Seek and Ye Shall Find
On Mark visiting Armidale in 2013.
Author: David Sprague, Only Music.
Date: February 1987.
Original URL: N/A.
Interesting. It’s one of those words you use when your best gal hands you a steaming plate of lentil/sardine casserole. “It’s an old Armenian delicacy,” she says proudly. Then you realize she’s going to end up hunchbacked and moustachioed someday and you head for the door.
The same’s true for music. There’s stuff you know is hip, good for you, even Buy you also know you’ll never be able to stomach the stuff. Once upon a time Hunters and Collectors fit nicely into that niche.
Now before we go any further, let me assure you that here in 1987, Hunters and Collectors are hunky-dory. Full of melody and spunk. They even inspire as notorious non-danseurs as myself to wag the occasional limb. In short, a positive experience. But all wasn’t always so rosy, a fact that head hunter Mark Seymour readily admits.
“Well, in the early days, there was a lot of competition to see who could be the cleverest, ” he explains. “But when certain members left, it allowed us to relax and be more honest.”
“Certain members” can be better defined as Greg Perrano. The percussionist, who along with Seymour molded the band from its 1980 inception, seems to have left less than amicably. That event capped off 1983, a year that will live in infamy in the H&C camp. Broke and bitter, they were several thousand miles from their Australian home (having heard London calling) and were ready to call it quits.
But this is a story with a happy ending, so let’s see how Hunters and Collectors escaped the big bad wolves that dogged them…
First, and according to Seymour, foremost, the band hauled ass back to Melbourne. “I can’t really, well, function anywhere else, frankly,” he insists. “I mean I’ve travelled a lot and often toyed with the idea of leaving – until I did. I realized then just how tied to my environment I am.”
That’s the kind of thing you can only learn through experience, though. Just ask John Cougar about his eyeliner phase. See, until ’83, Hunters and Collectors wanted to distance themselves as much as possible from backward ol’ Oz, so they swan-dived into the ” industrial primitive’ glump that was developing in Europe. “Things like dub and funk were coming into white rock & roll, and that inspired us quite a lot,” recalls Seymour. Their songs became more like endless grooves – long, freeform, recorded without edits – and when everything clicked, H&C were among the more compelling things around to sweat to. And when it didn’t click? Can you say Grateful Dead? Hardly the kind of thing you’d expect to emerge from the hard-drinking pubs that form Australia’s concert circuit.
“At that stage, you’re right. At the stage we considered pub-rock to be culturally inferior to what we aspired to, and what we considered ourselves part of. But after going overseas, we realized how unique and powerful pub-rock really was. How it delivered where the bands we initially admired just didn’t. So we went home again, and more or less made an effort to establish ourselves as a pub band.”
Sounds simple. But with a name taken from a Can song, with songs about “sexuality as an abstract symbol,” and roots in performance art, it took guts for them to even enter some of the places they played. “We knew we’d have to be more direct,” Seymour says.
Not quite Jekyll and Hyde, but close. With the departure of Perrano and guitarist Martin Lubran, the band’s sound was no longer a bottomless pit of blangs, bleats and booms. In stead, there was a lean sound rippling with muscle, throbbing with restrained passions. Jaws of Life, recorded in early 1984 at Euro-star Conny Plank’s German mountain studio, emerged but disappeared before anyone could get a good look at it.
“Oh you’ve heard that one?” he arches an eyebrow. “Not many people have, you know. It only sold about 4000 copies in North America.”
So much for the masses. There was obviously new life in the bones of this tribe, audible within the grooves, but particularly stark onstage. Despite their funky desires, H&C were dead-serious live [much like their too-numerous-to mention English colleagues]. The current incarnation of H&C, however, grooves.
In-so far as my attitude towards how I perform, that’s definitely changed quite dramatically. In a way, I’ve had to catch up with the rest of the band. I’ve always had trouble getting my shit together, I guess I am a fairly…moody person.”
On Jaws and the new Human Frailty LP, that moodiness has been harnessed. It pulls the songs along in stead of holding them back. Like a well-yoked ox, it’s been made to work in the band’s favor. From their Aussie smash “Say Goodbye” [about “Showing the woman as sexual predator,” Seymour confides: “Yes, some of it is from personal experience.”] to the anti-TV chant “Is There Anybody In There,” Human Frailty is loaded with great mood swings. But all of them eventually hark back to a titular problem: Does that mean it’s a…a…
“Yes, it is a concept album,” he admits with only a hint of uneasiness. “But the concept doesn’t override everything the way it usually does. Bands usually push THE IDEA so hard that all the songs and subject are obscured.”
So while Hunters and Collectors aren’t exactly ready to leave their brains at home come musictime, they’ve shown that they can capture the feet of people do just that. Who knows, if they can make an American crowd, think they can probably do anything.
Thankyou to Tammy for typing out this article for us all to enjoy!