Hunters & Collectors Announce National Winery Comeback Tour

An article and Mark Seymour interview about the upcoming 2014 A Day on the Green Hunters tour.

Author:  Cameron Adams, News Limited Network.

Date: 26 September 2013.

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Mark Seymour from Hunters & Collectors shows his football allegiance. Picture: Tim Carrafa

When Hunters & Collectors re-formed for charity concert Sound Relief in 2009 frontman Mark Seymour was fairly final about the chance of it happening again.

“This is it,” Seymour said in interviews before the event. The Melbourne band split acrimoniously in 1998. It took a natural disaster to get them to contemplate sharing a stage again, having said no to countless offers to re-form.

Two years ago they got the band back together to play a V8 Supercars gig in Sydney. At the time the ever-honest Seymour admitted the money on offer was too much to refuse. The planets have aligned again, with promoter and Hunters tragic Michael Gudinski again coaxing one of his favourite bands back on stage.

It was the strategic placement of multiple ducks that got this unexpected reunion across the line. First there’s the release Crucible, a tribute album (on Gudinski’s label) to Hunters and Collectors featuring Eddie Vedder, Neil Finn, Paul Kelly, the Living End, the Rubens, the Avalanches, Something For Kate, Alpine, Birds of Tokyo and more. Then the offer to perform unofficial and accidental footy anthem Holy Grail at the AFL Grand Final — a slot Gudinski picks the musical acts for. Then a Melbourne-only slot opening for an act Seymour respects — Bruce Springsteen — also a Gudinski-promoted tour.

Then for most weekends from January to March they’ll tour the nation playing winery shows for the A Day On the Green events, with Something For Kate and British India, also on their tribute record. Two theatre shows in Melbourne and Sydney have been added for April. “None of those things would have made sense in isolation, but all of them together was a pretty good incentive,” Seymour admits of the re-formation. “We’ve taken all of these (reunion) proposals on a case-by-case basis. There’s no broader plan. There would have been a real risk in just doing a tour for the sake of doing a tour. You see a lot of groups do that. It just doesn’t look like that much fun. There has to be an element of occasion.

‘’We were asked to do A Day On the Green a few years ago, but why? You’re more or less saying we have to do it because we need the money. We did break up for a reason. It’s a long time ago, but the conditions were complex. The idea of just getting back on the road and playing for the hell of it seems like a dumb idea to me. You hear stories about bands re-forming for those reasons and it raises questions about why the individual people in the band are doing it. Unless there’s some overarching reason everyone can share in — some common goal — I imagine that approach would just lead to trouble and tension. We’re all living different lives. And we’re all a lot longer in the tooth now, there’s a slightly different energy. The politics are different.”

When the band came off stage at Sound Relief there was a feeling of euphoria, but it was slow release — it’s taken over three years to communally agree to a full tour.

“We hadn’t played together for so long and it was the biggest crowd we’d ever played in front of,” French horn player Jeremy Smith says. “To play at the MCG and everyone’s barracking for the same team — that doesn’t happen very often. But we didn’t walk off stage going ‘That was so good, we have to reunite for a tour’. There were not emails flying around to our manager to co-ordinate a comeback.” Sound Relief also gave the chance for the kids of the band members to see their band their fathers were in live for the first time.

“My kids loved it, they went nuts at the sheer magnitude of it all,” Seymour says. They’re part of the generation (including the man who runs their fan club) who missed seeing Hunters live first time around, another pleasing by-product of reforming once again. When the Springsteen/Hunters bill was announced, Smith says many of his friends went into meltdown. “I was getting emails like ‘This will be the gig of the century!,” he recalls. “I said `Don’t get carried away …’

“That’s the right attitude to take,” Seymour says. “Calm down. It’s all a bit silly. It’s funny watching middle-aged men froth at the mouth. They get really excited. It’s hilarious.”

They’re excited about the tour, but are also painfully aware of the workload involved. “The challenge is getting it right,” Seymour says. “Taking a professional approach. Doing everything by the book. That’s what Hunters were always good at, high-end production values and being so meticulous the show worked every night. That’s not a particularly rock attitude. You go out and make sure the gig works. That’s what makes this a worthwhile exercise.”

Seymour wrote the first set list of possible songs — their winery shows will go for around 100 minutes.

“I haven’t finished reading Mark’s setlist yet,” Smith jokes. “I had to put a book mark in it halfway.”

