A just-released documentary catches Midnight Oil at a seminal moment in their long career.For 26 years, filmmaker Ray Argall has been sitting on some of the most compelling live concert and backstage footage of Midnight Oil, captured at a seminal moment in their career.
In 1984, Argall followed the band during the tour to promote their album Red Sails In The Sunset. It also happened to be the year frontman Peter Garrett made his first steps into the political arena as a Senate candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party.
“People think of the more current history of him (Garrett) in the band and they’d sort of forgotten that in actual fact he’d run for the Senate back in 1984,” Argall told AAP.
The filmmaker had been working with the band since 1982, first on a concert film at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney, and then on music videos for Power and the Passion and Read About It.
“It was a very busy vibrant time in the 80s with Australian music, and in particular Australian music video. There were five different shows running on television in Australia at the time showing music video content including Countdown, which was prime time,” he said.
The band granted Argall access in all areas to follow them over a dozen different performances. At the same time, Garrett was becoming increasingly vocal in Australia’s anti-nuclear movement, as genuine fear bubbled over the arms race between the US and the Soviet Union.
“(Garrett) was impressive. He was very articulate, he knew his subject, he knew his topic and he wasn’t reading off a cue sheet and he wasn’t just doing those little sound bites,” he said.
What Argall’s film also captures is the fervour of the Oils’ fans at the time; the sweaty audiences who hung on their every word and became politically and socially motivated by their music.
“Just to be side of stage during that and to see close up how performers respond to an audience, and particularly how they communicate with each other as musicians, I think that was the key thing I was interested in capturing on camera,” he said.
At the end of it all, the Oils weren’t happy with the sound quality of the live performances and didn’t want to release the footage, so Argall put it in a cool dark place.
With recent advances in digital technology, he decided to revisit the footage and created Midnight Oil 1984, which has come at a time where nuclear power is once again a topic up for discussion.
“A lot of young people who’ve seen it have really commented on that and it’s good, you know, because you’ve got a new generation of young people who can do exactly the same thing.”
* Midnight Oil 1984 is released in select Australian cinemas on May 10
Australian Associated Press