Read The Go-Betweens
David Nichols’ book on The Go-Betweens was first published in 1997. Capturing their rise in the late 70’s until their initial demise in the late 80’s. I read the third revision published in 2011, which included a postscript discussing the reforming of the band in the late nineties until McLennan’s death in 2006. My review can be found here.


McLENNAN: Oh; we were driving along in a car one time; going to the Exchange Hotel. We drove over the bridge there and we were just thinking of a few names and 1 think Rob came up with the Go-Betweens. Because, we since found out, we went between two types of music, maybe, or …
FORSTER: Basically there’s night and there’s day, and you try and go between that, and you find the twilight zone—and there lies the Go-Betweens. – Page 20

Brisbane’s dance clubs in the 1960s—which were generally called discotheques, though in fact they featured live groups—must have been remarkable, especially the Sound Machine, which promoter and Brisbane patriot John Reid aka “the Brisbane Devotee,” remembered ten years later as having “fluorescent posters, red and black decor, telephones on the tables so you could ring other tables.” – Page 29

To follow the kind of lifestyle that people in other Australian cities took for granted—going out for the night, hearing a few rock bands who played music relevant to your world, drinking—was infused, in Brisbane, with a special kind of danger. The police could arrest you at any time, and effectively they could do what they wanted with you. – Page 30

Forster recalled that McLennan “was carrying a film mag and a Ry Cooder record” when they first met. “The film mag I approved of, the Ry Cooder record I was cool on.”

This kind of cultural flag-waving was a legitimate way to make friends in Brisbane in the late 1970s, according to Robert Vickers, who moved in the same circles as Forster and McLennan.

ROBERT VICKERS: If you walked down the street with a Nico album, and somebody who was interested in Nico saw you, they would probably stop. Oh. definitely, without a doubt. You really did judge people quite quickly by their tastes and that was very important. And you needed other people to be involved. Just someone to share it with. And if you did see someone walking down the street with a Nico album or Big Star 3, that was enough. If you saw someone on a train even dressed in a certain way, you might talk to them. – Page 38

McLennan has often characterized his relationship with Forster as a nonsexual homosexuality:

McLENNAN: We were in Queensland, which is a very macho state, and Brisbane symbolizes everything which is disgusting about Queensland. We were pushed together at university in our foppish attitudes towards theater as well. – Page 40

FORSTER: I’d been extremely successful at school; at school, I found a lot more freedom than later at university. I could do anything I wanted at school. It was a lot more creative, a lot more satisfying, a lot weirder, if you like. Which I thrived on. And as soon as I got into university and started handing in assignments, I was called aside and told, “If you want to do creative writing, we have little courses… but we don’t want creative writing.” And of course this is the way I’d written through school. And got good grades. I used to hand in schoolwork with photos. I’d take photos a lot. At university you were supposed to hand in a paper. I handed it in in a box—a cardboard box. It was rejected. And so there was a bad spiral. From being the schoolboy genius, I go to university and become the town dunce. – Page 41

MCLENNAN: At the end of 1977 he rang up and said, “You’re finishing [university], have you changed your mind, do you want to start a band?” And I said yes.
You know, it was: “Why not?” It wasn’t like: “Oh, yeah, let’s get a band together!”
It was just: Why not?” – Page 42

VICKERS: It was certainly perfect for the time. It had columns, wooden columns, all through it; you were always up against a post. It looked like there were walls everywhere that had been taken down except for the uprights. A little tiny stage, and you couldn’t see anyone playing onstage because everyone could stand up front. You couldn’t hear anything—but you were there. – Page 46

Recalling the Curry Shop in Brisbane

To be a go-between was far from a negative role in McLennan and Forster’s eyes. They were in between so many places, swamped by a cultural flood. While they faced the reality of Brisbane, the heat, parental pressure, and the influence of punk rock, they also yearned for New York in the 1960s and 1970s, Paris in the 1920s and 1950s, and were fascinated by Timothy Leary Bob Dylan, Tom Verlaine, Françoise Hardy, Samantha Eggar, Richard Hell, Blondie, and the Erasers. All of this was siphoned through a strange, anomalous Brisbane rock group called the Go-Betweens. – Page 52

