Monday, 10 July 2017

Grow Your Own Records- Keeping It Real!


In response to the closure of live venues and the dearth of DIY labels Grow Your Own Records was set up and has released a stream of cracking albums and EPs by the likes of Anthrax (UK), The System, Sanction This, Active Slaughter and The Fleas (a personal favourite). As they say in the interview their intention is to create a space for bands they have an affinity with, maybe that's why it has maintained it's vibrancy and relevance since its first release five years ago.   

Could you give us a brief overview of Grow Your Own Records-what made you decide to set up Grow Your Own Records? How long have you been going?
We originally started releasing our own Anthrax material as Happy Release records in 2007, specifically for our One Last Drop album, a retrospective of recordings including the Crass and Small Wonder singles as well as live recordings. Then in 2012 we put out an album of new material called All For The Cause under the Grow Your Own label.

What was your first release after Anthrax?
Oscar/Gary had always wanted to start a label, and so put out the first non-Anthrax release in May 2015. It was a 7” EP featuring new tracks from The System, Virus and Bug Central.

How does GYOR operate? As mates, as a collective, a co-op?
GYO is mainly run by Oscar Anthrax and Steph Anthrax/Hagar. We are both in bands and busy with other stuff as well so it’s a real labour of love and operates quite shambolically at times… The records are put together in true DIY fashion on our kitchen table, some are more labour intensive than others – we print and cut out some of the covers at home and the days before release are a frenzy of folding, gluing and stapling. We frequently spread chaos in the local post office when posting out large numbers of records on release date.

Do you have your own recording studios and means of production?
Not yet, but we are trying to set up a GYO mobile recording unit. Watch this space! Anthrax and some of the bands released by GYO have recorded at Ranscombe Studios in Rochester, with Jim Riley. As well as being great technically, Jim is also really good at instinctively “getting” what different bands are trying to achieve. A lot of the bands also arrange their own recordings and send us the results, but we do like being involved in the recording process if bands are interested in working with us in that way.

How have things changed in terms of production-has the resurgence of vinyl impacted you?
We operate in quite a small, niche market so I don’t think this has really affected us.

What would GYOR’s mission statement read like? What role would you hope it would fulfill?
I suppose the preamble to the fanzine that comes with the first compilation CD says it all. Basically we were fed up with live venues being forced to close and with there being very few DIY independent labels out there putting out new material, and we really wanted to promote and provide a space for bands that we liked and with shared values. We also wanted to make it as accessible as possible by keeping prices low, but without compromising the quality of the sound or packaging. We love racking our brains over the different format of the covers, and doing design and artwork, but are also happy to give bands the opportunity to express that side of things themselves if they prefer. We’d also like to work with more with different artists. Digital artist Paul Trew did an amazing cover for The System’s new album Slave To The Machine, and has just done a great poster for us for the next GYO Fest.



What attracts you to a band? What are you looking for in a band to release something by them? Would those criteria be primarily political or musical?
We have quite eclectic musical tastes, and if the sound hits our ears and we like it, that is pretty much it! If we had to analyse it I think it would have to have a melody even if on the hardcore end of punk, and something with a bit of quirkiness or emotion with an individual voice coming through. If the music is great then it doesn’t matter if the words are not political, but then what is political? If the words reflect a true experience or emotion then that is important and what music and should be addressing as well. Having said that we are obviously part of the anarcho-punk tradition and do appreciate a Political lyric.

Is there a GYOR sound?
Not really 🙂 What we’ve put out so far ranges from Sanction This to Flowers in the Dustbin, quite different beasts musically.

How is DIY/grassroots punk doing at the moment, is it thriving? Have the last seven years of class war masquerading as austerity led to a renewal in left-wing punk?
Yes it is thriving, and we’re really happy to be a part of it all again. It’s better the second time around – we’ve all grown up a bit and there is very much a punk family feeling around a lot of the things we do. As with any scene there is always a bit of conflict, but on the whole it’s very supportive and collaborative. I’m not sure that “left-wing punk” would describe it all as a lot of it is anarchist and outside of the political party system, but however the bands would describe themselves I think that a common theme would be that austerity is in reality a war on the working classes, the disabled, and the poor. But before austerity there was a lot to protest about too for example with New Labour, be it war or their continuation of Thatcher’s project to privatise (dismantle) the welfare state.

OK fantasy time! What musician/band would you love to release an album by if you could!? You’re allowed to time travel!
Gary: Naked, a Kent band from the 1980s.
Steph: The Raincoats, my all-time favourite band.

