1980s pub rock and live venues thrived. The sticky carpet to condensation dripping from the ceiling, smoking was allowed with no schooner limits, and double shots of basically any spirit was served.
Australian music was strong – you could see a live band seven nights a week. The mighty Midnight Oil were introduced to me as a pre-teen through a mate’s brother playing new vinyl, 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 hooking me in. My admiration of the band continued for twenty years seeing multiple gigs around the country beginning with getting in underage to the Gosford leg of Diesel & Dust. No ID required, even at the bar, and I was lucky enough to be part of the amazing fundraising event – the Newcastle Earthquake relief concert.
Beginning a show performing the national anthem at Manly on Australia Day was unforgettable. Being asked on stage at Enmore to spin a song chocolate wheel looking out to the crowd putting my arm up punching the air yelling ‘Hello Sydney’ then landing the wheel on ‘Read About It’ as the band immediately started playing, was scintillating. Then there was the time Richard Wilkins (hot off Australian MTV at the time) judged a Peter Garrett dancing competition in which I entered and won receiving the grand prize of a Wet Wet Wet vinyl album that I proceeded to frisbee into the nightclub crowd from high on stage.
Filmmaker-cinematographer Ray Argall travelled with the band during a pinnacle of their career. Directly after the release of Red Sails in the Sunset, a grandiose sweat-filled tour sold out nationally. Ray with his old school camera ran amok capturing unseen moments of band members struggling to the emotions of the audience going berserk. Kept in cool storage for decades, this footage chronicles the legendary Midnight Oil in a time capsule of politics and iconic Aussie rock on the big screen in loud digital sound this weekend only.
How did you manage to gain access to the band?
RG – I knew when to turn on the camera and turn off lurking around backstage. It was mutual respect, a trust between creatives. Having worked on the ‘Power and the Passion’ music video, knowing the band well, my constant communication since 1982 was significant. At the time, the Red Sails in the Sunset tour was embarking as their biggest in terms of venues and scope to date so it was a major shift in the band’s progress. Basically I came along after asking if I could focus on a different part of the musical performance each night or backstage antics rather than a multi-camera set up on just two or three nights.
What took you so long for the footage to be released?
RG – Working constantly over many years, it kept being put back. The Oils had recorded all the shows at the Hordern (Sydney), they have very high standards but were not happy with any of the performances so they shelved the music in turn stopping me from editing. Never threw any of it out although moving house, I was tempted. My memory remembered so many raw key moments including never seen sound checks, at times the band didn’t even know I was there.
Newcastle has a close bond with the Oils. What are your memories touring the Steel City?
RG – Mostly I remember all the great material brought together for the 2015 exhibition we did at the Museum, The Making of Midnight Oil. It was obviously a special relationship with the community, every single time the response from Newcastle was tremendous. During pre-mobile phone era, there was always home-made banners or T-shirts throughout every Newcastle gig. The boys connect with the city.
How did you feel in 2002 when they announced it was all over?
RG – While not working with them at the time, it only came as a minor surprise. It was probably time for a break and Peter was well into his political aspirations. Reuning fifteen years later again, no shock. Performing and music is in their systems forever. My movie is history.
Your film shows dozens of audience members jumping on stage, where were security?
RG – Security were there as was the stage manager running in circles (laughs). Some of the audience had very elaborate plans to get up to dance with Peter. Young men and women launched themselves up waving their arms around, it became actually joining in to be part of the energy even singing a few lines into the microphone. The audience was always given latitude to do that, Peter eased them off in his own way, it mostly worked.
Will both new and old fans alike enjoy Midnight Oil 1984?
RG – We have had terrific feedback from people who remember that era or were there, they are a band that you never forget. Even a younger audience reacted loudly. Basically it was a whole bunch of people their age of another generation actively pursuing opinions voicing their political belief or movements, so they actually related. The response to the music moments are timeless, the songs live on.
MIDNIGHT OIL 1984 – Rated M, 91 min.
Fri, Sat, Sun only limited sessions:
TOWER CINEMAS – Newcastle, READING CINEMAS Charlestown.
EVENT CINEMAS – Tuggerah, Avoca Beach Theatre.
Shane A. BassettSydney Unleashed is one of Australia’s premier entertainment publications exploring the latest in lifestyle trends. From Sydney’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars to the hottest in gadgets, products, and home entertainment, Sydney Unleashed is your one-stop lifestyle platform.