Posts Tagged ‘midnight oil’

You would never have a Midnight Oil today. In a career that has spanned thirty years, The Oils have stepped on political toes, bit the corporate hand that fed them, always taken the hard line and have never taken a step back. As fan Tim Winton puts it, they “kissed no bum, tugged no forelock”.

Nowadays the current bad boys of Rock put out their own range of light Chablis and try not to upset ClearChannel. Midnight Oil had a heart, a conscience and a very Australian larrikinism that spoke up for Everyman and bugger the cost.

And they very nearly ruled the world.

Midnight Oil 1The Manly Art Gallery has mounted a new exhibition – The Making Of Midnight Oil – which charts their rise from bare-knuckle Northern Beaches pubs all the way to the largest stadiums in the world, playing to hundreds of thousands.

The Making Of Midnight Oil takes us – with meticulous detail – from their early days as The Farm (Peter Garrett with hair!) through to their infamous daytime protest concert outside Exxon’s New York corporate headquarters, where they played beneath a huge banner reading MIDNIGHT OIL MAKES YOU DANCE, EXXON OIL MAKES US SICK. (The banner runs along one whole wall of the exhibition – all thirty feet of it).

But it wasn’t all sloganeering and eco-warriors – The Oils could rock like no other. In a golden age of Australian pub-rock, they stood out in sharp relief against contemporaries like Rose Tattoo and The Angels, largely due to guitarist Jim Moginie’s artful songs and arrangements which borrowed as much from classical music and surf music as they did from hard rock. The songs, combined with one of the toughest-sounding bands around – and fronted by a windmilled-limbed bald giant – created an unstoppable rock machine, but one with a sharp mind, and a fiery heart. (Drummer Rob Hirst joked that, here he was, saying ‘save the rainforests’ while smashing his way through thirty drum sticks every gig…).

Midnight Oil 2

And you can see that the band worked, and worked hard. The exhibition is littered with scarred road-cases and guitar cases. Displayed are Martin Rotsey’s loved-to-death Fender Stratocaster and Jim Moginie’s road-wracked Gretsch Roc-Jet. On a small replica stage ­Rob Hirst’s bashed-in, vernacular drumkit is set up, complete with electric bin lids and percussive rusty water tank.

There are walls of Midnight Oil posters and a wall of Midnight Oil t-shirts. There is Rotsey’s worn and beautiful Rickenbacker 12-string and there is Jim Moginie’s reel-to-reel into which were played the rough demos which would become anthems to the world.

There is a clever little booth which, upon entering, takes you right back into the Oils’ early world of The Royal Antler, Narrabeen and the pounding, sweating, ecstatic warm-beer roar of their first Northern beaches gigs. Close the curtain and you are there – seventeen, half-pissed, soaking in the energy which the flailing bald giant is jolting into you, just you.

The Making Of Midnight Oil captures the excitement of Midnight Oil perfectly and completely – the only possible thing missing is the band itself, it seems. Everything else is there.

They were a remarkable band and an important cultural force, whose legacy has spread ripples right through to today’s music and right-on artists such as John Butler.

But, no, you would never have a Midnight Oil today. Which is a shame, because in many ways, we need them now more than ever.


Published July 2014 on


Jim Moginie is perhaps best known as a member of iconic Australian band, Midnight Oil. His musicality and vision helped shape the sound of the Oils – taking them far from their early pub rock thunder into a highly original and sophisticated soundworld, incorporating avant-garde elements side-by-side with jangling guitar Pop-classicism.

It is this same head-in-the-stars/feet-on-the-dancefloor (or maybe in the Maroubra surf) that informs his recent performance The Colour Wheel. Performed at The Campbelltown Arts Centre, the work was commissioned by The CAC as part of the Aurora Festival of Living Music.moginie1

Moginie’s ensemble of six electric guitars played through his suite of tone poems –­ each inducing a particular colour or hue – while the painters coloured in segments of a huge circular panel until they had completed a colour wheel (a kind of circular rainbow designed to show art students the relationships between colours… and a beautiful thing in itself).

