hunters and collectors 3

Holy Grail (M Seymour) – Hunters and Collectors 1993

By the early 90’s the Hunters were evolving from their period of Krautrock-influenced pretentions into a blue- collar pub rock band, taking cues from Ian Rilen’s band X and delivering sharp, hard-driving energetic music which connected with their stalwart fans in the beer bans of Australian suburbia. Below L-R – Michael Waters, Jeremy Smith, Mark Seymour, Jack Howard, Doug Falconer, John Archer, and Barry Palmer.

hunters and collectors33

Successive albums had marked the new direction that the band were charting, Jaws of Life (#89 in’84), The Way To Go Out (#76 in ’85), Human Fraility (#10 in ‘86), What’s A Few Men? (#16 in ’87), and Ghost Nation (#7 in ’89) had generated classic singles which signposted the band’s journey towards rock and roll immortality – Throw Your Arms Around Me, Do You See What I See?, When The River Runs Dry, and Where Do You Go? – the latter song was lifted off the studio album Cut, recorded at the Festival Studio (Syd) and the Platinum Studio (Melb); it was co-produced by American Nick Sansano and the band, the rest of the Cut album was produced by Don Gehman(below left) who had previously worked with Jimmy Barnes, John Farnham, John Mellencamp and REM. The introduction of electronic percussion and drum loops into the mix certainly added a commercial sheen and lustre to the song, it charted #30 and the album #5 for the Hunters most successful single and album thus far.

But the fiercely independent Hunters were not entirely happy, some felt that the album’s sound and general aesthetic had been driven by the producer and the sound engineer in a quest for hit songs that compromised the band’s internal creative processes. Nevertheless, more classic singles would emerge from this definitive album, notably Holy Grail and True Tears of Joy.

At this time the group comprised Mark Seymour (guitar/lead vocals), Doug Falconer (drums/vocals/programming/percussion/and tape loops), Barry Palmer (lead guitar, below), John Archer(bass), and the renowned multi-instrumentalists “Horns of Contempt” – Jeremy Smith (French horn/keyboards/guitar/vocals), Michael Waters (keyboards/trombone), Jack Howard (trumpet/keyboards/vocals) and Robert Miles (live sound and art design).

The journey that had taken Hunters and Collectors from being somewhat marginalized, Krautrock devotees, to become Australia’s greatest pub-rock exponents, had involved some considerable soul-searching along the way, The Hunters were always a fiercely independent artistic collective, who were slowly inching their way towards a degree of commerciality, that involved some painful compromises, and an awkward collaboration with an American producer, in Don Gehman, who was more attuned to a creative dynamic, focused on tapping into mainstream chart success; so he was blissfully unaware of the band of social democrats who had descended into his world, to cut a record.

hunters and collectors 22

The Hunters had started out craving obscurity, they showed contempt for flashiness, image-building, hyperbole, and rock God vanity, they were likened to a trade union with their job demarcations, vote-taking, and minute-keeping – Gehman was bemused, he said he thought they were “a bunch of Communists,” and this was said with no sense of irony, given the acknowledged irony deficiency amongst many Americans. Below -Jeremy Smith.

jeremy smith

Gehman quickly zeroed in on Seymour as the main songwriter and creative force within this group, an accurate assessment, but very much at odds with what other band members had come to expect. The song-writing- by-committee approach had prevailed for many years, so what was this smart-arse Californian doing going off with Seymour and the French horn player (Jeremy Smith) and writing songs, or indeed creating music when most of the band hadn’t even turned up at the studio! Gehman was actively corrupting the gestalt that had been created within the group over a decade ago.

hunters and collectors 29

The fifth single lifted from Cutwas the anthemic Holy Grail, a song partly inspired by the semi-fictional novel The Passionby Jeanette Winterson about Napoleon’s march into Russia in 1812, wherein Seymour likened the carnage, brutality, and megalomania of that military campaign, with the internal dynamics of the band, and he saw the new album, and Holy Grail, the standout single on the album, as the ultimate salvation of the band.

jeanette winterson

Frustrations had built up inside the group about their failure to crack the US market, and the internal tensions contingent upon working with a new producer in Gehman were palpable, but he had the hits to prove it with REM, Mellencamp, Jimmy Barnes, Diesel, and he was being paid a lot of money to deliver a radio-friendly, hit record, for the band. Below- Mark Seymour

hunters and collectors38

Seymour has described the making of the album Cut as “excruciating”, and Holy Grail reflects that anguish and his determination to remain true to his personal quest as a musician “I followed orders/God knows where I’d be/ But I woke up alone/ all my wounds were clean/ I’m still here/ I’m still a fool for the Holy Grail…”.

Seymour had dreamt about Winterson’s book, and envisaged band members in the uniform of Bonaparte’s Old Guard, falling by the roadside, wounded, and dying, Seymour took his ideas to Doug Falconer who developed a drum loop, chords were played, and Seymour sang along acoustically, Gehman took Seymour and Jeremy Smith into another area where the producer played with chord shifts and melodic options, and lyrics evolved, later that night Holy Grail was complete. an Aussie classic was born.

hunters and collectors36

The song is catchy and Michael Waters piano chords at the intro weave in and out of the song in a sinuous loop, Robert Miles on bass and Doug Falconer on drums provide the rhythmic spine of the record with trumpet flourishes by John Howard at the bridge and the outro, Seymour’s vocals are angsty, powerful and dramatic. Remarkably it barely survived the band’s internal culling process for selecting songs for release, Hunter fiercely defended the song and prevailed, it obviously had universal appeal stampped all over it.

A famous football anthem.

Holy Grail became a classic song, despite the fact, that it only charted #16 at the time, and then sporting broadcasters appropriated it, flogged it, and almost turned it into a boring bogan chant. It has been compared with Boston’s hit of 1976 More Than A Feeling but the link between Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Boston’s song is more obvious.

hunters and collectors39

Mark Seymour would return to the MCG on Grand Final Day on no less than four occasions in ’98, ’02, ’09 and ’13 (above) to perform this song which has become synonymous not only with AFL football, but the broader community who embrace our national game as they embrace Don Gehman’s “bunch of Communists”, who have become an endeared musical icon.

hunters and collectors30

Cut the album charted #5 and the band followed up with Demon Flower in 1994 for their most successful album when it hit #2 locally. Internal politics had moved lead guitarist Barry Palmer to a dominant position during the recording sessions with producer Nick Mainsbridge, Seymour disliked the new direction the album had taken as he observed “It was a heavy brooding record, full of psychotic metaphor, human agony, melodies suffused and mostly lost. Arrangements half-written then jammed and the guitar out front. Not a commercial sound or song anywhere.”

The group woul;d disband in 1989 after issuing the album Juggernaut, and completing a farewell natinal tour. In 2005 the Hunters and Collectors would be inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame by Midnight Oil’s frontman Peter Garrett, reunion performances began around 2009, and surprisingly another studio album, Crucible (#3 in 2013) was released some eighteen years afte Juggernaut, it seemed as though there was still a lot of love for the “Hunnars” in this country. Below L-R Mark and brother Nick Seymour (Crowded House).

hunters and collectors40

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s