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Left to right: Bones Hillman, Jim Moginie, Peter Garrett, Rob Hirst, Martin Rotsey. The Aussie rockers have been channelling their political beliefs through their fiery brand of garage rock. Given today's political and social climate, their return is a timely one.

Mixing music and politics

Legendary Australian musicians and activists Midnight Oil has reunited for a world tour that is selling out across the globe.
Aug 4, 2017 5:50 AM

MIDNIGHT Oil couldn't have chosen a better time to reform and tour; since getting together in 1976, the Aussie rockers have been channelling their political beliefs through their fiery brand of garage rock. Given today's political and social climate, their return is a timely one.

The Oils, as they are commonly known, are currently on a worldwide jaunt and will be bringing The Great Circle tour to Singapore on Aug 16.

These are their first shows in 15 years (apart from two charity concerts in 2005 and 2009) since splitting in 2002 when their lanky frontman Peter Garrett put his money where his mouth is and took the plunge into politics.

The bald headed singer served in the Australian Labor Party as a Member of Parliament before eventually becoming a Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts; while the rest of the Oils - drummer Rob Hirst, guitarists Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey, and bassist Bones Hillman - continued making music without him.

"Apart from Peter, we all had our own projects together (Moginie played in Hirst's blues band Backsliders; they also teamed up with Rotsey for progressive surf-instrumental act The Break) and apart but when the opportunity came to do Midnight Oil songs together again, we were quite happy to jump back into it," says Hirst over the phone from Paris in July, where the band returned for a second European leg after selling out the first round of shows.

The group will also be returning to America and Canada later in the year for encore performances; and the tour is named The Great Circle because it kicked off and ends in Sydney.

"We weren't really expecting people to be so enthusiastic and supportive of the band after being away for so long; it's been heartwarming to see so many familiar faces," admits Hirst.

Together with Garrett and Moginie, they formed Midnight Oil in Sydney in 1976, with Rotsey joining a year later to complete the core four that recorded the group's 1978 self-titled debut album. Hillman, a New Zealander, joined in 1987.

Right from the start, they became legendary for their hardworking ethos, playing non-stop across Australia and writing Oz rock classics such as Back On The Borderline, Bus To Bondi and Don't Wanna Be The One that connected with fans.

They broke through internationally with the release of their sixth and most commercially successful record Diesel and Dust, which incidentally turned 30 years old to the day just earlier this week. A concept album about the struggles of indigenous Australians and environmental causes - issues that have always been close to the band - it featured what is arguably their best-known hit single, Beds Are Burning.

The Oils are fierce activists who never stopped campaigning for social justice, penning songs like The Dead Heart and Redneck Wonderland, which have taken on new meanings and remain relevant even though they were written decades ago.

On stage, the band pushed their causes as fearlessly as their music: hijacking the 2000 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony by performing with the word "Sorry"scrawled across their chest after then-Australian Prime Minister John Howard refused to apologise to the country's Stolen Generation, and stopping midtown Manhattan traffic in 1990 by playing a protest concert outside the Exxon building after the Alaskan oil spill.

In keeping with the band's long-standing commitments, their carbon footprint during The Great Circle world tour will be fully offset and sustainability initiatives will be undertaken at all shows. They will also continue their collaborations with local and international environmental organisations including Greenpeace, supporting their campaigns on crucial issues such as dangerous climate change and the imminent threats to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Music-wise, the band has practiced over 170 songs that go beyond their 11 studio albums for this tour; and are playing two-hour-plus shows that sometimes include one of their classic albums in its entirety.

"We rehearsed for five months so we can play everything we have written - from B-sides to unreleased material," Hirst shares, "It feels like old times except the technology is now better - everything from the PA to how Peter can hear himself better with his in-ear monitor."

The tour also coincides with the recent release of the band's remastered CD box set called The Full Tank featuring all of their existing albums and EPs, plus a four- CD and eight-DVD trove called The Overflow Tank which will include over 14 hours of previously unreleased and rare material.

Both box sets are housed in replica miniature water tanks like the one Hirst plays onstage; and there will also be a complete vinyl collection which will feature 11 remastered LPs and two EPs all cut at Abbey Road Studios in London.

But the best way to hear Midnight Oil is to catch them on stage, insists Hirst: "With our band, you need to see us 'live' to understand us - the main thing is our energy (because) there is only one way of playing our music and that's hard and full-on."

  • Midnight Oil plays at The Star Theatre on Aug 16 at 8pm. Tickets from S$98 to S$168 available from Sistic.