Australian Times’ Lee Harte spent hundreds hours beating drums and bashing ear drums to Midnight Oil’s Scream in Blue. We thought it only fair he bends Midnight Oil drummer, Rob Hirst’s ears on the eve of their summer European tour. which includes gigs at the O2 Apollo in Manchester on 9 June and the O2 Brixton Academy in London on 13 June.
Rivers Run Red
A self-confessed luddite and late-onset bird watcher, currently Rob might be found in his little wooden fishing boat on Sydney harbour in warmer climes. Meanwhile, I’m freezing my nuts off on a two- degree bike commute to work in London.
“Well, there’s major drought happening here,” says Rob chatting to me on the phone from Oz.
“So if you want sunshine this is the place. Darling River is literally just a trickle now with dead and dying fish and just pools of water with algae in it.”
Rob cites a combination of drought and climate change.
“And the fact that irrigators upstream – cotton and rice farmers, have taken way more of their allocation in the dead of night and it’s become very political, but very bad for everyone downstream. It’s a political disaster.”
Not to be outdone on the political disaster front, I mention ‘Brexshit’ and ask Rob, “Have you seen Teresa May’s dance moves?”
“I have had the misfortune yes,” he laughs.
So, you think Pete would be up for a dance off?
“Yes, I think Pete would win hands down in a dance-off, no contest.”
Nearly 30 years ago, Midnight Oil famously played in New York on the back of a flatbed truck in protest at a giant oil spill in Alaska. I wonder if there’s any chance of them doing that again in light of the UK’s current parliamentary mess that continues to dirty its political waters?
“Well someone should. I don’t think we can do anything about the disaster of Brexit, but someone ought to because it’s a massive waste of time and money.”
Shakers and Movers
So back to what they do best, the band toured Great Circle in 2017, including a stint in the UK, with great gusto, breaking their fifteen-year hiatus. What goes on backstage is much the same as way back in 1981, but with more limbering up for Rob and Pete [Garrett] who have the more exhaustive physical act to bring to stage.
“It’s definitely not Motley Crew, ha! I drink lots of water and a bit of dark chocolate is about as wild as it gets,” Rob says.
“We also have a little practice kit backstage and play music from other artists, not our own, to limber up and get enjoying the vibe.”
What’s their aural poison then?
“We play anything and everything – from Chain to Creedence to The Clash. No Pat Boone though.” [Dean Martin: “I once shook hands with Pat Boone and the entire right side of my body sobered up.”]
Read About It
Rob enthuses it’s a really great time for Australian music. Although BBC 6 radio give Aussies quite a bit of airtime in the UK, Rob rightly suggests I might not be aware of the extent of the home-grown music scene.
“You might not know this, but the number of indigenous bands have gone through the roof. Briggs and Trials’ hip hop album from last year just charted, and people like Baker Boy [Young Australian of the Year]…the charts are full of acts that have come out of the woodwork that are first class,” he enthuses.
“A lot of it is rap and hip hop, but there’s some hard rockin’ bands as well.
“It’s just a really great time for musicians from regional areas as well as the city. It’s actually a really great time here for music.”
Power and the Passion
For aspiring drummers, even luddite Rob admits a great thing about Youtube is being able to see how great players actually play.
“Go back and see the great drummers of early last century, see what the big band drummers were doing like Jo Jones. They were sensational,” he advises.
“You can go back through the generations through Keith Moon, to Gene Krupa and the surf beat drummers. It’s endlessly fascinating.
“That inspires you to work out all your chops and rhythms, and it’s not something in your lifetime you can get bored with because there is always someone doing something different that’s hard or you can’t do.”
Best of Both Worlds
“My daughter Gabriela lives here in London so that’s what I look forward to coming to England. ” he says.
“I also think the English do the classic roast dinner, still, better than anywhere else on earth. I normally wash it down with a pint of Guinness or something. Or I’ll have a curry from the India Club in the City.”
Who knew the words foodies and road crews would go together?
“Well, I know the road crew eat really well at nice restaurants on a day off, which makes up for the truck stops in the middle of the night,” says Rob.
“The band eats really well at European festivals and fortunately for the band this tour in June and July, we are playing a lot of them. Particularly in France and Switzerland and Germany, they sit you down for a three course meal.”
Bring on the Change – new music?
And guess what: a bit of studio time has kicked things off for Midnight Oil pre-tour.
“We’ve just done a block of four weeks recording demos, so somewhere down the track there will be some new music which is really exciting.
“We will certainly be on our little warm-up kit back stage working them out, if not playing them on stage.”
Will audiences this tour be treated to a glimpse of the new stuff?
“The problem is as soon as you play this stuff live, a thousand iPhones have just captured it, so by the time you finally put it out everyone already knows it, so it ruins the surprise.”
So put your phones away, folks! Make like it’s 1981 and maybe, you never know, you might even be treated to a taste of some spicy new sounds from a rejuvenated and energised Midnight Oil.
By Lee Harte with Sara Newman