Aussie Rockers Midnight Oil Dig Deep Into Their Back Catalog for Reunion Tour

Guitarist Jim Moginie and drummer Rob HIrst, both of whom played together in an Australian band that would eventually morph into Midnight Oil, found 6-foot 4-inch Australian National University student Peter Garrett by placing an ad for a lead singer. Looking to add “charisma” to the group, Moginie knew they had something special when Garrett auditioned way back in 1976.

“Peter came and looked at us suspiciously like ‘Who are these guys?’” recalls Moginie during a phone call from Spain, where he was vacationing. Midnight Oil began touring again this year after a 15-year hiatus. The band performs at House of Blues on Sunday, Aug. 27. “He came and sang and I think we did ‘Locomotive Breath’ by Jethro Tull and then a free form rant that used various Australian slang terms. We looked at each and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ It was as simple as that. That’s how he got the gig. I don’t think he had a car, but he had a PA.”

The band hit the Aussie pub circuit and issued its self-titled debut in 1978. The group’s big breakthrough came with 1982’s 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Hard driving singles such as the Clash-like "Power and the Passion" and "Read About It" suggested the band’s political sensibilities that would later come to fruition.

“It’s got a special place in my heart,” Moginie says about the album, which the band produced in London. “We grew up in the pubs and clubs in Australia. We were making punk rock thrash records that were kind of brutal. The radio didn’t touch them, not that that was our priority. But as anyone in a band can tell you, it’s a lot easier if you have some support behind you.”

The group went to a studio in a London townhouse and recorded with Nick Launay, who had worked with XTC and Peter Gabriel.

“He was young — I think he was 22 — and full of ideas,” says Moginie. “We were like the lunatics running the asylum. We had to make that record very quickly. It did define our sound because we brought acoustic guitars in and combined it with big drum sounds and choruses and melodic sounds. It was a studio-made record but it embodied the ramshackle rock ’n’ roll going out of control down the hill feel of the band playing live.”

In 1986, the band spent several months in touring the Australian Outback and playing to remote Aboriginal communities where many of the native people  lived in extreme poverty. That experience would inspired the songs on 1987’s Diesel and Dust, an album that focused on whiate Australia’s need to come to terms with the treatment of Australia’s indigenous people

“We did music that had a message and was wrapped up with a good beat," says Moginie when asked about the album’s widespread appeal. “We wanted to say things but to say them we had both things happening. That’s what makes a great band. We had a profound experience when you discover your country. We wanted to put down what we’d seen. It was pretty simple. We were surprised it was taken on board by countries across the world. I think the artwork had something to do with it as well. What happened here was an invasion, and they were killed and driven out and no one wanted to talk about it. We wanted to recognize what happened. It’s not in the history books, all the things that happened. It’s a ‘we forget’ type of thing.”

The band began the current the Great Circle 2017 World Tour in a small Sydney club. Since launching the tour, it’s played five dates in Brazil, where it also appeared aboard Greenpeace’s the Rainbow Warrior. With the release of three new box sets — Complete Vinyl Collection (all the studio LPs and EPs), Full Tank (all the CDs and music videos) and Overflow Tank — the band has plenty of product to promote on the jaunt.

But the group’s motive for reforming is hardly financial.

“A lot of our contemporaries had died and couldn’t tour so we thought, ‘Why not?’” says Moginie. “The songs seem to have more resonance now than ever. That’s not lost on people and that’s not lost on us either. We didn’t know until we got into the rehearsal room, and we kicked some songs around, and then we sounded fresh as a daisy. We wanted to give it a go. We have now played more than 40 shows all around the world. We went, ‘If we’re going to do it, we have to travel the world.’ We signed on for another tour of active duty. We’re really enjoying it and it feels like a team effort. It’s good.”

Going through the archives for the reissue of the band’s back catalog has proven to be inspirational too. The setlists for the current tour don’t just focus on the so-called hits. Fans can expect to hear some deep tracks too.

“It was a blast,” Moginie says of sifting through the archives. “There were so many tapes and materials and notes. We also found a lot of stuff that was songs we didn’t put out, B-sides and live concerts. There was one in South Africa at Ellis Park. We didn’t even know it was filmed. We had a look at it and were like, ‘My God.’ It was wonderful to discover those things. It helped us focus now. We realized the material we recorded was great but we were playing more of the hits. We went back and learned 170 songs to give people a deeper experience. That’s been reflected in the live sets. The archives have been part of rediscovering the music. Often, when you’re in the middle of doing something, you don’t realize what you’ve got.”

Midnight Oil, 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $57-$77,

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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