Hunters & Collectors - Biography
By Eric Brightwell
Hunters & Collectors were an Australian rock music band formed in Melbourne in 1981 fronted by singer-songwriter and guitarist Mark Seymour (older brother of Crowded House’s Nick Seymour). At their inception, the band were osbscure, dense and arty. Over time they later developed a less oblique, more tuneful (and conventional) band that enjoyed considerable success in their homeland.
John Archer (bass), Doug Falconer (drums) and Mark Seymour (guitar and vocals) met as residential students of Ormond College at the University of Melbourne in the late 1970s. Joined by sound engineer Robert Miles in 1978, they formed a band called The Schnorts, named after the Belgian tennis racket, and played ‘60s covers including “To Sir, with Love.” In September 1979, with the addition of vocalist Margot O’Neil (later a journalist on radio 3RRR program Talking Headlines and then an ABC reporter) and Ray Tosti-Gueira (guitar) they became the post-punk The Jetsonnes. They recorded one track, “Newspaper,” which was (b/w International Exiles “Miniskirts in Moscow”) which was given away at shows in June 1980. By September, The Jetsonnes were no more but Archer, Falconer, Miles, Seymour and Totsi-Gueira decided to continue in a new band with Geoff Crosby (keyboards) and Greg Perano (ex-True Wheels), whose percussion arsenal included “the Wang,” an empty water tank.
In early 1981, Perano chose the name Hunters & Collectors, taken from a track from Can’s Landed. They expanded their line-up with the addition of a brass section, known as The Horns of Contempt and made up of Nigel Crocker (trombone), Jack Howard (trumpet), Andy Lynn (trumpet), Chris Malherbe (trumpet), Jeremy Smith (French horn) and Michael Waters (trombone). They signed to Mushroom’s White Label subsidiary, who released their three-song World of Stone EP (1982). The Tony Cohen-produced Hunters & Collectors followed in July (1982-White Label) and showcased their sweaty, percussive, noisy, rhythm section-driven art-funk that was somewhat comparable to The Pop Group, Shreikback and Gang of Four. It was a hit, reaching #21 in the charts. The Baudelaire-inspired epic, “Talking to a Stranger,” (with its Richard Lowenstein-directed video) didn’t chart but became one of the band’s signature tunes.
Around this time, Tosti-Guera was replaced by Martin Lubran on guitar and the Horns of Contempt were whittled down to Howard, Smith and Waters. Gong’s Mike Howlett produced the Payload EP (1982-White Label) and the band spent six months touring the UK, where they signed with Virgin, who released an almost completely different version of their debut (sharing only three tracks with the original) in April. After touring the UK, they relocated to Germany where they recorded their follow-up with famed krautrock figure, Conny Plank. Virgin again released The Fireman’s Curse (1983-White Label) in the UK, another recognizably Australian slab of experimental post-punk. Their three-album deal was terminated after Seymour, over curried chicken, referred to label executive Simon Draper as “a poncy little blueblood.” After November’s “Sway” failed to chart, they lost Lubran (whose poor health necessitated his departure) and Perano (who went on to form The Deadly Hume) and their future looked uncertain.
The pared down line-up soldiered on with a pared down sound. Seymour’s lyrics became less obscure and more political, both in the broad and domestic sense. At the same time, the band’s sound, though still distinctly rhythmic and brass-driven, grew more melodic. This new, streamlined direction was reflected on the July’s Plank-produced The Jaws of Life (1984-White Label), which spawned more live favorites, including “Betty’s Worry or the Slab” and “Carry Me.” They toured heavily and received considerable airplay on radio station Triple J and Countdown, and the album was picked up for American release by Slash. However, neither the singles nor the attendant album sold very well. The non-album “Throw Your Arms around Me” was released in November. Although now their most recognized song, at the time of its first release it failed to chart. The live The Way to Go Out (1985-White Label) featured another recording of the song. After its release, Crosby left and was replaced by Horn of Contempt, Michael Waters.
The April release of Human Frailty (1986-White Label) included yet another version of “Throw Your Arms around Me” and it charted at #49. “Say Goodbye” reached #24 and the album reached the Top Ten. At that point The Hunnas (as they’re known to fans) finally got picked up in the US, by IRS (after a 1983 deal fell through), who released the album the following year. The band followed its release with two American tours and the release of the Living Daylight EP (1987) in April. Both it and September’s follow-up, What’s a Few Men? (1987-White Label) were produced by Greg Edward. The title of the latter, drawn from Albert Facey’s memoir, A Fortunate Life, was given new artwork and released as Fate (1988-IRS) for American release. It also featured a slightly altered track listing, including “Back on the Breadline,” their first, modest American hit.
Guitarist Barry Palmer (ex-Harem Scarem) joined the band in 1988 and the new line-up released the Clive Martin-produced Ghost Nation (White Label) in November 1989. The single, “When the River Runs Dry” was another hit and the album peaked at #5. Its success led to their signing a worldwide deal with Atlantic and led to their being named “Australian Band of the Year” in Rolling Stone. In 1990, they again toured North America, opening for fellow Aussies Midnight Oil.
In October 1992, Hunters & Collectors released the Don Gehman and Nick Sansano-produced Cut (1992-White Label), which peaked at #6. The album saw the Hunnas incorporating drum loops and more electronics. The single “Holy Grail” was Channel 10's theme song for their AFL coverage from 2002–2006, it was sung by Seymour at the 2002 AFL Grand Final. “True Tears of Joy” became their highest-charting single, peaking at #14.
The Nick Mainsbridge-produced Demon Flower (1994-White Label) followed in May 1994 and returned the emphasis to guitars. It almost topped the charts, reaching #2. A live EP, Live Demons (1995-White Label) and another live album, Living ... In Large Rooms and Lounges (1995-White Label), were released the following a European tour and Palmer’s joining a second band, Deadstar. At the end of 1996, Seymour undertook a solo career and released a solo album, the Palmer-produced King without a Clue (1998-Mushroom). The Kalju Tonuma and Mark Opitz-produced Juggernaut (1998-White Label) proved to be their final album and the band announced their retirement after completing a tour. One of their final shows, at Selina's in Sydney was recorded and released on as Under One Roof (1998-White Label). Their last show was on March 22, in Melbourne.
After their disbandment, Howard pursued a solo career. Seymour continued as a solo artist and wrote a biography about his former band, Thirteen Tonne Theory, published in 2008. After Deadstar Palmer became a producer/songwriter. The band’s song, “Throw Your Arms around Me” has been covered by Crowded House, Pearl Jam, and Paul McDermott. In 2001 it was recognized by the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) as one of the top thirty Australian songs of all time. In 2005, Hunters & Collectors were recognized as icons by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) when inducted by Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett into their Hall of Fame at the Plaza Ballroom alongside The Easybeats, Normie Rowe, Renée Geyer, Smoky Dawson and Split Enz. For the occasion, they reunited to play “Say Goodbye” and “Throw Your Arms around Me.” They’ve since reunited one further time, in 2009, with a forty minute set at Sound Relief, a charity concert in support of the Red Cross Victorian Bushfire relief which was recorded and released on DVD. Their body of work was released in a definitive box set, the 14 CD, 2 DVD Horn of Plenty (2008-Liberation Records).