Confessions of a Midnight Oil Sideman: The Home Straight – Say Goodbye.
Australian Jack Howard, who rose to fame with the band Hunters & Collectors, has been on a year-long world tour with Aussie rockers Midnight Oil.
Final Oils Blog, folks. It’s been real. See you on the flipside.
Saturday Nov 11th, Remembrance Day. A charged and emotional night in front of 23,000 punters began in darkness with Armistice Day. An epic view across the city of Sydney as a backdrop. The song had been saved for this night right from the start of the year. Originally, this was to be the last show of the tour so it was to have a huge resonance. Little did we know that it would carry the extra emotional depth-charge of Jim’s injury in Melbourne to heighten the drama. The band had discussed the idea of opening the song and the show with a version of The Last Post. In the end, I played its traditional answer, Reveille, as the last chords of the song faded. A very big moment for me and a helluva way to open proceedings. And as the last notes ended, Rob began the intense cow bell intro to Read About It. Bang! Here was a rock show. Take that, Paul Keating!
Standing side stage at the start of the show as Jim was wheeled up a makeshift ramp by mysterious men in white coats and on to his special riser, I heard the crowd roar. Everyone knew the tale and everyone felt the power of the moment. I was holding back tears and I know that I was not alone. Jim doffed his hat to the crowd and carried on like the brilliant genius of a musician that he is. The band played out of their skins and would regularly check in with him. At the end of the night, they all gathered around Jim in a lovely gesture of man/band love.
This was a special show in many ways and it was very nice to see folks that we’d met all over the world at the show. People from Brazil, Sweden, Germany and the U.S. were down the front singing their hearts out. We also had a fine party afterwards with a lot of familiar faces around and about. Alcohol may have been consumed. Bad jokes abounded. Way too much fun.
Monday Nov 13th, Wollongong. To be honest, this was shaping up to be a tough gig. A smaller out-of-town show on a Monday night, squeezed in between some of the biggest nights of the tour – and after the emotion of the Domain show. It was a long drive from Sydney to get there – those southern suburbs seemed to take forever to get through (but vague gig memories came up – Maroubra Seals, Cronulla Leagues, Carmen’s Miranda) and we were all feeling stiff and cranky by the time we arrived. I put the headphones on for the drive and listened to Guided By Voices and Underworld.
Early signs were not promising – the front row fans looked like they were there for a John Farnham show. Redneck and Strong pinned them back in their seats but they were into it. It felt like there was a lethargy or a lack of oxygen in the room for awhile; but the energy grew and Surfing With A Spoon, Stand In Line and Generals were great. There was a big sing-a-long to US Forces as usual (although it was slightly behind the beat). The first halves of the sets are becoming quieter for me as the marginal songs that I’ve played in over the tour (like Sleep, Overpass, Prayers) are squeezed out by the great early stuff. Swings and roundabouts.
By the time the band hit Read About It after the big hits trio of Dead Heart, Beds and Blue Sky, the band and crowd were there together. A great encore of Wedding Cake, P & P and Forgotten Years brought it home. We joked about it being our intimate club show after the vast Domain show. It did have an immediacy and punch to it. Phew!
Wednesday Nov 15th, Myer Music Bowl 3. After a bad night’s sleep, I hoped I hadn’t missed the hotel breakfast. And later, I wondered where the driver was to take me across town. It was then that I realised I was home and I’d have to make my own breakfast, do the dishes afterwards and drive myself around again. Dammit.
It was a big day in Oz as we said a collective YES to the same sex marriage survey. Great to see some common sense and humanity being shown by the people. Maybe the government will start to show some too. Everyone was on weather watch for this show – a classic Melbourne day of heat, wind, rain and potential thunderstorms. The full hay fever experience.
The show was another ripper with Koala Sprint and No Time For Games (with a great solo from Jim) being highlights. Jim might be getting used to sitting down for the gig in his comfy chair. Best Of Both Worlds was also powerful with the full horn section on board. I have to say though that my personal highlight came after the show when I met Cathy Freeman! I fetched a beer for her and talked track and field. I used to do A-Grade athletics on a Thursday night at Olympic Park when Cathy was an up-and-comer in the 90’s. (I’m sure that she must have also remembered my graceful shot putting and hammer throwing style.)
All the talk now is of, 3 to go, 2 to go, 1 to go. What are you doing after the tour? How will you feel? Sad? Relieved? Exhausted? Surreal? Hysterical? Everyone is in the touring groove. Travel, show, travel, show. It feels like it could go on and on as if it’s our normal day-to-day lives; but already, you feel like you’re reducing a massive year long experience down to a few well-worn anecdotes. What was your highlight? What were the crowds overseas like? Where would you go back to? Impossible questions to respond to quickly but you find your polite one-line answer.
Friday Nov 17, The Domain. Final show. We arrive at about 5pm, settle in, have an early dinner, do some practice. A backstage setting of Moreton bay figs, marquees and semi-trailers. People everywhere. The mood is elusive. Trying to feel something special but just feeling a bit lost early on. We see the set list and discussions ensue but it stays as it is this time. Big brassy finish as usual. I wander into the crowd for a bit and watch the opening acts. Say hi to some of the good folk out there.
Pre-gig, there are speeches and presentations made. A lot of people have worked extremely hard to make this all happen so it’s nice to hear it all acknowledged. The band retire to the practice room to run Lucky Country, Who Can Stand In The Way; and Treaty with Yirrimal. The horns run our stuff in another room, checking tuning. Slightly nervous. Waiting.
The 77th gig comes and it goes two hours later. Another killer, the band and horns super-tight tonight. I can’t say anymore than has already been said about how brilliantly and consistently the band has played on this tour. It’s been an enormous musical pleasure to work in such close quarters with these guys. I also got a strong sense tonight of how iconically Sydney the band is, having spent the day wandering around the harbour – the bridge, the opera house, The Oils, the bus to Bondi…
Post-show, a stagger to the line in a lot of ways, there are man hugs all round – I love youse guys! Loads of friends and family to catch up with and say farewell to for now – but it just feels like the end of a chapter, not the end. We’ll see. Time to move on for now.
After the tour, I’m straight back into it, business as usual, playing shows with my own original band and Epic Brass (free plug – Friday December 8th at Memo, jackhoward.bandcamp.com) but this has been an unforgettable year. I don’t think that any of us, even in our heydays, have been on a tour this long and this extensive. From the months of rehearsals at Top End Sound in Marrickville to Brazil, the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, The Czech Republic, the U.K., Sweden, Norway, South Africa, Singapore, New Zealand and finally Australia, it’s been a trip. A higher sensory experience that will be tough to beat. I hope for more Oils. I hope for more H&C. I hope for more.
I’ve really enjoyed writing this blog and I’m happy that people seem to have enjoyed reading it. Oh and by the way, I have started writing a book. It won’t be out tomorrow but stay tuned… Adios, amigos!
The final Australian leg of the Midnight Oil Great Circle tour kicked off in Alice Springs on Monday, October 2nd and finished in Sydney on November 17.