PETER WALSH: They’d never say it, but you could tell which part of the record collection he’d listened to in the two minutes it took for him to write that song. – Page 60

FORSTER: Grant and I used to look at products. As a game, I’d go round the kitchen and pick up something like Vegemite. And we’d rattle off five or ten advertising slogans. Products around the kitchen. We were flying! We thought we were geniuses. The band was always the flagship: “If the band becomes famous, everyone’s going to be interested in these ideas. We’ve got to get famous.” The group was the get-famous thing—once that happened, we could go. ‘‘Surprise, surprise, everybody, yeah, we’re pop stars but we’ve got all these other ideas and we’re goddamn flickin’ geniuses. You thought you were only getting two moptop pop stars, what you’re getting is Truffaut and Godard! We’re the Orson Welles of rock.” It didn’t happen. – Page 70

MICHAEL O’CONNELL: John Willsteed virtually showed Lindy Morrison how to play the drums. In the performing process the spotlight was mainly on Irena and myself. – Page 79

Michael O’Connell on Zero

MORRISON: We went to Stradbroke Island for a Zero gig and we had our first fuck, and he was so overcome by losing his virginity and the joy of sex, that he went for a walk down to the beach and he didn’t return in time to get the bus back. I went back to Brisbane on the bus and he had to stay overnight, didn’t have any money, had to sleep on the beach. We all went back on the bloody bus which he missed because he wandered off to contemplate nature and the mysteries of the universe—because he’d had his first fuck. I didn’t hear from him for three days. Here I am. I’d finally got his pants off, and—the bloody guy—as soon as he does it he disappears down the beach and when he finally gets back to Brisbane doesn’t even ring me for three days! – Page 83

FORSTER: We arrived in London with acoustic guitars. We were the first people walking around London with them … this is late ’79. You could virtually be booked and put in jail for having an acoustic guitar. I don’t know who the last people were in London who had acoustic guitars or played acoustic songs to A&R people. They just thought we were completely nuts. They’d say “Oh, yeah. Send us a demo tape.” We’d go, “We don’t have a demo tape, we’ve got our acoustic guitars, we’ll come and play you some songs.”
I thought it was fantastic. Completely immediate. You can see that they play, they’re sitting on two chairs and they’re playing you the songs. If I was an A&R person I’d think: “I wish every band would come and do this.” But we were just laughed at. No one was interested. We went to Virgin. We went to Rough Trade and played “People Say” for Geoff Travis and he said “It’s too commercial.” I was just: “Whai does ihai mean? ” Too commercial? You just kept running up against these orthodoxies. ‘”No, you have to sound like the Gang of Four. You have to sound like the Fall. You have to sound sort of scrapey and scrappy, [with] the lyric way down in the mix.”
They thought it wouldn’t fit into what was going on. We arrived at a good moment and a bad moment. We only had half a dozen good songs in 197S. So if we’d gone over then, we would’ve— whatever time we’d gone over, it would’ve been the wrong time, we wouldn’t have been able to fit in. You know the week that “Lee Remick” came out? If we’d been there that week, it would have done really well. We would have been famous. Then. In England. – Page 85

Forster said, “In Brisbane, musically, we’re [enrolled] in a school, but we’re just doing it by correspondence, and then suddenly you go over to London and you’re actually at the college.” – Page 86

Dave Tyrer, Forster explained, ‘’has a Roland guitar synthesizer.” And, he continued, “Grant will be joining us, playing bass, when he gets back from New York.” – Page 97

There are so many aspects to the Go-Betweens story where one is left thinking ‘what if’, I can only imagine that a guitar synthesiser would have changed their sound.

