Howlspace: Hunters and Collectors

General write up on H&C from Howlspace.

Author: Howlspace.

Date: 1998 (?).

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Article Text

Hunters And Collectors carved a unique path and place for themselves in Australian rock culture. The group was originally formed in post-punk 1981 in Melbourne as a collective rather than a band, an excursion into funk-rock rhythms and industrial Kraut-rock. (They named themselves after a song by Can). They ended up the thinking man’s pub band.

Growing out of an earlier inner-suburban Melbourne group, The Jetsonnes, Hunters And Collectors’ early performances are remembered as chaotic, with audience members encouraged to join in on the banging of rubbish bin lids or fire extinguishers. The extended line-up included a massed horn section known as the Horns Of Contempt. Inside all this was singer Mark Seymour, with an ear for a melody and a taste for lyrical poetry. But for the moment even the lyrics were a shared expression.

Illustrating the dichotomy at work in July 1982 the band’s first single ‘Talking To A Stranger’ featured a concise edited version of the song on one side and a full length seven minute version on the other side. The single’s theme of alienation and anguish is one the band would return to, but for the moment the group’s emphasis was the free-form side of their work. Their sound engineer was considered an official band member.

In a sign of the times, Mushroom Records specifically created White Records to house Hunters And Collectors, a new ‘alternative’ label for artists determined to control their own musical destinies.

The Hunters’ first, self-titled album was produced by Tony Cohen. The Hunters’ reputation spread to Europe where a stripped-back band spent six months in 1983, recording a second album ‘The Fireman’s Curse’ in Germany with producer Connie Plank (Can, Kraftwerk). Pruned back to its essentials the band recorded another album with Plank, ‘The Jaws Of Life’ and a single-only song ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ in the ‘Talking To A Stranger’ mould. Hunters And Collectors was at a crossroads.

After a live album came ‘Human Frailty’ where singer Mark Seymour’s themes of alienation and sexual politics came to the fore. The band had discovered how to tap the unique vein they had unearthed; where, in a sweat-dripping venue packed to the rafters with a beer swilling macho rock fans the audience would and could at the top of their voices unselfconsciously sing along to a chorus like “you don’t make me feel like a woman any more”.

A newly recorded ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ became one of the undisputed classic songs of Australian rock, and from now until their end Hunters And Collectors would remain one of Australian rock’s favourite live attractions. The shifting line-up consolidated around the group’s evolved style, a passionately-voiced exploration into the human condition, supported by street-credible rock and roll.

While successive studio albums did their best to extend Mark’s themes and explore new sounds to varying degrees of success, adding to the group’s national and worldwide status, more than anything it was the live performances fans were waiting for. With each new album it was increasingly the older material radio wanted to play. In the end Hunters And Collectors was strangled by its own legend.

In 1998 the band announced they were recording their final album, ‘Juggernaut’, and supported it with a farewell tour. Mark Seymour released a solo album ‘King Without A Clue’, continuing his relentless search for meaning through song. When one Sunday in Melbourne sound man John Archer auctioned off the personally-designed PA which had been carried by the band for almost twenty years it signalled not just the end of Hunters And Collectors but the end also of Australian music’s post punk era.

Mark Seymour has embarked on a solo career.