What releases have you got planned?
Our latest release is a 3 track 7” single by Active Slaughter.
Future releases on the horizon are:
    A-Heads/PedAgree Skum 7” EP
    Mindframe EP
    Bug Central EP
    Birds Of A Feather Flock Together 2nd compilation CD
    A compilation CD of all of the singles so far
    10” collection of new material from various bands
    New Anthrax LP
And more in the pipeline as well.

Last November you put on a GYOR Mini Festival at The Dublin Castle, any plans for another in 2018?
Yes, the first one was like a big party and everyone seems to have enjoyed it so we do have plans for another one this autumn. It will be at The Gunners in Finsbury Park, London on Saturday 11th November. It’s bigger this time, starting at 1pm and featuring 11 GYO bands (see flyer below).





Saturday, 27 May 2017

Eagle Spits and Friends: Empires Fall.


Cover by John Dean.


‘Painting is not made to decorate apartments. It's an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy’.(1) - Picasso. The same can be said of all art.

Schnews used to have a strap line that read something like ‘If you’re not pissed off you’ve not been paying attention’. Eagle Spits has been paying attention.

Eagle is probably not his birth name but it does seem to suit a character who 40 years after his initial involvement in punk is still going strong- still angry, hopeful, humorous, militating for change. He started writing poetry when he was fourteen and while some of the subject matter may have changed over time the themes have stayed pretty constant because the problems in a hyper capitalist, racist, militaristic, patriarchal society remain pretty constant.

Seeing The Stranglers on TOTP performing ‘No More Heroes’ was Eagle’s introduction to punk but he didn’t settle for a punk culture of fast music and studded leather jackets, he hung round with The Clash at a gig in Peterborough, got ‘Feeding of the 5000’ by Crass discovered anarchism, met the ‘Agitator from Nazareth’, and decided that changing the world was a much better option than giving up on it. And that went for punk as well as he wrote in 2014 ‘...’Yes’ I am a punk if punk is an attitude but ‘No’ if it’s someone who just consumes generic, unchallenging crap.. I’m still naive enough to want to change the world and despite it's problems believe the punk scene can be a major part of that’ (2).

Eagle quotes one of his heroes Joe Strummer as saying “I thought we were a fucking punk band. I thought that meant we could play what we wanted!’ (2) Eagle has followed the same path, a book of poetry Slap Bang In The Middle of a Contradiction, The Poor Geezers, Spitune, Eaglespitshexx have given expression to spoken word, industrial noise, collaborative cacophonies. But he hasn’t just made lots of noise he also runs ‘Punk 4 The Homeless’ putting on gigs each month, raising money to take kids off the streets of South America and into the safety of orphanages away from the hands and feet of local cops.  

But all Eagle’s hyperactivity, all his thrashing around is with a purpose, with an aim; He wants you to WAKE UP! In the Old Testament there were prophets who railed against the injustice and inequality of their time. Often ignored and misunderstood these figures challenged the powerful, spoke up for the weak, and were occasionally confrontational.  On the album Empires Fall Eagle also manages to achieve all three! The album consists of 52 tracks of political, social and spiritual comment; a commentary on the contemporary world. You won’t agree with it all, at times you’ll be annoyed but you are likely to come away from this album with a more accurate understanding of the UK in the early 21st Century. This isn’t the Guardian telling you what it has heard, via a third party, life is like for the JAMs and the not at all managing this is the voice of someone who is well acquainted with life at the bottom of the pile. This isn’t pretty, it isn’t slick, it’s dark, you’ll find it uncomfortable but it does have an authenticity, immediacy and integrity you just might find arresting.  

Much of Empires Fall is readings from Slap Bang In The Middle of a Contradiction with about another twenty rants/poems/tracks. Of these later pieces ‘One Million Houses’ (mix), ‘NHS’ (read by Rachel Joy), ‘Glimmer’ and ‘4George’ (with Asa Thomas), ‘Faceless Killers’(mix) and the humorous ‘Musteloid Menace In Our Midst’ particularly stand out.

Intense and with a sense of slightly fractured continuity even in its form this album manages to mirror the lived experience of many and if you think punk can include a DIY diversity of expression that militates for progressive change, if you think punk is at its best when it’s informed, pissed off but hopeful, then you might want to give Empires Fall a go.

Empires Fall is jointly released and distributed by Thumper Punk Records and Raven Faith Records and should be released summer 2017.
  



Bibliography.
  1. http://musicculturevision.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/eagle-spits-in-response-to-questions.html

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Argonaut; "Self-determination is a really potent political part of punk".