MORRISON: I cooked this fabulous Christmas dinner, and half an hour before Christmas dinner everybody hit up. So when Christmas dinner came, nobody could eat. And everyone was just sitting around, the gravy was congealing in thick lumps over the chicken, the green vegetables were going stiff and the potato was hard. And the plates just sat there all day, it was a tragedy. It was that constant “straight” thing, that constant thing that I was very straight, and I could never move in that other world. Well, I didn’t want to. I didn’t need to. – Page 120

But although they were relieved, the group were determined to trust their instincts on their next release, and to return to the kind of music that had originally influenced them, rather than follow the rhythmic or fractured “art” influences that punctuated Send Me a Lullaby. – Page 121

The days ‘before Hollywood” were adventurous times. Before the era of sound; films could be made without the hindrance of language differences, in Europe, the USA or Australia (for which claims have been made, with some justification, as the birthplace of the feature film). The ruined European economy after the First World War gave Hollywood the boost it needed to cement its grip on film production; some loose parallels can be drawn with the music business and its perceived domination by Americans. The Go-Betweens, however, with their love and respect for the Monkees, Dylan, the Velvets, Jonathan Richman, etc., would be the last to criticize American cultural domination. – Page 121

There is obviously no love lost between McLennan and Morrison, but he pays her the tribute of conceding that “Cattle and Cane” “had a great rhythm, which I don’t think any drummer the world could have played except Lindy Morrison. Never ceases to amaze me, that rhythm thing.” – Page 124

The album is certainly very different from Send Me a Lullaby. Musically, it is closer to the work of Forster and McLennnan’s earlier heroes, such as Television. Lyrically, songs like the poignant “Dusty in Here” and “Cattle and Cane” (both McLennan compositions) initiated an approach, usually perceived as one of innocent sentimentality and nostalgia, that the group would still be embracing (and ultimately perverting) at the end of the decade. – Page 125

MCLENNAN: With “Cattle and Cane” I wanted to write an autobiographical song, and I was aware of that, and I say in the lyrics “Memory wastes.” That’s perhaps a little clever, but memory can be a wasteland where you wander around and live the rest of your life. – Page 126

Grant McLennan in an interview with Clinton Walker in 1982.

In keeping with McLennan and Forster’s “McCartney and Lennon” dynamic, Forster’s songs are far more bombastic, particularly the title track, “By Chance” – Page 129

NICHOLS: The big thing with Postcard seemed to be all these comparisons with the Velvet Underground. How do you think you fitted in with that?
McLENNAN: I don’t know. I know NME said that Josef K were the Velvets [in] 1967 and that Orange Juice were Velvets ’69. If we were anything, the Go-Betweens were the Velvets at their first rehearsal. Not quite grasping the songs, but the initial draw was there. – Page 142

NICHOLS: It’s [Send Me a Lullaby] not as coherent as the second one. Some songs don’t exactly fit together. I thought it was strange the way you chopped it up for Australian consumption. – Page 142

MCLENNAN: Keith saw me as being a more commercial writer than he was. I think that’s unfair, because Robert’s melodies you just have to absorb more than mine, that’s all. – Page 143

I think Robert Forster has the capacity to sing a song in a variety of ways. I sing it in a way that is always close to the heart. It’s a very intangible thing, I can’t explain it in any other way. – Page 146

McLennan’s “This Girl, Black Girl”—probably the first of his Go-Betweens songs to take on the Australian bush-ballad form that has since become a favored style for him – Page 148

[T]he Go-Betweens would. But the Go-Betweens were trying to flourish within a foreign culture—one they couldn’t tap into in the way Morrissey, to their evident frustration, apparently effortlessly could. – Page 151

I have agreed to donate all my interview tapes and other research materials to the National Film and Sound Archive (maybe writing this sentence will make me finally knuckle down to the task of fishing the tapes out from under the house). – Page 271

Read My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend by Tracey Thorn – Canongate Books

In 1983, backstage at the Lyceum in London, Tracey Thorn and Lindy Morrison first met. Tracey’s music career was just beginning, while Lindy, drummer for The Go-Betweens, was ten years her senior. They became confidantes, comrades and best friends, a relationship cemented by gossip and feminism, books and gigs and rock ’n’ roll love affairs.
Thorn takes stock of thirty-seven years of friendship, teasing out the details of connection and affection between two women who seem to be either complete opposites or mirror images of each other. She asks what people see, who does the looking, and ultimately who writes women out of – and back into – history.

