The Way To Go Out

Sentimental and information piece on the end of Hunters and Collectors.

Author: Brian Wise, Addicted To Noise.

Date: Friday March 27, 1998.

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After 17 years and more miles on the road than they can count, Hunters & Collectors call it quits with one last gig for friends

The Hi Fi Bar, Melbourne
March 24, 1998

It ended as it had started: in a hot, sweaty smoke-filled club packed to the rafters with seven blokes playing rock ‘n’ roll for their friends, family and industry-types. And still, after seventeen years it is difficult to believe it is all over for a band that was one of the last great pub rock institutions.

The final act was eerily reminiscent of the Hunters and Collectors’ first major gig all those years ago at the Electric Ballroom, down by the St.Kilda seabaths. The band, which had taken its name from a Can song and mixed shards of Gang of Four-styled jagged guitar riffs with a driving percussion a la Talking Heads, was definitely the hottest act in town. From the remnants of the arty Jetsonnes, the Hunters vibe created an almost instant audience and the buzz was out. That first gig was a sell-out. Soon after the band signed a record deal and quickly became one of the most successful live acts in the country.

The invitation to the end of the whole affair was irresistible – it was once again the hottest ticket in town. It was to be sad, not maudlin; a celebration rather than a wake; a chance to catch up with friends and give thanks.

Robert Miles, the band’s sound man, gave an introduction that was part sentiment, part defiance. The Hunters collective inspired loyalty and it was obvious that departure was heart-wrenching. It was equally obvious that the failure to break through in Britain and America still rankles. Later, singer Mark Seymour boasted that the latest album, Juggernaut, had made ‘Album Of the Week’ on Triple J, also explaining how difficult this was to achieve. The pride was there that the band could still be relevant after so long but there were hints of a niggling frustration that international kudos had eluded them. (If others ignored them, their loss was our gain)

So as they walk out let’s consider the Hunters’ successes: a string of memorable songs, gold and platinum albums, a rabid following and the constant ability to pull bigger crowds than almost all of the competition. Add to that is the fact that the Hunters managed to make a living out of a tough business for the best part of two decades. No mean feat, I would have thought. As Peter Garrett later pointed out, the band deserves an award just for featuring a French Horn on stage for seventeen years! Not only that, Hunters retired on top, without having to be dragged offstage kicking and screaming.

A few minutes into the set and the memories came flooding back – along with the realisation as to why the Hunters have been so compelling as a live act. The host of anthemic songs drill themselves into your memory with rhythms that tug at the limbs until you cannot remain still and a primal beat signifies the quintessential pub rock band. “Throw Your Arms Around Me”, “Everything’s On Fire”, “Holy Grail”, “Talking To A Stranger”, “When The River Runs Dry” and “Blind Eye” invite you to sing along and punch your fist in the air. Even “True Believers”, from the latest album, fits into the well-formed mould.

Guitarist Barry Palmer, smiling, laughing and nodding to friends in the crowd revelled in the atmosphere – no despondency here. Powerful, tight and loud (weren’t they always?) the other members fell in behind Palmer’s slashing guitar riffs. Seymour’s vocals, straining under a sore throat, soared once more for this last special occasion.

After a brief break mid-way through the set, the “Hunnas” were joined by some special guests for the last hurrah. Vika and Linda decorated “Say Goodbye” with some of their famed vocals. Peter Garrett loped onstage for a brief eulogy and a fabulous version of “Do You See What I See”. Paul Kelly appeared for an enthusiastic reading of “Where Do You Go?”

Garrett’s appearance sparked a thought about international success. With his bizarre dance steps, energetic delivery and commanding presence, the Midnight Oil singer electrified the audience. Had Hunters & Collectors been less of a collective and more of a band with an outgoing ‘leader’ would things have been different? (After all, their label boss Michael Gudinski said negotiating with them was like dealing with the communist party!) All the songs were there waiting for an international audience. We will never know the answer to that one and maybe we would have loved them less if they were different. Because we didn’t have to share the band they became closer to us; hopefully, they don’t feel we took them for granted.

The Hunters steamed on to a conclusion that might have been inevitable but was nonetheless hard to accept. No encores tonight. Instead, a few speeches for families and friends. No tears. But you could see the band members hugging each other backstage. Most were surprisingly reticent to take to the microphone – maybe the band members themselves were in denial. Trumpeter Jack Howard summed it up with a final flourish when he said, “I’ll never do anything like this in my life again. I’ll never have friends like this again.”