Describing themselves on Facebook as ‘purveyors of female fronted alternative punk rock’ and citing The Velvet Underground, Psychedelic Furs, Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey among others as influences Argonaut evolved out of an original two piece of Nathan and Lorna releasing their first eponymous album in 2012 and then Try in 2015. Impressed by their set at Loud Women Fest last year and even more impressed by their donating of all profits from their EP Not Rich to DPAC an interview seemed well overdue...
Could you give us the backstory to Argonaut-why, how and when did you get together?
Nathan: It started as a love story - a practical excuse for Lorna and I to spend time together and share our innermost feelings! Long story. We first gigged and recorded as a two piece with anyone who wanted to be in a band and play bass guitar. Lorna actually played bass and synth for the first gigs and a cardboard cutout of R2 D2 presided over the drum machine.  We recorded about 100 songs, six self-produced albums in our basement flat in Camden. We then signed to a London based independent label and reworked our most commercial songs for the first album. Which is when Abby joined so we could play the songs live. Our good friend Paul joined us on bass and then Rob on drums.  
Have you had a fairly stable line up?
N: Apart from the rhythm section! Joules stepped in as producer for the second album and picked up the bass when Paul left to focus on his mail order record business. We had a moment of panic when Rob left - drummers are hard to replace - but through the beauty of social networking we found Omz, who is happy to commute from Aldershot. The rest, as they say is history!
Have personnel changes brought about musical changes?  
N: Not really, I always think of Argonaut as the drums at the back, Lorna at the front and some interesting fuzzy noises in between! Everyone has always been free to bring what they want to the songs and somehow it's always been pretty consistent.
How would you describe your sound? Eclectic indie pop/rock?
N: Dark indie rock. Female fronted indie rock. Post 1991 punk rock is my favourite at the moment.
Did you have a clear idea of the sort of music you wanted to make from the start?
N: Punk/ DIY mentality. Strong vocals, catchy tunes, interesting guitars and literate lyrics. My idea was to always try to make the music that I wanted to hear. To express feelings, thoughts and ideas in a cool and exciting way.
Who would you cite as musical influences?
Here goes!
Nathan: The Velvet Underground, Nirvana, Pixies, The Psychedelic Furs, The Chills, Manic Street Preachers, Mercury Rev, Mansun, David Bowie, Eels...
Lorna: Siouxsie and the Banshees, Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Doors, Madonna, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, Suede, Nine Inch Nails.
What sort of themes and subjects do your songs deal with? Have they changed over time?
N: Love, death, the terrible things we do to each other, sci- fi books and films - parallel universe theory via Philip Pullman was a big theme at the start. Social media has crept in as subject matter recently, especially in relation to the side of their souls people are prepared to share.
If they have is that due to a changing UK or to changes within yourselves and your circumstances?
N: Both I guess - as we get older I think the lyrics become wiser - more consistent possibly and a bit less naive! Hopefully we are more original and less derivative musically, more carefully thought out sounds anyway - now that we can afford the guitars and effects we want.
As far as the UK is concerned my formative years were late eighties early nineties - Thatcher and Reagan - not much has changed politically or in the mainstream media. The UK has certainly moved on in humanitarian terms however, wiser, more tolerant, less naive I like to think.
You released your first album in 2013, your second Try in 2015,  and are about to start work on a third. Has your sound changed over that time?
N: Try nailed the Argonaut sound. 1990s alternative production at it's best, I always think of Nirvana, Mansun or Sonic Youth in terms of high quality, emotive production. Lately we have been really developing a great live sound/ feel which we want to try to capture on the next recording.
What can we expect from the third album?
Argonaut Forever!
N: We are recording a new album at the end of May. The plan is to capture the band as live as possible, playing in the moment without any overdubs, editing or manipulation.
We are booked into Bally Studios in Tottenham with London's answer to Steve Abini - Dotan Cohen aka The Sound Mechanic.
We aim to record new songs and some live favourites. The finished album will be a CD only release, probably limited to 100 numbered and signed copies.
Hopefully this project will capture Argonaut forever at our most honest and exciting! To mark the event we are also considering launching the Argonaut Forever CD, T Shirt or a combo package as a pre-order through a crowd funding website.