I wrote my review of My Rock n Roll Friend here.


You looked like confidence ran in your veins. You looked like self-belief in a mini dress, the equal of anyone. LOCATION: 94

I know you remember that day too, but maybe you don’t know what it meant to me, what so much of our friendship meant to me: how you were a friend to me, but also a symbol. LOCATION: 131

Ambition and enthusiasm had set the motor running, but it had been a longer and harder slog than any of them had imagined. They’d come close a couple of times, but things hadn’t panned out, and success had proved elusive, while critical acclaim came easily. LOCATION: 170

Somehow I was instinctively picking up vibrations which told me that this woman was someone, that she had a story, that she herself was the news. LOCATION: 281

For an obsessive personality type like Lindy, the drums are both exciting and soothing. LOCATION: 317

Gerard Lee’s debut, True Love and How to Get It, where she is thinly disguised as the character Megaton Monroe LOCATION: 336

The two private schoolboys met and made friends at university in 1977, and their first scene together in this story is a real meet cute: Grant’s got three records under his arm, which are Ian Hunter’s debut album, Ry Cooder’s Paradise and Lunch, and Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky, while Robert is in thrall to Bob Dylan, Roxy Music, David Bowie and the Velvet Underground. They recognise in each other two typical nerdy boys, both studying literature and drama. Grant has a room full of film magazines, and neither of them are attracted to the aggressive machismo of Brisbane punk. Instead, they’re into Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine and Jonathan Richman, and when Robert starts to write songs they reveal a pop sensibility filtered through an academic lens. LOCATION: 377

If Robert meeting Grant was all about kindred spirits and mutual identification, then the meeting of Robert and Lindy is an attraction of opposites. He reciprocates her interest, he can feel the tug of the magnet, and they start circling each other. LOCATION: 397

Years later, when their relationship is shattering and dissolving, he will write a song called ‘Head Full of Steam’, and when they play it live on UK television on The Old Grey Whistle Test, he’s added a few lines that don’t appear on the album version: ‘Steam may rise / Steam may tear / Can I come to your place / Can I wash your hair.’ At the time, Lindy tells me those lines refer to an actual event, which is precious in both their memories, and I feel in possession of secret information, privy to the background details which make up the vivid story of this song. LOCATION: 425

With Zero, she’s been in a politically motivated punk band, and The Go-Betweens are decidedly not punk and not political. They don’t have nicknames or slogans or haircuts. They’re not a gang or a crew. LOCATION: 435

Robert and Grant are the kind of boys who buy Playboy magazine for the Bob Dylan interview inside. They may have written that dedication to girlfriends who didn’t exist, but then they became a bit embarrassed about it and decided they wanted a female drummer. LOCATION: 454

They feel that a woman might soften the band. And it’s hard not to laugh at the fact that they end up with Lindy, who is more ballsy than either of them, full of heart and emotion, yes, but about as soft as a decisive right hook. She’s never going to fit in with their fantasies of a chic little French girl, and she’s not going to be Edie Sedgwick, and she’s not going to revere Dylan like they do without asking some tough questions. LOCATION: 461

It is Lindy, Robert and Grant who are the original Go-Betweens. It is their band. In the future they might get in backing singers, or keyboard players, or violinists, or sax soloists, or a full-blown bloody orchestra, but the essence remains. They are a classic trio, whatever anyone might say later. LOCATION: 485

NOTE: This reminds me of austin kleon and the discussion of the complexity of children and relationships. I remember Clint saying that the addition of … was a disaster, but maybe the addition of any forth member was always fraut

Lindy makes it her business to start organising them, honing their sound, building a working relationship. She may have lived in a lot of boho houses but her work ethic is far from hippy-ish. The rehearsal room is her province. She finds the spaces, clocks the small ads, phones up the numbers, makes the bookings. Gets them all organised and there on time, and makes them practise. Practise, practise, practise, she says. It has always been that way, since high school, when there had been a choral competition, and she’d taken it upon herself to make sure that her team would win. She’d spent every spare minute rounding up girls to come and rehearse, chivvying them along. She had been relentless. LOCATION: 494

