1 Written In The Heart
2 Brave Faces
3 Armistice Day
4 I’m The Cure
5 Bus To Bondi
6 Quinella Holiday
7 No Time For Games
9 Cold Cold Change
11 Koala Sprint
12 Back On The Borderline
13 Don’t Wanna Be The One
14 Wedding Cake Island
15 Stand In Line
16 No Reaction
The Old Lion show on Friday March 26, 1982 was part of a two-week run through Victoria and South Australia.
At that stage, the band were doing 180 shows a year, and firing on all eight cylinders.
Rob Hirst admits: “I’m exhausted listening back to the tape, it’s relentless! We were, excuse the pun, a well-oiled machine, angry young men against the world.”
Mark Woods, who filled in as sound engineer on the run, called it the Speed and Dust Tour. It was hot and the tour moved at a frantic pace.
Woods had just finished a run with Men At Work, with two weeks off before MAW’s first US visit.
When the Oils’ run ended in Whyalla in regional South Australia, he drove 14 hours overnight without sleep back to Melbourne, in time for the Los Angeles flight with Men At Work.
Woods didn’t mind: he was a massive fan. “I thought they were the best band in the world.
“On this run they were at their absolute peak. Much of the set was from Place Without A Postcard, which was just released four months before, so the songs sounded fresh.
“It wasn’t that they were loud, it was the power. They weren’t ‘screamy’ or harsh listening, they just had a very full solid big fat sound.”
They were all red hot players, Woods recalls, citing how Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey’s guitars intertwined, and how the Peter Gifford/ Rob Hirst rhythm section locked in.
“I loved Giffo’s playing, he was the perfect bass player for them and at his best on this tour.
“There was something about his beat which worked well with Rob’s drums, they were right on the beat, really driving it forward.”
Gifford left a few years later to become a businessman in Byron Bay.
Michael Lippold spent as much time on stage as the band, unravelling Pete’s mic leads from the guitarists’ legs as he danced manically about.
Hirst’s drum kit had to be nailed down. Not only did he attack them with exuberance, breaking pedals and sticks, but he’d also jump into the air off his stool for greater power when he landed.
Listening to the Old Lion tape, Hirst chuckles, “It reminds me of the breakneck speeds we used to play those songs!”
“The album versions chugged along but the live versions were 30% to 40% faster, if not faster.
“It’s almost as if we couldn’t wait to get to the (hire cars) and fishtail out of there!”
Also giving him a buzz on the tape were how the guitars sounded so distinctive and Garrett’s onstage patter recalling which politician or issue was irritating him in 1982.
The tape shows how the Oils were starting to musically move around at that time.
In 1981 when famed English producer Glyn Johns (Stones, Who) saw an Oils show at Selinas in Sydney, he invited them back to England to record in his new studio in Surrey.
“It was supposed to be our big break,” Hirst relates.
It wasn’t. Hirst says Johns expected them to arrive with 12 fully formed songs.
But he and Moginie, as the Oils’ main writers, had been unable to write songs due to the band’s hectic touring schedule.
Even worse, Johns failed to capture the Oils’ live roar on the record.
Hirst: “The creativity and the song writing was getting stronger. But we were frustrated with the sound on the albums so far.
“They didn’t grab you by the throat and wrestle you to the ground.
“It was only working with Nick Launay (in 1982, on the 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 album) and disassembling the Midnight Oil live sound in the studio and starting again that we started to understand studio craft.
Johns had a deal with A&M Records in America to release his productions.
A&M wanted the Oils to go back to the studio and cut a single for the American market.
The Australians gave them a two-finger salute and returned to Sydney.
The Old Lion tape captures how some of Postcard songs should have sounded.
“Armistice Day” was an example of their new-found song writing depth.
“I’ve always been obsessed with my family’s military history,” the drummer explains.
“Songs like ‘Forgotten Years’ were about my father and grandfather’s military service.
“We knew as soon as we recorded ‘Armistice Day’ that no matter what happened to the rest of the album, it was going to be the lead track.”
“I Don’t Wanna Be The One” was in the spotlight when the Oils were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2006.
Silverchair surprised them with a version with a brass band, with Daniel Johns leaving his guitar on the floor to scream feedback midway through to spray-paint “PG 4 PM” on the backdrop.
“It was a great version, and by a band at the top of their game.
“Sometimes covers don’t add to the original but the ‘Chair put in an extra Newcastle punk element which lifted the song to another level.”
“Wedding Cake Island” is an instrumental that Garrett had lyrics for but discarded in the studio.
“Powderworks” was one of the Oils’ earlier political statements, targeting politicians who lie.
LIVE At The Old Lion Adelaide 1982 is the latest initiative by the Oils to support roadies and crews in crisis.
Hirst readily admits that the members relied heavily on their crews, “we had the best sound and lighting guys in the business” and thanked them with generous bonuses each year.
On their farewell tour in 2022, Hirst’s drum tech for nine years, Clem Ryan, wanted to sit it out.
Rob rang him, “I’m not doing this tour until you’re doing this tour.”
Long-time front of house Colin Ellis wanted to retire before the run. They talked him out of it. “Retire? You’re younger than us!”
LIVE At The Old Lion Adelaide 1982 also highlights how dedicated the fans were.
Woods recalls: “Big lads, well charged up, a happy blokey crowd which sang along, boisterous, rowdy but never unpleasant.”
Oils fans have done everything from tattooing Garrett’s face to their backs to spending tens of thousands of dollars following them around.
Hirst says the craziest were at the Oils On The Water triple j show in 1985 on Goat Island in the middle of Sydney Harbour.
It was for 150 competition winners only, which peeved the hardcore fans.
“So they swam across, avoiding big tankers, fire tugs, ferries and yachts who were moored there listening to the music, and dragged themselves up on the rocks.
“They were allowed to stay. It was risky but such commitment!”