How does a song happen in Argonaut? Are you very collaborative and organic or is there a main songwriter?
N: Graham Coxon once described songwriting as alchemy and I thoroughly agree. Keep an open mind and pluck the song from the ether. My best songs are written in five minutes, the chords and lyrics just materialise. Bob Dylan composes lyrics whilst walking and that's often the case for me too. I live in London and spend a lot of time walking. I write most of the songs but often Lorna picks up a bass and instantaneously comes up with a note sequence, similarly a title or freeform lyrics. Again, the songs just materialise from this witchcraft! I will often record bass and drum machine demos and then everyone is free to interpret at will.
When you go into the studio is it with completed songs or are they still a work in progress?
N: Completed songs if we are paying or time limited. If we are recording at home then it's very much a case of capturing the song in its initial raw glory and editing and nurturing as the song dictates.
In 2016 you released an EP Not Rich with the proceeds going to Disabled People Against Cuts. Would you classify yourselves as a political band? Where would you place yourselves politically?
N: Labour. My day job is teaching. Yes, we are a political band. Self-determination is a really potent political part of punk. Nirvana are my favourite political band - the personal and political are inseparable, personal freedom is a political fundamental. Injustice is a huge creative catalyst and the best songs are protest songs. The Smiths are a great protest band, The Jam and Billy Bragg are great human rights and party politics bands. ‘Not Rich’ is a political song but also very personal and spiritual. We wanted to make sure any money made went to a good cause. It was We Shall Overcome 2016 week and DPAC seemed an often overlooked area of cutbacks and austerity.
You’ve been quite involved with Loud Women in London, how did that come about?
N: Abby is good friends with Cassie Fox who was always extremely complimentary and encouraging in supporting Argonaut. When we were asked to play the first Loud Women gig we were truly honoured - and went on to play loads more including the fantastic first festival and the album launch.
And how is Loud Women going? In fact how is the feminist DIY scene in London doing generally? From outside London it looks very vibrant!
N: I was very much into Huggy Bear and Linus when Riot Grrrl first surfaced - Loud Women is a worthy successor and we are really proud to have been included amongst the first wave. So many amazing groups and so many amazing people have been given the opportunity to perform in so many safe venues. It's a very important movement which the mainstream media can't ignore for much longer.
More widely, how healthy is the grassroots music scene. Is it coping OK with venue closures?
N: We had a monthly residency at the Rhythm Factory - then it closed. The Silver Bullet hosted amazing Loud Women gigs - until it closed. The first Argonaut Club acoustic night was at Bohemia - which then closed. Seems like a pattern forming but I don't think Argonaut are entirely to blame! The grassroots scene is never going to be able to compete with rents and rates and money and business. Which reminds me, on our honeymoon in New York Lorna and I frequented CBGBs and then.....!
However, so many people making so much good music will always find a stage and an audience - even if at first it's just each other. There seems to be a really healthy scene developing with bands putting on their own shows with like minded bands. We have met some amazing people doing this. So much love and positivity and so little ego - doing it because it is fun - and because not being in a band is simply not an option. Great gigs at venues like the Gunners - usually free. The promoter paying the sound person and any bar deposit for the privilege of hosting a great party. We do this at The Betsey Trotwood on our Argonaut Club acoustic nights and so far they have been a huge success. So yes, a very healthy scene - so long as no one expects to get rich or famous!
I caught you live last year and really enjoyed your set. Which do you prefer songwriting and recording or playing live-or are they complementary?
N: One of the best things about being in a band is the variety of creative outlets. So many ways to express and achieve, so many new skills to learn. I really do like all the aspects, they really are complimentary and each provides its own thrill. Live is great fun, especially for the last three songs of the set, and the beer tastes  especially sweet afterwards!
More generally what writers, thinkers, bands have you found inspiring and been influenced by?
Nathan: J D Salinger, Philip Pullman, Lou Reed, Kurt Cobain, Leonard Cohen, Jim Morrison, Morrissey, The Monkees, Marty Mcfly...
Lorna: Kathleen Hanna, Trent Reznor,  Pretty in Pink, Desperately Seeking Susan.