Every week his mother makes them a fruit cake, and because they have no money and are on the dole, they live off the fruit cake. The two of them walk around all the time holding hands, and she is twenty-eight to his twenty-one, which never feels weird to her, though her family make snide remarks about cradle-snatching. The flat is in a dangerous part of town, and terrible things happen; they hear fights next door, and someone gets pushed down the stairs. They come home each evening exhausted from the practice room, and sleep in till midday, then get up, eat fruit cake, go to practise, come back and lie in bed watching TV. LOCATION: 511

That title Lindy gives them for the first album, Send Me a Lullaby, is inspired by the Zelda Fitzgerald novel Save Me the Waltz. And Zelda is an interesting source of inspiration. A woman full of creative urges struggling to find an outlet, she lived, with her husband Scott, a life of drink and carelessness, but battled continually to escape from his artistic shadow, to make something of her own. After an all-out attempt to become a professional ballet dancer ended with a breakdown and a diagnosis of schizophrenia, she was hospitalised. On her release, she took up painting, then astonished everyone by producing a novel, sending it off to a publisher without telling Scott. It represented, as the critic Elizabeth Hardwick writes, another testament to her ‘unkillable energy’. Lindy too is full of unkillable energy. An almost supernatural determination and force of will is embedded in her character, and she will need it. Zelda died in a fire at a hospital, never having achieved artistic equality with her husband. Lindy will blaze and struggle and fight for a long time to get her due. LOCATION: 546

They are so poor that they have rows about buying butter, or shampoo, or anything that might not be deemed essential. Not everyone in the house is paying their fair share of the rent, but it is only Lindy who decides to take action. LOCATION: 588

She thinks the boys don’t really know how to count their bars, and they have no real sense of timing or rhythm, so it’s left to Lindy to literally drum it into them. She is determined not to ‘play through’ the quirky patterns, and not to straighten them out. She thinks that would be too nice, too boring. Instead, when she is presented with a song like ‘Cattle and Cane’, written by Grant with a time signature that she identifies as being ‘an 11-beat phrase’, she preserves all its strangeness, all its distinctiveness. She describes her drumming as providing a kind of counterpoint, rather than a back beat, following the melody in a more lyrical way. The song is lovely in its melodic sweetness, but thanks to Lindy’s drumming it is elevated into something much more elusive – a singular piece of music, impossible to pin down. LOCATION: 709

I wouldn’t have done it, but you’ve done it for me. I think the others are being disingenuous, up on their high horses claiming the moral high ground and pretending not to be curious about the details. LOCATION: 874

We devour biographies which only exist because someone opened a box they weren’t supposed to, or read some letters and diaries they were expressly forbidden to read. We respect privacy up until the point where we want to hear the end of the story, and then we tell ourselves that the story justifies everything. Is anything out of bounds? Maybe you and I are the kind of people who can’t look away; who can’t obey an instruction not to read; who can’t resist, can’t stand back, always want to know more. I appear to be more discreet than you but in many ways I aspire to your levels of indiscretion. I’m never going to purse my lips at you disapprovingly if you’re telling me a good story. LOCATION: 903

When it comes to describing you, everyone uses the same phrase: a force of nature. I do it myself in Bedsit Disco Queen: ‘as for Lindy, well, she was a sheer force of nature, an Amazonian blonde ten years older than me, unshockable, confrontational and loud’. Your friend Marie Ryan says in the liner notes to a Go-Betweens box set: ‘She was a force of nature, brash, opinionated and loud.’ Writer Clinton Walker says: ‘Lindy, is, as we know, this force of nature, and she’s very attractive in that, you know, and she can be a FUCKING NIGHTMARE.’ Peter Walsh doesn’t use the actual phrase, but comes close: Lindy Morrison. Her great, upending, tumultuous, machine-gun laugh . . . SHE SPOKE, IF NOT LIVED, EXCLUSIVELY IN CAPSLOCK, a Klieg light in a roomful of 40 watt bulbs. Describing her quickly exhausted all possible weather metaphors. Gales of laughter, gusts of enthusiasm, a storm of personality that broke in every room. An interview in Hero magazine says: ‘Lindy Morrison is an excitable girl. Some would say volcanic.’ LOCATION: 924

