Hard News by Russell Brown


And we may never meet again ...

I saw a bit of Hunters and Collectors back in the day. My darling and I (back when we were just very good friends) danced like the 18 year-old maniacs we were when the 'Talking to a Stranger' incarnation of the band played a sweaty, rhythmic show at the Hillsborough Tavern in Christchurch. I did an on-tour story with them when I worked at Rip It Up, and another time in Auckland their bass player drove me and the manager of Quays nightclub in their tour van to open up the bar and fetch supplies when the beer ran out at a party. They were doctors and lawyers by training (I believe it was one of the doctors who taught me the word "felching"), but they did like a party.

So it was appropriate that when a post-show birthday celebration for our beloved makeup artist wound up in the wee hours at our floor manager's house in Ponsonby, Hunters and Collectors were there in spirit.

Our floor manager had spent $45 on TradeMe buying a box of seven-inch singles previously owned by some outfit called Starlight Disco. It was an early-80s set with, it seemed, the hits removed. There were a lot of instances of The Follow-up Single That Nobody Ever Heard Of, and The Other Song By That One-Hit Wonder, but also some gems there for the digging.

And one particular tune just lit up the room. Apart from being a beautiful, still-surprising and moving song, Hunters and Collectors' 'Throw Your Arms Around Me' is also greatly amenable to the sing-along. Although I have pretty good command of tone and modulation in my spoken voice -- it's a tool of trade -- I am an irredeemably bad singer. But when I'm howling along to 'Throw Your Arms Around Me' at 2am, I sound like … well, like Mark Seymour himself. (Note: I also sound a lot like Jon Toogood when I sing along to 'Pacifier', but only if I play it really loud.)

The Sydney audience at Hunters and Collectors' Selina's gig on their 'Way to Go Out' tour clearly felt the same way. It's the crowd that makes this clip so special, really.

When I checked in my iTunes, I was surprised to discover that I don't actually own the original recording of this song. Perhaps it was just hearing my neighbour (who has not bought a record since 1989, I'm sure) play it late at night when she's our on her deck cackling with her friends that made me think so.

So … I bought it. I went to the iTunes Store and paid $2.49 and downloaded it. Crazy, I know. I could've just snaffled it for free from the internet, right? Why not? Well, respect, basically. If it was good enough to make me feel so great with my friends and colleagues, it was good enough to pay one third the price of a Ponsonby Road beer for.

Both sides in the copyright "debate" routinely demonise each other, and, as I've noted in the past, rights owners and their representatives have taken positions that defy sense and the public good. But, by the same token, it does irk me when people who'd scream blue murder about someone breaching the letter of the GPL seem to act as if the creator's right is valueless.

I love the culture of MP3 blogs and Hype Machine and I grab stuff from those on a near-daily basis -- they've refreshed and reinvented my whole relationship with music. But I also buy music from Bandcamp, Amplifier, eMusic, Juno, Beatport and iTunes. I deeply dislike the phenomenon of people who can damn well afford to pay for work grabbing artists' entire catalogues in one torrent. I get a bit embarrassed if people, meaning well, give me copies of contemporary albums that I could buy if I wanted to. But we all draw our own lines. It's unlikely, after all, that Hunters and Collectors are getting performance rights income from the live clip in this blog. Even the sternest copyright maximalists don't get through a week on the internet without potentially infringing somehow, somewhere.

In this case, it seemed both fair and important to give a little. I wish every artist got as big a chunk of the purchase price as an indie band does on Bandcamp when I buy something there. But even if Mark Seymour only ends up with one fifth of the price of a Sydney beer from my purchase, the respect has value in itself. 

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