Referenced.
Palmer, J. (2015) ‘Argonaut-Uber Rock Interview Exclusive’ http://www.uberrock.co.uk/interviews/62-november-interviews/16304-argonaut-uber-rock-interview-exclusive.html

Friday, 5 May 2017

The Franklys 'Are You Listening?' Complex, Catchy, Energetic.


Last autumn I went to the first Loud Women Festival in London not really knowing what to expect. What I got was a day of great music! One of the stand out bands that day, and I hadn’t previously heard of them, were The Franklys. They came on early evening (I think- I was a bit time warped by then) and were outstanding; mesmeric, energetic, playing a kind of danceable garage rock. When I got home I checked them out online and turned out they had played Download Festival earlier that year! The Franklys, comprised of Jennifer Ahlkvist, Fanny Broberg, Zoe Biggs and Lexi Clark, had a single ‘Castaway’ out later in the year and I went along with my partner to the single launch-another excellent performance of songs that have been described variously as ‘classic old school rock’, ‘fun filled garage rock with a pop twist’ and ‘a noisy garage rock buzzsaw’! (1)
I got home and played ‘Castaway’ a few times but I felt it didn’t quite do them justice, it’s good but I was pretty sure that it wasn’t an accurate reflection of their quality,they were/are much better than it indicated. So I was quite intrigued to hear their album Are You Listening?. Was I right or wrong? Was my memory or ‘Castaway’ more accurate?!...
Are You Listening? is superb!! It starts off with the aforementioned ‘Castaway’ which now recontextualised is a good, straightforward rock track elevated by superb guitar work, in fact one of the exciting features throughout this album is Fanny Broberg’s lead guitar! But from here the album just keeps getting better!
Complex, catchy, energetic, nimble rock that, yeah, fulfills some of the criteria for being ‘classic old school rock’ but is far too light on its feet to be compared to the more lumpen bands that term can conjure up. The Franklys might cite Led Zeppelin as an influence but their music is much more agile, much more interesting.
Lyrically it explores relational themes but often in an metaphoric, poetic way. Take for instance ‘Imaginarium’

“I’m in a tropical storm,
Watching the world deform,
I’m imagining you, I’m imagining me,
I’m imagining a future that we’re yet to see,
I’m chewing almonds by the bed,
Part of me’s longing to be dead,
Cos I can’t remember the last time that we laughed.”

Their songs deal with relationships, growth and development, war and democracy (I think, or is it metaphoric like ‘Total War’ by Comsat Angels?), in short they explore the darker side of the human condition.
On this album Jennifer Ahikvist proves herself to be a very sophisticated vocalist, able to emote without ever being melodramatic,  Fanny Broberg excels on lead guitar, live she is amazing (including visually), and here too her playing is awesome! And having seen them live, and now heard this, there is no doubt that Zoe Biggs and Lexi Clark are a tight, creative, equally talented rhythm section.  
Stand out songs for me at the moment are ‘Keeper’, ‘Don’t Kill Your Friends’ and ‘Imaginarium’ but the whole album is overflowing with talent, craft, energy and danceable, catchy rock.
The Franklys have successfully captured the excitement and energy of their live performances on this release and if you like rock in any of its various forms then you should check this out.
File under ‘Excellent!’
 

Ref.
  1. https://www.facebook.com/pg/thefranklys/about/?ref=page_internal

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Midnight Oil are Back!

Photo courtesy of Midnight Oil.

