H&C 2014 Tour – True Believers Webmaster Notes
Brief thoughts and feedback on the 2014 Hunters and Collectors tour from True Believers webmaster.
Author: Stuart Fenech, True Believers webmaster (www.humanfrailty.com.au).
Date: 1 December 2014.
Original URL: N/A.
“It is what it is.”
– John Archer
It is what it is. Eight members, drum and bass driven, powerful brass, impassioned lyrics – intensity in musical form. Yet Hunters and Collectors is also an egalitarian entity, steeped in history and culture, both restrained and powerful through band democracy.
I am a fan. Through a strange and unexpected turn of events, starting a fan Internet site for a band that needed one back in 2001 led to being on the fringes of a phenomenal tour operation here in 2014. Attending Brisbane (Sirromet Winery), Rutherglen Estate (Rutherglen), Petersen’s (Armidale), both Enmore gigs (Sydney) and the Powerstation (Auckland, New Zealand), I enjoyed a fan’s dream of beer, rock and roll and insight into the force that is Hunters and Collectors.
Frankly, Hunters and Collectors is intimidating. It’s a force to be reckoned with, musically and culturally. Backstage was exciting and terrifying with big personalities and bigger legends of Australian rock and roll. Yet I can only speak positively of the band, families, crew and management, even if I was left dumbstruck at what to say and occasionally confused!
The set list was a carefully constructed beast. The practice gig at Castlemaine included Carry Me, The Finger and Hear No Evil – great songs that did not end up getting a run. The set list was gradually honed, picking up Little Chalkie, I Believe, Skin of Our Teeth and Know Your Product while dropping The Finger. The drivers seemed to be to embrace a range of eras, play songs that have worked well previously and carefully optimise the time allowed on stage.
I discussed some set list change ideas with band members but never observed the negotiation process. I can only imagine the debate behind the scenes as I know some were supportive of Hear No Evil getting a run but band democracy seemed to run over the top of it! There are intricacies to the dynamics within the band that I dare not approach and the set list was sacred.
Skin of Our Teeth was revived at the Sydney V8’s in 2011 and featured throughout the 2014 tour. I can think of few bigger “thank yous” that a band can do than to revive a song not played since 1982. It required Mark to play on a second bass guitar and took more time than any other track to get right before being unleashed. I understand it was between Skin of Our Teeth and Towtruck for an additional early song, both of which were phenomenal in the early arty era.
The later set list had a great cross section of songs:
Hunters and Collectors (1982) – Talking To A Stranger; Skin Of Our Teeth
The Fireman’s Curse (1983) – N/A
The Jaws of Life (1984) – 42 Wheels, The Slab, I Believe, Little Chalkie
Human Frailty (1986) – Say Goodbye, Throw Your Arms Around Me, Dog, Everything’s On Fire, Stuck On You, This Morning.
Living Daylight EP (1986) – Inside A Fireball
What’s A Few Men? (1987) – What’s A Few Men?, Do You See What I See?
Ghost Nation (1989) – When The River Runs Dry, Blind Eye, Crime of Passion
Cut (1992) – Head Above Water, Holy Grail, True Tears of Joy, Where Do You Go?
Demon Flower (1994) – Back in the Hole
Additional – Know Your Product
Personal favourites were Skin of Our Teeth, 42 Wheels, Little Chalkie, This Morning, Blind Eye and True Tears of Joy. Yet every fan seems to have different favourites, which must be a sign of an excellent set list.
The set list was one of the many areas where the band’s dedication to fans was observable. The A Day on the Green concerts were strictly limited to two hours for reasons that included timing of passenger buses. Hunters made sure to go on stage precisely on the scheduled time and push as many songs as possible into the two hour slot. This is why Mark was not particularly talkative on stage – to get as many songs and as much rock and roll for the dollar. Encore breaks were squashed and a 1 hour, 59 minute set list was achieved.
“What were they? Just a pub band.”
– Mark Seymour
So how real is the often reported tension in the band? I think that if you have eight reasonably intelligent people with strong personalities in a band, on and off, since 1989 (with most members playing together since 1981), there is going to be history. It’s overtly complex, yet entirely workable. Back stage, there was tension and nervousness before gigs and elation afterwards as each gig, amazingly successful in their own right, was pulled off.
Hunters and Collectors are far more critical of themselves and their work than any fan can possibly approach. It’s difficult to adjust to exactly how honest and harsh they can be coming from the fan perspective. Even while celebrating afterwards, each error, however unnoticeable, got reviewed. The most amusing was 42 Wheels, which gets renamed 41 Wheels when something goes wrong, as it did in Armidale. Mark occasionally half seriously mocks his own band as if to encourage a pub brawl with his own fans.
For an insight into the band dynamic and internal dialog, the recent MusicMax ‘The Artists Story – Hunters and Collectors’ is highly recommended. It is imperfect, as are all representations of the complex and interesting band history. Yet this one features the insight of all eight band members, with individual personalities and perspectives on display.
There is a Hunters and Collectors culture that envelopes and consumes far more than the band and professional dealings. It’s egalitarianism in action. The crew, band, families and management form one big conglomerate. They eat together, drink together, socialise together and rock together. Modesty seems to suggest the crew prefer not to be in the headlights, but they are part of the band and the culture.
Merchandise has always been and remains a serious operation. We saw the work going into it from Rob Miles, back at the art helm and as dedicated to the cause as ever. After a long absence of major merchandise, fans ate up the shirts, jackets, stickers, posters, scarves, tea towels, coaster mats, stubby holders and hats. The goods flew out the door shockingly quickly at Brisbane, but thankfully remained available to be purchased online.
The merchandise was one of many impressive displays of the professionalism of Hunters and Collectors band and crew. Each and every gig needed to have the right equipment, right setup, right sound and deliver for the punters from start to finish. Anything less than perfection was unacceptable, including attempts to shorten the set list. The tour was serious business, and I think that dedication and professionalism was appropriately reflected in the 2014 Helpmann Award for Best Australian Contemporary Concert.
“It [meeting the Rolling Stones] was a bit like a bunch of unwashed Brickies trying to look normal while meeting the pope.”
– Mark Seymour
The best gigs I attended? In Brisbane the better part of 11,000 people were standing, rocking out in a crowded paddock, captivated. A step up was the New Zealand experience, with fans at the Powerstation in Auckland singing along to every single track. Yet in the end, my favourite gigs were at the Enmore in Sydney, which subjectively lacked some of the punter buzz of The Powerstation but had better audio and room acoustics.
What does all of this mean for the future? It seemed that Hunters and Collectors enjoyed this tour far too much to go back to hibernation. Yet this is where the story closes. There are definitely no further gigs planned. Members are back at their ‘day jobs’. We are left with a new set of memories of a band that was never meant to reform, entertaining 100,000 or so fellow fans throughout Australia and New Zealand. For this, we are eternally grateful.