Midnight Oil Biography

Formed in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, in 1971, and then known as Farm, this strident band pioneered its own course in Australian rock without relying on the established network of agencies and record companies. The original nucleus of Farm comprised Andrew James (Australia; bass), Rob Hirst (b. Camden, New South Wales, Australia; drums/vocals) and Jim Moginie (b. Australia; guitar, keyboards, vocals). They were joined by law student Peter Garrett (b. 19 April 1953, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; vocals/harmonica) in 1975 and Martin Rotsey (b. Australia; guitar/vocals) the following year, at which point the quintet took the name Midnight Oil. The band took a couple of album releases to refine its songwriting style, principally by Moginie and Hirst. As 1979’s Head Injuries went gold in Australia, the imposing shaven-headed Garrett, who had by now received his law degree, began to make known his firm views on politics.

In 1980, new bass player Peter Gifford completed the most recognisable of the band’s line-ups, joining Garrett, Moginie, Hirst and Rotsey. Having signed a worldwide recording contract with CBS / Columbia Records, it was 1982’s 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, that saw the band gain mainstream radio airplay. Featuring songs about the environment, anti-nuclear sentiments, anti-war and anti-establishment songs, it also propelled the band into the international market place. They performed at many charity concerts, promoting Koori (Australian aborigines) causes in Australia and the loquacious Garrett almost gained a seat in the Australian parliament in 1984 while standing for the Nuclear Disarmament Party. The outfit became notorious for always insisting on total control over its recorded product and media releases, including photos, and when booking agencies denied the band gigs, the members organized their own venues and tours, taking advantage of the band’s large following on the alternative rock scene.

The 1984 release Red Sails In The Sunset provided Midnight Oil with their international breakthough, and the next few years saw the band touring extensively throughout the USA and Europe. While many regard Red Sails In The Sunset as their best work, subsequent albums were equally highly regarded. The band’s peak chart positions in the UK and USA were achieved with 1987’s Diesel And Dust, the album reaching UK number 19 and US number 21 and spawning the hit single ‘Beds Are Burning’. New bass player Dwayne ‘Bones’ Hillman (b. New Zealand) was introduced into the line-up in 1988. The band continued its antagonistic attitude towards major industrial companies in 1990, by organizing a protest concert outside the Manhattan offices of the Exxon oil company, who were responsible for the Valdez oil slick in Alaska. They were also prominent movers in 1993’s Clayoquot Sound Protest in Canada, and performed at several Earth Day concerts.

Although their studio releases in the 90s failed to reach the peaks of previous albums, Midnight Oil remained a powerful live act. Shortly after completing a North American tour in autumn 2001, Garrett announced he was leaving the band to work on other projects. In October 2004, he was elected as a lawmaker with the opposition Labor Party.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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