Midnight Oil released their first eponymous album in 1978 but it was their fourth album 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 released in 1982 that brought them to global attention. From early on their politics were firmly embedded in the music but concerns about the plight of indigenous communities, the environment and militaristic power were not limited to lyric writing as they continuously involved themselves in these issues. In 1986 they toured Aboriginal communities with Warumpi Band exposing themselves to the appalling conditions many of these communities lived in. In 1990 they played a guerrilla set outside the Exxon HQ in protest at the Exxon Valdez oil spill. In 2000 at the Olympic closing ceremony they played ‘Beds are Burning’ dressed in black with the word ‘Sorry’ emblazoned on their clothing as an apology to Aboriginal people for the forcible removal of children from the end of the 1800s to the 1970s. These and other political acts fed into, and were entwined with, the series of albums they released throughout the 80s and 90s. In the 90s they released a stream of diverse, expansive albums that evidenced a band unwilling to settle down in any way. These peaked (for me) with Redneck Wonderland. Released in 1998 it was a unambiguous, confrontational response to the racist, anti Aboriginal politics of the Australian Right. Four years later they released their last studio album Capricornia and played Europe in the summer, including Fierce Festival in London. Later that year Peter Garrett left the band to enter parliamentary politics being elected for the Australian Labour Party in 2004. They reformed a couple of times to play benefit gigs in 2005 and 2009 but it seemed that Midnight Oil had been a great band-past tense-until last year when they announced they would be reforming to tour in 2017! (1,2)
When Midnight Oil announced ‘The Great Circle’ World Tour Echoes and Dust decided to go for it, contacted them to see if an interview could be arranged and at 22.30 on a Thursday evening (07.30 in Australia, I think) a very pleasant lady rang up and put Peter Garrett through to chat over some questions!      
In 2002 I was lucky enough to see you at Fierce Festival in London -and later that year you left for a role in parliamentary politics. At the time did you see it as putting Midnight Oil on hold-a kind of hiatus-rather than an ending? Did you always suspect you’d be back some day?
PG: Yes although probably not as clearly formed as that, Tim. I think when I wrote my Memoir, I was writing it all, how I felt, and I said something like ‘Somehow the feeling inside was ‘That’s not the end of it’’ I mean we had done to much together, played for such a long time and we had had such a singular vision and a singular path if you like. It wasn’t hard to imagine that at some point down the track if we were still healthy and alive and enjoying making music that we wouldn’t do it together, and of course that has proved to be the case.
You reformed a couple of times for benefit gigs didn’t you?
PG: They were really big benefits that came along. I think the second time, by that stage I was actually a minister in the Government, that was an interesting feeling to take the suit off and leave all the business of trying to reform Australia’s schools behind, and jump up on stage at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and play but it was for a good cause and that kind of made it work.
I was going to ask you about that Peter, you were elected as an MP in 2004 and filled various positions before stepping down in 2013-how did you find that 10 years? It was quite a period of turmoil with the Rudd/ Gillard struggles- do you look back on the period positively? Were you able to achieve some good things?
PG: Yeah. Ironically I found that because day to day politics was so distracting and we had leadership tensions that essentially dogged the Government from day one, along with a couple of other colleagues we decided to put our heads down and try and get as much done as we could under the radar. And I’m proud of what we were able to do especially in the Gillard Government. They were big reforming Governments, they got a lot under their belts. Not all of it was perfect,and as a high profile celebrity candidate I naturally had the Murdoch press in particular gunning for me on a daily basis and that’s not always pretty, but I feel very strongly that it was a time of highly focused work and I’m not an either/or person, I think that you can work both inside and outside the system. I’ve worked in both places and I’m proud of what we were able to achieve. On the environment we took the Japanese to court on international whaling and won that case. I legislated a resale royalty scheme for visual artists so that they got paid some royalties, painters in our country weren’t in the same position as authors or even musicians. We created some huge indigenous protected areas in the remote parts of the country and of course in education we actually completely changed and reformed the education system in our own country so that children from poorer backgrounds could get more resources in education. These are really tangible things to be working on...you make a difference.
To be honest you should probably be proud that the Murdoch press was gunning for you as well!
PG: Haha exactly. Well, they didn’t kill and bury me that’s the main thing, I’m still alive, I’m still here, haha!
Was your decision to reform and tour due to internal reasons, the love of the music, friendship or was it a response to external factors like the mainstreaming of nationalism and xenophobia, the lethargy of any meaningful response to climate change? Internal or external reasons?
PG: All internal really. Good question though because those external factors obviously bear down on us and for a band like Midnight Oil who have been outspoken, have been clear about its politics and not afraid to step out and give physical evidence to them, those external matters obviously meant something to us. But, no, it was really a question of if we sat in a room together and we started to talk would we talk about playing. I always had a feeling that there was a possibility it could happen. They had gone off and formed other bands but they had never really found a singer they could work with and I think once we got into a room and began the simple act of turning on amplifiers and creating rhythms and sounds there was a pretty clear sense that this could work and there was a lot of life and a lot of spark in what was happening.
Like it always has been since day one, Tim, it has to happen for us, in a room or on a stage first, and then whatever falls out from that we get to share with the rest of the world.
I think I saw you in a televised interview saying you felt like there is ‘plenty left in the tank’?
