapt at the chance to perform at M-One,
if only because of the weather.
"There's something exhilarating and magical about the onset of spring in
Australia," Garrett said. "The thought of playing outdoors in Oz when
winter's finishing, and you can smell jasmine and see T-shirts, is too
appealing to knock back."
Despite his enduring reputation as an intense, and sometimes very angry,
musical activist, it doesn't take long for Garrett to reveal his soft side.
In relaxed mode he is a natural comic, specialising in dry one-liners. He
has lost none of the presence which turned him into Australia's best-known,
and most controversial, lead singer during the 1980s.
His striking bald head and defiant glare have long provided inspiration for
younger musicians and Australians in general. But Garrett has never been a
His relationship with Rob Hirst, Martin Rotsey, Bones Hillman and JimMoginie
is one of the most extraordinary in Australian rock. The partnership between
the members of Midnight Oil has outlasted many successful marriages.
When I suggested the men could write a counselling guide for aspiring rock
bands, Garrett laughed approvingly. "Oh yeah, we could produce our own
manuals," he said. "Life on the bus. Life in the Tarago. Life after your
first gold record.
"Truth is, we've just kept enjoying the process of making music with each
other. You're lucky if you happen on that synchronicity, the combination of
different characters and musical characteristics that make a band work."
Midnight Oil have never been afraid to tackle issues - from reconciliation
to environmental conservation, with Garrett leading the protest. But have
they mellowed in older age?
The current political upheaval in Australia surrounding detention centres
and asylum seekers seems like classic Oils subject-matter. But Garrett said:
"We haven't got a detention centre song on our list."
Mind you, once the topic was mentioned, his much-loved fiery spark ignited
in about three seconds.
"We'll certainly have something on our next album. It will be something
which throws a bit of salt into the flesh wound. If it's John Howard's
exposed arm, then so be it."
Midnight Oil are so quintessentially Australian it's often easy to
underestimate their impact overseas, primarily in the US. Even in 2002, ask
any group of American backpackers about their favourite Australian bands and
nine times out of 10 they'll mention Garrett and his bald head.
Various celebrities can also be counted among their many fans. Actor Chris
O'Donnell gushed about Peter Garrett during a visit to Sydney (his character
in Vertical Limit boasted the same name). O'Donnell enthusiastically quoted
lyrics from a range of Midnight Oil albums, and described the real-life
Garrett as a "musical hero".
But despite ongoing adulation overseas, Midnight Oil have not been tempted
to write about their American experiences, even on the back of their
successful tour this year.
"We don't want to write an album about touring on the road, the bus stops
and the greasy food," Garrett said. "Nor having to queue up for planes and
getting your feet X-rayed because people are worried about Arab bombers.
"We wanted to wait until we came back, because our inspiration comes out of
this place. That tends to be the basis of the Oils - the pumping history and
heartbeat of Australia, that's our thing."
It's hard to believe Midnight Oil struggled to get radio airplay in the late
1970s because Garrett sang with an Australian accent. (Most bands were
mimicking an all-American sound.)
How appropriate, then, that at the M-One festival, 25 years later, Peter
Garrett will symbolise the voice of Australian rock.
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