Mark Seymour celebrates 30 years of songwriting with Roll Back The Stone live record and tour

An article about Mark Seymour’s Roll Back the Stone album and tour.

Author:  Kathy McCabe, News Limited.

Date: 8 April 2017.

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Mark Seymour has been juggling the big issues in recent weeks.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation landed in his sights when he was a recent guest on Q & A, the songwriter slamming the party as “bogus”.

A couple of weeks before that, he found his band Hunters and Collectors making headlines for the sake of their name, when animal activists PETA chose to launch their anti-duck hunting campaign by asking the revered rockers to consider a revamp of their moniker.

Now it’s back to the music.

Seymour has released a live retrospective of his career with Roll Back The Stone.

There’s 24 songs from 30 years of songwriting recorded over three nights in June last year at Melbourne’s Bakehouse Studios with his band The Undertow.

The Roll Back The Stone album features Hunters songs and selections from his solo records. Picture: Jason Edwards. Source:News Corp Australia.

From the Hunters classics Throw Your Arms Around Me, When The River Runs Dry and Say Goodbye through to the destined-to-be-classic solo tracks Classrooms and Kitchens and Master Of Spin, the album emphatically and defiantly answers the question Seymour often finds being thrown at his direction at the supermarket or petrol pump: “What do you do now?”
Seymour started the selection of songs for this defacto “best of” at the Hunters’ Human Frailty record through to his 2015 album Mayday.

“I left the early Hunters albums out of it; we once played The Slab with the Undertow and it was s***; it just didn’t work,” he says, laughing.

“It’s a perfect Hunters and Collectors weird grind which came together the way the Hunters played at that time. A non-song kind of grunt and we did attempt it (with the Undertow) but with us, it sounded a bit wimpy.”

Seymour felt fragile about embarking on a solo career after Hunters disbanded. Picture: Luke Bowden. Source:News Corp Australia.

For the party faithful, Seymour’s reworked version of one of Australia’s most loved songs, Throw Your Arms Around Me, will be no surprise.

The artist added a verse of welcome to refugees and immigrants to the anthem a few years ago, around the time he was in the studio working on Mayday.

“That verse was inspired by that spate of handheld videos which came out with people yelling s*** on buses and trains which were real full-on. I found them incredibly unnerving I decided to write this verse about ‘you can ride on my bus anytime’. I think it was a line one of these punters used when they posted one of those videos,” he says.

“I wanted to have that verse in there when we did the Hunters revival in 2014, it felt like a good time to do it, to inspire a sense of community when racism seemed to be becoming a burgeoning political problem.

“People can take it or leave it; I don’t really care whether people like it or not, I just felt like I had to do it.”

Any fan of Hunters and Collectors will listen to Seymour’s live versions with his other band through the prism of their own memories of them.

Yet the new treatments do provoke a closer inspection of a song like Holy Grail which has been recast as a sports rallying cry, particularly for AFL fans come grand final time.

The song was inspired by the band’s bid for international traction cast in a Napoleonic metaphor, not the quest for a sporting win.

Throw Your Arms Around Me now has an extra verse welcoming refugees and immigrants.

“I have made it as intimate as possible with this band. It’s such a daggy song and I love that about it,” he says.

“If that kind of success happens to a song like it has with Holy Grail, I think it is kind of meant to, because it has that emotional simplicity about it which meant anyone could relate to it. And that is incredibly hard to do in songwriting.

“Sometimes you don’t know a song has that in them until gradually you realise people really like that song. Why that song?

“I remember when we put Cut out in 1992 and the record company kept releasing all these other singles and I kept saying ‘When are you putting out Holy Grail?’ There were guys in the band who weren’t sure about it because of that riff in it that sounded like Boston.

“But eventually they put it out.”

Seymour remembers when he decided to “go solo” a few years after Hunters pulled the pin in 1998, he felt “fragile” about interpreting the band’s songs in an acoustic fashion.

Nothing is more likely to polarise fans than an artist messing around with their old stuff.

“I remember when I first went solo and I was completely fragile about it, unlike Jimmy Barnes who went straight into a rock’n’roll career,” he says.

“My manager Michael (Roberts) was trying to encourage me to sign the old songs but sing them differently and I remember tackling those big famous songs acoustically. And I just got used to do it.”

Hunters and Collectors have reunited for big gigs in recent years. Picture: Martin Philbey. Source:Supplied.

As he prepares to launch Back To The Stone with a national tour, Seymour laughs when asked about the greatest difference between his old band Hunters and Collectors, who most recently reunited for the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide, to the Undertow which has been going for the past eight years.

It is sledging. Hunnas could have made the Australian cricket team blush while the Undertow members — Cameron McKenzie, Peter Maslen and John Favaro — are gentler folk.

The Undertow’s manners may also have something to do with the regular presence of Seymour’s daughter Eva at their shows as a backing vocalist.

Mark Seymour and the Undertow have been together for eight years. Picture: Supplied. Source:Supplied.

“Nothing was sacred with blokes in band rooms. When we toured with Midnight Oil in Europe, we couldn’t believe how they didn’t sledge. They just never sledged. Hunters and Collectos were so rude, incredibly rude to each other. The s*** we used to say to each other was incredibly personal. The mildest might be ‘Man, you look s***’,” he says.

“You would have people from the record company come in and sit in the room and hear what we would say to each other and think ‘F***, they are going to break up.’ Seriously people used to think that, that we hated each other. It was just our culture.

“But the Undertow is more middle-aged grunting greeting at each other until we warm up.”

* Back To The Stone is out now. Mark Seymour and the Undertow perform at the Old Museum, Brisbane on June 30 and July 1; Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, July 22; The Gov., Adelaide, July 29; The Basement, Sydney, August 18 and 19.