PG: Yeah it’s amazing, I’m pretty astonished by it actually! It’s not a line that’s created in order to essentially explain what we’re doing, we wouldn’t be going out to play, I don’t think, unless we’d felt this sense that there is so much power and so much intensity in playing the songs again. That was kind of an organic thing which really worked for us, that meant that charging out the front door and getting on the stage somewhere would be a prospect we could really wrap our heads around and have a crack at!      
That kind of ties in with my next question, Peter. How has it been coming back to Midnight Oil songs-do they still feel like a good fit with who you are as people now? Do they still feel like they fit with you even though some of them may be 20, 25, 30 years old?
PG: It’s been really interesting to reacquaint ourselves and myself with some of these songs, the short answer is most of them, again surprisingly and sometimes unnervingly, do. Probably some of the early material you wouldn’t necessarily express yourself quite that way again, and some of them have got the blissful naivety of youth, haven’t they! You’ve got to love that even if you’re not feeling quite like that! But others (sound as though they’re) as much written for today as they were for the times they were created in. And without wanting to sound too grandiose I think what’s surprised us and surprised me more than anything else is actually that some of the material in particular essentially has presaged the time that we are in now, in other words as artists we didn’t know it, but we were tinkering around with ideas and themes and just expressing ourselves in song and you go back and you look at a line and you go ‘Far Out, that is actually about today!’ haha
OK so you feel some of them are almost prescient really?
PG: Yeah, exactly. I was compiling a little list the other day, just scribbling down some stuff on my Mac about them, and I do feel that some of them have been a little bit like that. Y’know it’s not intentional, of course you couldn’t claim that for one second, but it’s interesting when you uncover it.  
Have you been surprised by the response to your tour-I noticed you’ve been adding dates hand over fist really! Including in London. That must be really encouraging!
PG: Yeah, haha, completely surprised! Haha. I sort of expected it in Australia up to a point but even Australia exceeded everybody's expectations I think, including the people we are working with. A lot of people experienced the band here physically, we were in their lounge room, we were in their hotel or in their surf club or whatever and I think that carries you a certain distance, but nothing quite prepared us for the response in other places and how quick it was too y’know, the fact that everything sold out pretty much straight away!  
In Europe we have worrying developments like Brexit, FN in France, Orban in Hungary. On the edge of Europe we have Erdogan in Turkey and of course Trump in the US- the general drift to the right has been going on in the UK for maybe 40 years, but there has been a major shift again recently. Has that been similar in Australia? Or had the major shift occurred when you wrote Redneck Wonderland? Was that a response to that rightwing shift?
PG: Haha, well, yeah, good question. Redneck Wonderland was a response to the beginnings of that shift and in Australia it faded for some period of time but it has started to ebb back just very recently, over the last 18 months. I don’t believe that it will gain as much traction here as it has both in the States and in Europe. It’s worth remembering, particularly with America, that in some ways the energy that is created by xenophobic, chauvinistic people is an energy fuelled out of anger and insecurity, and it’s important, from my perspective at least, that people who don’t share those views create significant energy of their own. The Australian political system is interesting inasmuch that it’s compulsory for people to vote. If it had been compulsory voting in America I doubt whether Trump would have been elected, and I feel the same when it came to the Brexit vote. Putting that aside for the moment we are certainly living in much more charged times and those sections of the population who, for whatever reason, feel threatened and angry about life are throwing their weight around and of course, in America in particular, they are aided and abetted by a rapacious assemblage of truly evil business forces who see nothing but the opportunity to profit at everybody else's expense in a completely unfettered way under the guise of the nationalistic policies that someone like a Trump espouses.
On Capricornia, Peter, you had a song called ‘Tone Poem’ and you talked about “the invisible hand clutching at the throat”. Someone once said one of the problems with the invisible hand is you also get an invisible elbow of social and environmental destruction. In ‘Tone Poem’ you also sung “heat haze refugee-no one panic” we are already seeing millions of people suffering the effects of climate change. You’ve got a long history of campaigning around environmental concerns-for instance the ‘Black Rain Falls’ gig-is that an issue you’ll be drawing attention to again on this tour?
PG: I don’t see how anyone can avoid it even if they’re a pop band from central London or rap artists from the ghetto of L.A., the pervasiveness and the enormity, and if you like the stark existential challenge of dangerous climate change inevitably means you are going to respond in one way or another, short of sticking your head in the ground like an ostrich and not pulling it out until it's all over. I think for us we see it particularly in things like the Great Barrier Reef, the state of the Great Barrier Reef, we’ve had a couple of really severe coral bleaching events which happen really when the water gets too warm on the reefs. This is one of the great natural wonders of the world, it’s the kind of place lots of English tourists would go and visit if they come to Australia and they’d come back replenished and recharged. It’s a major employer of Australians, particularly young Australians, it can be seen from outer space, the astronauts could see the Great Barrier Reef when they’re blasting around in space. So we want to highlight, to some extent, and connect with, the groups and the people who are working on these issues as we travel through South America and America and into Europe. At the same time we’re not coming out and saying we’re specifically going to do x and y just yet, there’s enough big mouthing going on in the world. It’s important for us to connect with people who are working on these issues and find ways of working constructively with them. So we want to go to places first and touch base with people and then we’ll work out what we’re going to do but it’s inevitable that we’ll do things, and in Australia particularly of course. There will be a lot of what I think are pretty basic sustainability principles attached to our touring, offsetting our emissions and those sorts of day to day things. But much more importantly it will be about challenging the powerful forces who seem intent on committing suicide on the planet, they need to be confronted whenever and however.    