Moginie’s spoken introduction explained the seed of the idea – the revolutionary concepts of the early 20th century which sought to find linking structures between visual arts and music. Paul Klee, Kandinsky as well as Australian pedagogue Roy de Maistre developed theories on these links that fed back into their art with astonishing results. And this is what The Colour Wheel was to attempt to do over the next hour or so.

moginie2; cacThe tone poems brilliantly conjured each colour as the painters blocked in the corresponding hue on the Wheel. The musical pieces went from the obvious to the conceptually opaque. Red was gnashing discord and flaming shards of guitar; Yellow, sunshine pop; Green, a rural country ramble.

It was during the pieces that attempted to sonically ‘paint’ the in-between tones and hues where it got really interesting – and showed Jim Moginie’s smarts and wonderfully balanced ensemble writing. Turquoise, neither green nor blue, had a faintly Arabic feel, conjuring Phrygian minarets but not only that, new pictures too; Orange was equally miasmic, burnt and warm, but alien; Purple/Mauve was whole new thing, dense with a language that was new, a language that had wine on its breath, a new wine.

moginie3; jan beggThe ensemble ­– two clean guitars, a baritone, a bass, a distortion guitar and an atmosphere guitar ­– worked with barely any effects apart from distortion and reverb, exploring the chiming tones of the instruments themselves. Moginie explained he was taking the role of ‘surf guitar’ (these days he plays with surf-artniks, The Break) and it was his glorious Fender Jaguar tone that led the pieces, nostalgic but Now, here airily bell-like, there roaring strange blues.

The Colour Wheel set out to explore the connection between colour and music and achieved it beautifully, giving the audience a spiritual thrill ride based upon the wonder of being human and the miracle of our senses. By the end of it all, we could ‘see’ sounds and ‘hear’ colours – something synesthetes have known for centuries.

Synesthesia is, of course, the neurological phenomenon whereby one ‘sees’ (or hears) colours in music. Moginie’s 6-guitar ‘orchestra’ and three artists made us all synesthetes for a short while that rainy afternoon.


Published May 2014 on





Heavy guitar rock comes in and out of fashion with almost meteorological regularity. Who is this week’s saviour of rock?

The truth is that heavy guitar rock never ever goes away and whenever things get too precious, it appears to be a rockin’ guitar band that pops up to give it a shot in the arm – or an analogue kick up the auto-tuned arse.

Rock and roll, metal, punk, grunge, pub rock – they are all manifestations of the primal urge of rock. The mutant hybrid of a guitar, an amp, a teenager – all pushed beyond what they were calibrated to do – has given us some of rock’s most feverishly thrilling moments. From Link Wray to The Who to The Stooges to Iron Maiden, it is Boy’s Own fun and fantastic stuff.


Australia seems to do guitar rock exceptionally well – giving the world one of the most iconic guitar bands of all time in AC/DC, and producing enormously popular and influential bands such as Rose Tattoo and Midnight Oil. Because much of Australia’s toughest hard rock was born in pubs, clubs and skinned-knuckle venues, it has always had a feeling of being bullshit-free and unvarnished – more ‘real’ – much as Australians see themselves.

Adelaide three-piece, Tracer, seem set to follow that fine hard rock lineage that recently has wavered a little too into cartoon territory with bands such as Airbourne. Their new album, El Pistolero has garnered top marks from Kerrang!, Classic Rock Magazine and Total Guitar and it is no surprise.tracer 1

Produced by Kevin ‘Caveman’ Shirley – the go-to guy for anything truly rocking (Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin, Joe Bonamassa) today – El Pistolero hits all the marks, ticks all the boxes and kicks all the pricks. Shirley has drawn a great sound out of a band that already had a big, thumping rock and roll heart.

Tracer’s sound balances their precision with sludge, their momentum with thud and their howl with growl. The mix is one of the most exciting I have heard for a while.

No cartoons, no posing, no weekend warriors – Tracer are a hard-working band who sound great because, like all the real bands – old like the Stooges or new like Kyuss – they do nothing but work at what they love.

