Posts Tagged ‘Narrabeen’

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 megaphoneoz.com

 

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.

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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 theorangepress.net