Hunting and Collecting A Legacy

Article featuring John Archer and Mark Seymour coinciding with the release of the Horn of Plenty box set.

Author: Peter Ryan, MAG (Music Australia Guide).

Date: December 2008 / January 2009.

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Article Text

Hunters and Collectors

The Horn of Plenty tells their story, ten years on

Hunting and Collecting a Legacy

A decade after their dissolution and 27 years after their debut, Hunters and Collectors release Horn of Plenty, a career spanning box-set. Peter Ryan talks to singer Mark Seymour, and bassist John Archer.

One highlight of many from Horn of Plenty is a recording of Hunters and Collectors’ live debut in May 1981 at the Crystal Ballroom, in Melbourne’s bayside suburb of St Kilda. There is something eerie about hearing singer Mark Seymour say “Hi, we’re Hunters and Collectors” before launching into World of Stone on the scratchy but evocative recording, and knowing what was ahead. This first gig – a benefit for American cult musician Snakefinger – was the beginning of a 17-year journey comprising nine studio albums. They became one of Australia’s most important acts, whose secret was a combination of smarts and hard work. “They were all very intelligent people with an ironclad work ethic and a bloody-minded determination not to give up,” says Seymour. Hunters and Collectors matched force with sensitivity, conveying an unpretentious masculinity without hiding their vulnerability. On stage were eight mates — sometimes enemies – playing physically punishing music, with intelligent lyrics that audiences shouted to the heavens.

Unassuming bassist John Archer and drummer Doug Falconer comprised a rhythm section so tight a crowbar couldn’t prise them apart.

“We thought that if everything else fell apart, if we could keep going, we might wing it… get away with it,” says Archer over coffee in St Kilda. Around the trio of Archer, Falconer and Seymour were the horns led by Jack Howard, Jeremy Smith and Michael Waters (and in early days, the industrial percussion of Greg Perano). Archer isn’t big, but he bludgeoned the bass like a standover man, his shy nature hiding a resilience so unyielding that he once super-glued a plectrum between his broken thumb and forefinger to continue playing. Adversity never halted them: they just kept gigging. Live shows, says Seymour, cemented the band’s identity as a coming together of disparate parts, creating intense experiences. Performances were often shambolic, as likely to spill over when the 10th beer was poured on a reckless afternoon. But never was it anything but brilliant. Everywhere there was a subgroup: the rhythm section, the horns, Seymour and the audience, all pushing one another to their outer limits. Few bands have matched the dynamic since.

It almost stopped early. An ill-fated early ’80s sojourn to the UK saw them return to Australia disoriented, their lofty goals shaken. Perano – whose percussion on works like The Fireman’s Curse made him a key creative figure – departed. After six months of inactivity, work began on Human Frailty, an Australian classic cementing Hunters and Collectors in our musical pantheon, despite only moderate sales. Seymour’s lyrical concerns – desire, passion, lust, communication and confusion – gave the sound an emotional depth. The band gelled. Live, Hunters and Collectors rumbled and raged, pushing their sound into spaces few of their inner-city contemporaries dared inhabit.

From suburban hotels to country pubs, to dusty places where rain rarely fell, they toured Australia, creating opportunities for several generations of Australian bands to find their style in the inner city, and their paychecks on the freeway – if they had the guts. “I can’t stand whingers,” says Seymour. “People who say ‘I don’t want to go and play at Blacktown RSL. Who wants to play to ‘those’ people?’ I hate that attitude. I despise it. It’s just fear, because people don’t want to admit they’ve come from there. It is part of your heritage.”

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“There’s a lot more out there than you’d ever imagine,” says Archer. In traversing Australia’s distances, Hunters and Collectors showed us the gaps between people are actually narrow.

This, perhaps, is the Hunters legacy: melding the inner-city alternative with the just-as-wild, questioning, and hard-to-please suburban milieu, without compromise. “This is what I remember and … treasure,” says Archer. “The sheer number of people we played to, and having the opportunity to have a shot. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Mark Seymour’s response to my inevitable reunion question is a polite, but firm “no”. So, this is what’s left; the songs that endure, and ideas that remain universal. The box-set places things in order: Hunters and Collectors were a great Australian band.

Horn of Plenty This is the big daddy of boxed sets including all nine studio albums, the rarities album Mutations, three EPs (Tow Truck, Lumps of Lead, World of Stone), the live in-loungeroom recordings, both live DVDs (including the seminal The Way to Go Out live recording at The Venue in St Kilda), Spare Parts (a set of live recordings) and Natural Selection (a collection of Hunters and Collectors videos). It’s all packaged in a box created by band associate Robert Miles that reflects their industrial bent. Horn of Plenty reflects a body of work that belongs to generations of Australians.

Horn of Plenty is out now via Liberation.