El Pistolero is out today, June 5, thru Mascot/Warner.

The band’s tour kicks off June 12; details are here –


Prior to posting this review I asked Tracer’s Mike Brown a handful of questions. Here are his responses:

TheOrangePress: The title, graphics and 3 part ‘Del Desperado Suite’ give El Pistolero that eternally-cool spaghetti western vibe – what drew you to this theme?

Mike Brown: We’re movie nuts in the band and we’re especially drawn towards directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez for their quirky, oddball films that are just dripping in coolness. I think we take that approach to our music too, trying to make cool music with a bit of a weirdness in it. I was watching the Rodriguez movie Desperado and I started tinkering with a flamenco guitar to learn the song in the film and that led to me writing a couple of tunes that were inspired by the film. I mean, the guy is a guitar playing, vigilante super hero! That’s fuckin’ awesome! We started writing songs that had a Mexican/south-of-the-border vibe to them and I was writing lyrics that followed the storyline of Desperado just to see if it could be done. It was a bit of a challenge for us because there was a high possibility that it could end up corny or a bit cliché but I think the songs that are based around the film came out really cool. We already had a bit of a tex/mex, dry, desert sound but with this album we wanted to open it up a bit and push the barriers in the stoner rock genre that we’ve been classified in (not something of our doing by the way). So we tried to get a more expansive, cinematic vibe to the tracks, which I think really came out in songs like ‘There’s A Man’ and especially ‘Until The War Is Won’.

TOP: Tracer’s sound is obviously inspired by ’70s guitar bands such as Led Zeppelin but there is just as much Soundgarden sludge in the mix as well. How did to arrive at this mix – why not go entirely one way or the other?

MB: It happened very organically. We never decided to write songs that sound like a certain band or consciously copy a sound. I think it’s derived from our influences. We kind of pick what we like from them and it subconsciously goes into the melting pot for us to pick and chose from when we’re writing songs. At the end of the day, we write songs that we want to hear. And that’s mostly because nobody else is making the music that we want to hear in our heads. I love the sludgey Soundgarden and Kyuss stoner rock, and I love the free form of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple so we take elements from those guys and leave behind the stuff we don’t dig, mix it in with what we want to hear and Tracer is what comes out. I have no problem in wearing my influences on my sleeve and I always remember what David Bowie once said… ”I have never had an original idea in my life.” This from an artist who I would consider one of the most original that has ever lived!

TOP: ‘Caveman’ Kevin Shirley – you really couldn’t find a better producer for the Tracer sound. How did working with Kevin come about?

MB: Kevin had worked with a few artists on our label, namely Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart and Black Country Communion and our music got put forward to him by the head of our label. Apparently he got very interested in recording with us and we got an email about two weeks later saying “Kevin is in. Be in LA at the end of November to record an album.” We just thought “Holy fuck! We should write some songs!”

TOP: What was it like working with him? He appears to have pulled some great performances out of you – was there any blood spilled?

MB: Yeah he really did get the most out of us for the record. He has a great ability to read people and knows when to push people to their limits and when to mother them towards a good performance. There wasn’t any blood spilled but there was plenty of sweat and hard work. Dre and I went to LA to prove a point with our playing and we had been working really hard on getting our level of musicianship up and also concentrating on good performances, especially with the vocals. I think Kevin picked up on this and pushed us further in the studio. With Kevin taking the producer role, which was something we had previously done ourselves, it really freed us up to concentrate solely on the playing and I think it shows on the record.

As far as his methods, all I can say is he is extremely quick in making decisions and recording in general. He catches the vibe very fast and then moves on before the magic dies. We had 14 songs tracked with drums, bass, guitars and main vocals in 6 days! He has a great knack for capturing that live excitement that comes from musicians playing together and getting excited by the music together.

TOP: Why do you think there is pretty much always a market for heavy, guitar-based analogue rock?

