‘Thirteen Tonne Theory: Life Inside Hunters and Collectors’ by Mark Seymour

ThirteenTonne

Non-fiction – paperback; Viking; 391 pages; 2008.

If you are an Australian of a certain age and are a fan of pub rock, then chances are you have seen Hunters and Collectors perform live. And if you have seen them perform live then you no doubt know that this band is one of the most visceral live acts — second only to Midnight Oil — to ever come out of the Southern Hemisphere.

This book, written by lead singer Mark Seymour (who also happens to be the older brother of Crowded House’s bass player Nick Seymour), provides an inside look at what it was like fronting this powerhouse of a band for 18 years.

Of course, if you haven’t already guessed by now, I am a longtime Hunters and Collectors fan. But funnily enough, I always preferred seeing them live than listening to their records, which never seemed to convey the sheer velocity and passion of the music when performed in concert. In fact, this view of the band is not a unique one: they were critically acclaimed but never quite achieved the commercial success that comes so easily to other bands that do far less hard graft.

The book, which is currently only available in Australia (my sister gave me this copy when she visited me in London a couple of months ago), does help explain why the band was big in Australia but failed to crack the UK or American markets. Set up as an artistic collective, in which every member of the eight-piece band shared songwriting copyright and royalties, the decision-making process did not allow anyone to take the lead, nor did it allow the goal of commercial superstardom to become the over-riding aim. Seymour makes no bones about how frustrating this became, especially when, as lead singer, he was seen as the “face” of the band and its key lyricist.

At times the story reads a bit like a kid who has thrown the toys out of the pram. Seymour clearly thinks the band and, more importantly, himself deserved better. But he is also incredibly candid and so hard on himself that you kind of feel sorry for him.

I particularly liked his account of the band’s early days in London, where they were on the cusp of international success, only to blow it all when one member who’d had too much to drink insulted the record company. This incident — in a curry house in Shepherd’s Bush — would be laugh-out-loud funny if it weren’t for the painful financial repercussions that followed. You get the sense that Hunters and Collectors never quite recovered from this monumental error.

All in all, Thirteen Tonne Theory (the name comes from the weight of equipment the band took on the road when they toured up and down the country) is an intriguing read. Written by a singer that crafted so many Australian anthems — Talking to a Stranger, Say Goodbye, Throw Your Arms Around Me and The Holy Grail — it’s a wonderful, if slightly worthy, warts-and-all account that fans will find fascinating.

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4 thoughts on “‘Thirteen Tonne Theory: Life Inside Hunters and Collectors’ by Mark Seymour

  1. Oh, I am also of a “certain age” and really was into Australian pub rock. I have to agree that Hunters would only be secong to the Oils as a live act. What about the horn section hey? No wonder they had thirteen tonne of stuff to cart about!
    I have to admit to not having read anything like a “band memoir” before but it would interest me even more if there was a lot of 1980’s pop/social culture included as well? Would you say so Kim?

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  2. Nutmeg, I’ve read quite a few band memoirs in my time and I’ve learnt that you usually need to be a fan of the band in question to enjoy / comprehend the read. This one doesn’t have a great deal of 1980s pop references in it. But it does have a lot of stuff about London (Seymour lived / worked in the back streets around Gloucester Rd / Earls Court) and Melbourne, which only added to my enjoyment.

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  3. Yep, I’m of “that” age too: LOVE the band and very much enjoyed Mark Seymour’s book. For me, Mark’s prose and variation in storytelling style from chapter to chapter made for a thoroughly entertaining read. Like so many of the great H & C songs, it drew me in, took me for an exhilarating ride, and left me wanting more when it was done!
    But, before I go. The real reason I’m posting this is to correct a glaring error in a couple of earlier posts: The Hunnas are not second to Midnight Oil in any way!! They’re THE BEST!!! And far and away the best live band (from any country!) that I’ve ever seen. (Nick Cave – in whatever incarnation – would come a close second. And *then* probably Midnight Oil.

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