(L/R: Jim Moginie, Hamish Stuart, Rob Hirst. Photo by Robert Hambling)
ROB HIRST, JIM MOGINIE & HAMISH STUART
ANNOUNCE NEW EP ‘RED CONTINENT’
When Midnight Oil parked their tour bus for the last time in 2022, Rob Hirst went straight back to doing what he’s always done – writing open-hearted rock songs that grapple with our place and times.
Lifelong friend and creative foil, Jim Moginie, took leave from his other musical projects to produce and play on four of these new compositions at his Sydney studio, Oceanic. The pair brought in one of Australia’s leading jazz and studio drummers, Hamish Stuart, to allow Rob to focus fully on guitar and vocals. Playing live together, the trio created the backbone of a new EP.
Then more old friends made some key cameos. Oils producer Warne Livesey mixed the tracks and added some extra bass. Jack Howard from Hunters & Collectors injected some brass while William Crighton – who toured as the Oils special guest last year – contributed backing vocals.
The Red Continent EP – credited to Hirst, Moginie & Stuart - grapples in various ways with the big theme that Rob has tackled in his songwriting across nearly half a century … the struggle to say “fair’s fair”. As a history buff, he has built a canon of essential works that examine how we ended up here but this time there’s a more personal perspective; a sense that the clock is ticking louder. There’s an aching paean to his father (“Little Bits Of Wire”), a celebration of the elders who fought what became known as the Mabo case (“No Longer Shadows”) and a song of solidarity for the writers who tell our stories (“The Strongest Memory”).
Rob Hirst says: “Playing the new songs with Jim and Hamish has been a total pleasure. The arrangements came together within minutes, and the studio - Oceanic - was a joy and inspiration.”
Jim Moginie says: “The sessions had rough and ready energy. ‘First thought, best thought” - poet Allen Ginsberg was describing spontaneous and fearless writing, a way of telling the truth that arises from raw and authentic experience. The sessions had something of that, and we have all collectively made enough records by now. I can’t remember when I have had so much fun in a studio. Warne Livesey mixed the record beautifully. Play it loud.”
Hamish Stuart says: “What a hang! Music making with Rob and Jim is part of a much bigger picture.
In “Power & The Passion” Rob unforgettably exhorted, “It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees”. Over 40 years later he has reached a similar conclusion on the EP’s title track, “Red Continent”. The song makes a headlong attack at the havoc being wreaked on our ancient country by the climate crisis and poses the existential question “How do you fight a fire when you’re running for your life?”. The conclusion? “There’s only one road in, only one road out … you’ve got to fight”.
Rob: vocals/acoustic guitars/percussion
Hamish plays Gretsch drums & Craig Lauritsen cymbals.
Recorded by Jim Moginie at Oceanic Studios,
Brookvale, Sydney, 2022/23
Produced by Jim Moginie
Songs by Rob Hirst (Sony Music Publishing)
Mixed by Warne Livesey
Mastering: Steve Smart at 301
Photography: Gabriella Hirst & Lesley Holland
Sleeve design: Stu Eadie
TRACK BY TRACK WITH ROB HIRST
I strummed and sang Red Continent to Jim and Hamish in Jim’s Oceanic Studio, Hamish taking notes, and Jim playing along on bass guitar and making Irish coffees. We attempted a few takes with parts rising and falling, then realised that the song had more forward momentum if we just layed it down on a relentless groove. It made sense with the lyric: Europe and the USA were on fire, and Australian bushfires are now terrifying and often unstoppable. Jim added some tough riffy electric bass to my acoustic, plus lots of keyboard atmos. Hamish and Jim sang some backing vocals. Then Midnight Oil producer Warne Livesey sent us a killer mix. Done!
No Longer Shadows
In the ‘Year of The Voice’ I thought we should remember the great and lasting changes that were the result of the Mabo victory of more than 30 years ago. Eddie Mabo and the Mer elders stood their ground, and with a crack legal team the fiction of terra nullius was extinguished, and a ‘native title’ formally recognised. I love Hamish’s swing on this track, and Jim’s lap steel - it sets a gentle, unhurried…island mood. Jim’s high b/vox and chorus guitar complete the picture.
Little Bits of Wire
The most personal of the four tracks, Little Bits of Wire is about my swimming/gardening/painting/trad-jazz-listening father, the late Peter C Hirst. Like many children of the Great Depression, who then went to war, Dad never threw anything out, and never hired a tradie. Rather, if anything needed fixing at home, he’d use little bits of wire. Jim’s light-touch piano and mellotron, and Jack Howard’s (H & C) trumpet near the end, are a standout. Hamish’s N’awlins-style buzz rolls in the slowdown make me weak at the knees!
The Strongest Memory
Whistleblowers get a raw deal in Australia. They risk their health, careers and reputations to bring the rest of us the truth about Australia bugging East Timor during critical oil and gas negotiations, about SAS war crimes in Afghanistan, about US gunship murders of civilians in the Middle East. Like the other songs here, over three takes we wrangled The Strongest Memory into shape. Hamish plays his best ‘Ringo’ circa 1964 here, all swept-open hats plus a kit-thrashing conclusion. Jim added tension with waves of left/right electric, then sang lots of high vocal harmonies. And like all the songs, the tracks were worked up live in a warm, wooden-wall studio - live vocal, live drums, live almost everything. Jim insisted upon it.