MB: Because it’s real! It’s emotion provoking and I don’t think people get enough of that in their lives from external sources. I think guys in particular have anger that needs to come out and I think that vocalizing it through rock music is a really healthy way for people to do it. Also I think people still appreciate good musicianship and well-written songs. Dave Grohl has been banging on about this for the last couple of years and I think he is absolutely right. There is a magic, a vibe, an indescribable feeling of when musicians play instruments and it’s recorded as is, warts and all. The artifacts and little fuck ups became that favourite part of the record and you can hear the musician’s soul. You can’t do that with auto tuned, computer music. There is so much terrible crap on the airwaves today that people can’t hang their hat on because it’s there one day and then it’s completely forgotten the next. Artists aren’t creating music anymore they’re creating adverts for a brand and I believe that people are starting to see through it again as they did in the 80’s. Punk, grunge and metal were the saviours in the 90’s because of the plastic-ness of the 80’s music. And I think the same thing is happening now.

TOP: And finally, what are your thoughts on music, in general, today? Please feel free to use bad language.

MB: See rant above haha! To be honest I try not to get caught up on it. There is an underground swell throughout the world at the moment for rock music and it will only take a couple of bands to break through before we start seeing a resurgence in real music for real fans and not fake music for scenesters.


Published July 2013 on



Early this week we lost a true rock and roll original when Christina Amphlett passed onto the next plane. She was only 53 and the cause of her passing was cancer and MS, the latter a disease she had been fighting for years.

A wild child of the 70s – footloose and Beat – she formed the rock band the Divinyls with guitarist Mark McEntee in 1980. Amphlett’s relationship with McEntee was volcanic and toxic, yet produced some of the most tautly brilliant and exciting Australian rock of all time. Their debut single ‘Boys in Town’ – a tale of suburban teen desolation and “too much too young” – is as wound-up and boiled-over as any great rock and roll song should be.


Later singles, “Science Fiction” (selected by APRA as one of the top 30 Australian singles of all time) and “Pleasure and Pain” kept the standard high, but it was the paean to masturbation “I Touch Myself” that put the Divinyls on the international stage. Could any other vocalist have carried off “I Touch Myself”s mix of simmering eroticism and self-containment as beautifully as Chrissy Divinyl? I doubt it.

From the start she really stood out like a queen. Whereas Angus Young‘s school uniform was a cartoon, Amphlett’s torn St Trinian’s tunic was a flag, a message to all – quite simply, don’t fuck with me.

The band cut their performing teeth in the clubs and mega-pubs of early 80s Australia, where venues such as Rydalmere’s Family Inn, The Coogee Bay and Narrabeen’s Royal Antler – gritty, brutal beer barns reeking of suburban disaffection, weekend piss-binges and bloody violence – ruled supreme. The Divinyls played the same stages as tough-as-guts outfits such as The Angels, Cold Chisel, The Radiators and Midnight Oil. Whereas Midnight Oil had their seven foot rock’n’roll Frankenstein, Peter Garrett (yes, kidz, our current Federal Minister for Education) to stave off the boozed-up punters, all Chrissy Divinyl had was her tattered school uniform, her attitude and that voice.Chrissy2

Artist Brett Whiteley once referred to Bob Dylan‘s voice as ‘mango and Courvoisier’. Christina Amphlett’s voice was more fresh garbage and Stolichnaya – an over-ripe and unsettling concoction of predatory-sexual growls and little-girl tease. And it all came out of that mouth – one of rock and roll’s great perma-pouts.

Would music today allow a Christina Amphlett? Weird voice, no super-model, scary attitude, sexually in control. I wonder. Rock and roll, that unkillable mongrel music that chews up what it wants and screws what it wants and spits out devilish delights like Elvis, like Rotten, like Chrissy Divinyl, is maybe too self conscious now to give dirty birth to such a brat.

I call her Chrissy Divinyl, because to a certain private schoolboy, she was not of this world, she was of the world that he lived in, in his head, during those gray schooldays. Like Bowie, like T.Rex before, she saved his sanity and his soul – saved his life. And now, all these years later, I thank her for it.


Published May 2013 on

Years ago, when I was a jazzhead serious young insect, I used to cringe when reminded that Australia’s major contribution to contemporary rock music was Pub Rock. Nowadays I glow with pride.

