[Powderworks] Ghosties Story in SMH
Thu, 6 Mar 2003 15:34:08 -0600
The Oils ain't Oils any more, but drummer Rob Hirst keeps bashing away. By
Midnight Oil may have called it a day but you can't quell that power and
passion - especially when on the verge of war.
Lead singer Peter Garrett quit the band to pursue as yet unspecified
interests, most likely politics, and fuelled the rumours by addressing the
peace protest in Melbourne.
Drummer Rob Hirst joined the quarter of a million on Sydney's streets. "At
times like this, when journalists are gagged, with some notable exceptions,
it's often up to people from the arts to lead the way," says Hirst, who
co-wrote such protest anthems as Power and the Passion, Beds are Burning and
"Fortunately, there are bands of the calibre of the John Butler Trio, who
are more than able to put the musical case for peace.
"As for Howard and his lickspittles, I don't even want to talk about them at
He doesn't want to talk about the end of the Oils, either - other than to
say the remaining band members are likely to play together again.
What he wants to talk about is the Ghostwriters, the project he launched
with Hoodoo Gurus bassist Rick Grossman in 1991.
"I'm still going to write [political] stuff, but we want to make this
Ghosties album much more uplifting, while not shirking our songwriting
lyrical duties and our passions.
"There's a song, God's Not Busy, which if it were ready I would love to have
out right now. It's talking about an Australian soldier being sent off to a
conflict and surviving his term of duty by keeping his head down."
The Ghostwriters' first played dark acoustic pop, producing the hit
Someone's Singing New York New York off their debut album, but the next two
releases were heavily textured affairs.
The next album, which Hirst hopes to release this year, will feature the
band's newest member, Sydney singer-songwriter Paul Greene.
"It's shaping up as a real folky pop album, using our twin voices very
much," says Hirst, "actually recording it that way: Paul and I go in with
our guitars and play the tunes facing each other so we can actually get all
the downstrokes together and our vocals pretty much together."
Greene: "Very Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. But really, it's an interesting
way to write songs ... working with stuff that's got double parts."
Hirst: "Paul has an uncanny ability with melody, to be able to pick out a
variety of melodies on top of one another."
Greene also had the uncanny ability to run very fast. He represented
Australia in the 400 metres at the Atlanta Olympics and was training for the
Sydney Games, in between playing gigs, when he ran into the Ghostwriters.
"Rick and myself were producing an album for the Olympics, and the people
who were bankrolling this album insisted upon athlete participation, musical
"After we got up off the floor, we realised we had at least one athlete who
was talented musically - Paul. So Rick and I, being the opportunists that we
are, purloined Paul to the Ghosties, knowing that his golden voice would be
an enormous asset to the band."
How did the then 27-year-old athlete deal with suddenly being in a band of
"I did [feel intimidated] for a while. I was just sitting in this room with
these guys, just going, 'How the hell did I get into this one?' But after a
while I just had to throw myself in."
Hirst: "He was much braver than I. If anyone called Paul Greene had the guts
to stare down a guy called Mo Greene on a track, that takes a lot more than
playing guitar and drums."
Did Paul really stare down the world's fastest man over 100 metres?
"No, but Michael Johnson [world-record holder over 200m and 400m]; I got to
stare him down. But he kicked my arse, anyway."
Despite the Ghostwriters' leg up, Greene has put in a lot of leg work,
releasing two solo albums and touring the country solidly.
"I did 250 gigs last year at pubs around Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle,
anywhere," he says. "I've been known to drive to Perth for just a couple of
gigs and back."
Greene has a touch of Jeff Buckley about him and his acoustic shows are
impressive, especially when he loses himself in the moment while juggling
guitar, vocals and harmonica.
"There's been this misunderstanding that the live scene has been confined to
Melbourne and Brisbane," says Hirst. "But when you scratch the surface here,
you find there's a lot of musicians playing all the time. You don't hear
them on the radio because no station caters for them, but they have their
loyal following and their own albums, self-financed, like Paul's."
As for the Oils' loyal following, they may be pleased to know that the band
members are likely to record together again. "It's very hard to tell what
kind of shape it'll be at this stage, which is an exciting prospect," says
But you can be sure Jon Stevens won't be fronting the band. "If that
happens, I'm leaving the Ghosties," says Greene.
Hirst: "I don't think we're planning to go out and play live. We might lurk
in dim corridors of recording studios for a while.
"I feel me personally and [the Oils] have been survivors, we made strong
compelling music right to the end and shows which still galvanised people."
Greene: "And he still kicks my arse when we go for beach runs."
Hirst: "And the fact that I can beat an Olympic athlete gives me no end of