Thankyou, that ties in with another question I was going to ask actually. There is a book ‘Inventing the Future’ by Srnicek and Williams, in it they write that political change often has to be preceded by cultural change (3) -I think in the UK you can start to see the emergence of some bands that will maybe bring about that cultural change, bands like Sleaford Mods, Gnod, Idles and there have been some books, like Russell Brand’s ‘Revolution. And I wondered do you see Midnight Oil as part of that smashing of what Gramsci called the ‘cultural hegemony’ of the neoliberal right? Do you hope that Midnight Oil can disrupt that top down discourse?
PG: I think we always have, almost from the start, I don’t think we necessarily fall into... I don’t think we’re easily categorized, in doing that because part of our response has come about as singers and performers experiencing something and then reacting to it, as opposed to analysing something and then articulating a response. There is a difference between those two things and the line is blurred between them, in some ways, but certainly I think that is what we’ve always done but as much from the point of view of a link between us and the people that we’re playing to and our audience have seen, as it were, what is affecting the both of us. One way of answering this question, or elucidating this question in an answer is to point out that when we began playing in Australia we had a brief period when we were playing in the inner city areas, the critics and the taste makers were supportive of the band and we appreciated their support, but we didn’t stay there for long, we went into the suburbs very quickly. Because we felt that that’s where most Australians, and most young Australians, were and we felt that’s where our natural affinities lay, and I think in doing that we were, in a sense, saying we are not about providing an artistic or cultural viewpoint that we then want to join up with others to essentially educate or hector or get caught up in a cult of intellectualism. We were really saying if we join hands with people or if we make music with people, if we share sweat with people in a place, we’ll each come to understand one another better and then we’ll call things the way that we see them.
So something like the ‘Black Fella/White Fella’ tour?
PG: Well, that’s one good example, yeah. And of course we‘ve worked with groups, NGO groups and others. I was the President of the big national environment organisation here, The Australian Conservation Foundation, I did two terms with the ACF and we had big campaigns where we were taking on the government and taking on the forest industries and others and in some cases we had some losses but we probably had more wins than losses at that stage and that was mobilising people on the ground to be out on the street and to be involved in political action and campaigns. That’s been a big part of our extra curricular activities and a big part of mine but I think from the point of view of the band it is still about ensuring that the way in which the music is created and what’s happening in the performance space is almost like the hallowed ground that you have to occupy first.        
What can we expect on the tour Peter, have you been adapting existing material at all or will you be road testing new stuff?
PG: Not sure yet haha
Any chance of a new album anywhere on the horizon at all?
PG: Well, we’ve got a big re-issue coming through, we managed to find some songs that didn’t end up on some of the earlier albums, so there’ll be a little bit of new material in the sense of material that people haven’t heard before. Jeanie (?) has spent a lot of time collating tapes and stuff’s been remastered and it’s looking pretty good actually, I have to say it’s the kind of thing I would probably like! It’s a creative band and people will want to record, whether we do or not I think will depend on how we go for the first run of the tour, it may be that we just do a couple of things which feel right at the time. And in terms of material we’ve had about eight hours worth of material, we had about 160 songs that we’ve been toying around with so we’re just paring those down now. We will circulate a lot of material through the set and I think that they’ll be quite expansive nights but we don’t really know yet because we haven’t played to anybody. We’ll figure it out!
And what have you been reading lately Peter, what books can you put us on to that would be helpful?
PG: Well, it’s funny, again it’s a terrific question, but I actually haven’t been reading that much, I think that’s partly because I did a huge amount of reading and a lot of reading of dense kind of material especially when I was Education Minister and I needed almost to completely strip off a layer of skin and sort of almost try and find a way of going back to being a bit more like a blank slate again, just absorbing things around me. And I actually travelled out into the desert with Martin Rotsey from Midnight Oil and a couple of other people and that’s where I decided actually to write some songs myself and I did a little project last year and we toured it and it went well, (the album) A Version of Now which I never expected to do, a completely accidental record y’know! I certainly didn’t want to start a solo career or something like that, I wasn’t thinking like that at all! I guess the gist of what I’m saying is I wanted to come back and essentially be much more open to the pulse of the landscape and the sense of people talking to people, spending time with people. I read a bit of The New Yorker and I’m reading a couple of local books of authors that I like, who are Australian writers, there is a writer here, guy called Tim Winton who I like a lot, his latest book ‘Island Home’ is worth reading if you are interested in a good writer growing up in Australia. But I haven’t been reading much else along the way.

A big thanks to Peter for his time and to Ben Pester and Dan Salter for organising.

Very excitingly Midnight Oil are in the UK to play Eventim Apollo, London on 4 and 23 July ‘17 and have some very comprehensive Boxsets out in early May.

Photo courtesy of Midnight Oil.


 

Bibliography.
  1. Srnicek, N. and Williams, A. (2015) ‘Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work’ Verso. London and Brooklyn, NY.