AC/DC, Cold Chisel, the less arty side of Midnight Oil (who came up in the blood-and-sand pubs of Sydney’s Northern beaches), The Angels, The Radiators – hell, even Jet – have proven it and a thousand unknown but bullets-sweating guitar bands prove it every Saturday night. Even with a band as ‘grown up’ as Powderfinger it is just below the surface (vis a vis ‘Got You on My Mind’, pure and perfect pub-rock). The populism and boozy hedonism of Pub Rock also extends into Australian Hip-Hop, Blues and Country. Like it or not, it is a musical reflection of who we are and who we want to be – informal, inclusive and wildly colonial. And we do it so fucking well.

But none do it better than Australian hard rock’s once and future kings, Rose Tattoo. Formed around 1976, Rose Tattoo have never diverged from the path of perfect, flint-hard rock and roll. Styled from the start in the outlaw/bikie mold they have never become a cartoon of themselves, as AC/DC have, nor have they craved the stadium lifestyle (despite playing to hundreds of thousands in Europe where they are particularly revered). The slide-guitar (originally of Pete Wells RIP, and today of Dai Pritchard) has been a feature of the band since day one, linking their sound to the dark church of the blues as it howls and moans through their music.

Earlier this year, Rose Tattoo played a couple of shows at Newtown’s Sandringham Hotel. Fans couldn’t believe their luck – here was a band on par with AC/DC but in a pub, up very close and very personal. This says as much about the band’s street ethos as it does about how they see their connection to fans – stadiums are fine but you can’t touch the people. The shows were such a success that they repeated them on December 9 & 10 at the iconic Annandale Hotel.

The December 10 show that I caught was warmed up by The Corps (square-jawed punk with Oi flavours) and Black Label (superb blues-rock royale, a little Thin Lizzy, a little Led Zep, a lot tough as nails). During their last song I remember thinking that Rose Tattoo couldn’t possibly be more filthy, more urgent than what Black Label were putting out. But if course I couldn’t have been more fuckin’ off the money, as Angry might put it.

No announcement – what could you say? – and there they were, larger than life, black, dirty white and chrome, grizzled road dogs to an illustrated man. As the guitarists plugged in, Angry Anderson took the mic by throat, berating us all with a fuckin’ this and a fuckin’ that, bourbon in hand. Over the next hour and a half, he would throttle that mic to within an inch of its life, shredding it with his paintstripper voice (a national treasure in itself). There has recently been another man out there called Angry Anderson who has dallied with questionable right-wing politics; this Angry Anderson was a different animal, a tough little dog, seemingly three feet shorter than the towering guitarists around him and yet King of this leathered, bearded, boozed up domain. All hail!

There is a particular intersection of ecstacy where all your senses are filled up to the brim and, instead of panic, you just float. When the Rose Tattoo rock machine, counted off by drummer Paul De Marco, starts to roll, you either swim or sink. At asphyxiating volume, with the twin banshees of Anderson’s voice and Dai Pritchard’s slide eating at your vitals, it is a ride like no other in rock. The swagger and loose-limbed animal grace of their grooves is up there with the Stones and the songs are deceptively simple but brilliantly built – everything paired away for maximum dramatic effect. The storytelling blues “The Butcher and Fast Eddie” reaches back to the roots of their roots and the quieter, almost country “Stuck on You” (…stuck on you, like a rose tattoo…) shows some really tasty musicianship. With lyric vistas of bad boys (Ian Rilen’s “Bad Boy for Love”), jailhouses, violence (“Black Eyed Bruiser”) and honour over the top of these irresistible anthems, the effect is one of enormous liberation. For a few hours in our dulled lives we are Rock and Roll Outlaws and we never needed anyone.

Is it stupid? Is it art? Is it the cause of the decline of Western Civilisation? Oh what a pleasure it is not to think, but to feel and to wildly chant along to “We Can’t be Beaten” because for those three minutes, we can’t be. Rose Tattoo have allowed us to join their gang and we can face any-fucking-thing.

Published December 2011 on