The band are the first to tell you they never had any major hits — even their best-known song Throw Your Arms Around Me never charted upon release in 1984, peaking at No. 34 when re-released in 1990. They cracked the Top 20 twice — with True Tears Of Joy and Holy Grail, while Say Goodbye, When the Rivers Run Dry and Where Do You Go made the Top 40.

“I think we had maybe six or eight radio hits,” Seymour says. “The bulk of the live show will be pub favourites.’’

While Seymour has continued to enjoy a successful solo career, he’s become happier to embrace his past — performing a handful of Hunters songs in his shows. “I was in this band, those songs were written, some of them got on the radio — years after we’d formed — we had this huge profile on the live circuit and then it ended,” Seymour says. “But years later the songs are still there. I was out there still playing them but at a much smaller level, to 200 or 300 people a night at the most. We never had a bona fide hit but the songs have stayed on. So this is a nice happy ending, it’s a good gesture to make.”

They’ve regrouped in Richmond’s Sing Sing studios to get their AFL set into shape. Don’t expect any cheesy medleys — they’ll play Do You See What I See and Holy Grail at half time. “Of course we’re playing Holy Grail,” Seymour says. “That’s the whole point of the exercise. We didn’t actively try to pursue having a footy anthem. You’d get in trouble doing that. This is incredibly random.”

The Hunters have already given Crucible the volume test — playing the new takes on their old songs through the system at the rehearsal room where they’re preparing for their touring.

The band deliberately stayed away from the project, short of Seymour giving Birds Of Tokyo his translation of the Baudelaire lyric he used in Talking To a Stranger for their version.

“You’re not getting a Hunters & Collectors record,” Seymour says of Crucible. “People have to make that mental adjustment. It’s something else.”

They particularly like some of the risks taken, like Alpine’s dreamy version of Hear No Evil, Paul Kelly and pals putting hip hop beats on True Tears of Joy and Missy Higgins and Matt Corby turning album track This Morning into a duet.

“These artists have to bring their talent to the songs,” Seymour says. “The more creativity the better, that’s the nature of the exercise.”

In his book Thirteen Tonne Theory, Seymour wrote about meeting a teenage Eddie Vedder at a concert in the US, long before he’d joined Pearl Jam. In a classic case of full circle, Vedder and Neil Finn perform Throw Your Arms Around Me on the album — a song they’ve performed individually live many times.

“I think Eddie was working at a petrochemical plant or something, he was very young,” Seymour says. “I don’t remember meeting him, he told me he came up for an autograph. Their song is probably the rawest on the album. They kept it basic, which is smart. There’s a real risk of blowing too hard on that song because of the sentiment. You hear people get it wrong. They’ve just gone campfire, which is cool.”

So there’ll be the Grand Final. And the live shows. That’s a lot of time for the band to spend together again. But don’t expect any new Hunters & Collectors material. “No. Not going to happen,” Seymour says flatly. “It’s pretty all-consuming being in this band.”

“Emotionally and physically,” Smith adds.

Both men wince at the very idea of writing new material.

“There’s a certain toolkit this band has,” Seymour explains. “At its worst it’s really inflexible, but at its best there’s greatness there. You’ve got to be prepared to go the whole way with it. From a creative point of view there’s a handful of songs that are really special and they really work. But there’s all this other experience that went into the creation of those songs that I don’t want to live through again.

Smith agrees. Wholeheartedly.

“The process is really unwieldy and there’s a lot of wrestling. In some ways that’s part of what makes it great, the tension. There’s this push/pull that can create something. It’s not easy to do.”

Seymour seems even less keen on the idea the more he thinks about it.

“There’s so much distance between now and when it was great. It’s easy to be seduced by the myth yourself. Yeah the songs (still) sound great. But I wasn’t born yesterday. You see bands do that when they reform. It’s `Mate let’s put on the old jeans again’. I’m just too cynical for that. You’d have to try to write songs the way we used to. There’d have to be some creative parallel to justify being on the road and I’m just not prepared to do that.”

Seymour’s already made sure he’s not seen as the band’s spokesperson when it comes to whether this will be a one-off reunion tour after saying Sound Relief would be their only comeback. “I’m very reluctant to make sweeping statements that come back to haunt me,” he says.

But all signs point to this extended reunion being it.

“We don’t want this to be some recurring nostalgia trip,” Smith says. “If you’re going to do it, do it once and that’s it. That’s fine. It’s great to revisit it, but people in the band have developed these independent lives. I wouldn’t want to become dependent on the legacy of the band or what it could provide by way of touring again. We always said if we start playing on Fairstar the Funship that’s the end. We never have and we never will.”