And we need our women friends in order to see ourselves mirrored and validated: to counter those moments we all experience when it feels like we don’t exist in the world; when we look and can’t find ourselves; when we are erased, pushed to the margins, written out of the story; when we start to feel invisible. In these moments, our female friends are invaluable to us. They reflect and embody us out there in the world; they remind us that we’re real, that we’re here, that we’re not mad. Female friendship isn’t a cosy thing: it’s a necessity. LOCATION: 1307

Still, why would I have known much about Australia? In 1987, I’d never been there. To me, she represents Otherness. She has come from Elsewhere. In that sense, the inaccuracy is truthful. Much about her is mysterious to me, unknowable. ‘I have a friend and she taught me daring / Threw back the windows and let the air in / She taught me how to be easy too / And I had a lot of unlearning to do.’ LOCATION: 1325

It was a time when we invented ourselves in diaries and letters. Not having social media didn’t mean we were more authentic. My letters to Lindy are as stylised and performative as any Instagram account. I am often trying to be my Best Self, or what I think is my Best Self – witty and anecdotal, flippant and bitchy. I want never to be boring. It will be years before I dare to show a more vulnerable, fucked-up self to my friends, and in these letters any flashes of truth are often disguised as jokes. LOCATION: 1375

She may have needed glasses, but she never had a problem seeing. LOCATION: 1551

When I learn about the child and teen she used to be, they are not immediately recognisable to me as the Lindy I thought I knew. The uncertainty, the self-doubt, the miseries suffered over her appearance – they’re at odds with my image of her. I had formed a first impression of her as a textbook heroine: a bold adventurer, no one’s plaything, no one’s victim. But I created that myself, out of almost nothing. LOCATION: 1607

Something has happened between the act and its recording – a band which was a trio has become the story of two friends. What happened to Two Wimps and a Witch? Who decided that the witch could be written out of the history, and who was at that meeting? LOCATION: 2428

Watched The Go-Betweens: Right Here (2017) – The Screen Guide – Screen Australia from

The Go-Betweens : Right Here is the feature length documentary about the people who created the seminal rock band the Go-Betweens. It is a heartfelt story of discovery, uncovering the intensely passionate, creative and fraught relationships that formed one of the most loved and influential bands in Australian rock history. It is also the universal story of a great creative adventure that spanned three decades, through countless successes, failures, romances, break-ups, betrayals, triumphs and tragedies.

Kriv Stenders tells the story of The Go-Betweens, from Robert Forster’s first meeting with Grant McLennan at university in 1975 throught to the end of the band when McLennan died in 2006. Stenders has some history with the band as the director of the music video to Streets of Your Town. It pulls together snippets of voices from inside and outside of the band both now and then. It is interesting to watch this alongside David Nichols book The Go-Betweens as it gives face to the many names. I would not be surprised if Nichols actually provided some of the source material. It differs from 16 Lovers Lane – The Story Behind the Album documentary in that it also goes into the band’s second reincarnation. It also provides a more nostalgic perspective on their legacy. A highlight is Clinton Walker’s commentary throughout.
Listened Write Your Adventures Down (A Tribute To The Go-Betweens) from

Tribute album to The Go-Betweens

Disc 1 recorded February and March 2007 at Sony BMG Music Studios, East Sydney

Limited edition version featuring bonus disc of live tracks performed at Triple J’s Tribute To The Go-Betweens concert; held at the Tivoli, Brisbane; November 30 2006.

Finishing off my Go-Betweens experience, I found a copy of the tribute album recorded after Grant McLellan’s death on eBay. I remember seeing it at the time, but never bought it. I like Bernard Zuel’s point that it highlights how good The Go-Betweens were.

This is a reminder of how good, and unconventional, the Go-Betweens were as songwriters (it would be good if fans of these younger artists went on to discover the originals). Plus, there are good versions here: Patience Hodgson from the Grates has the teenage energy Robert Forster originally displayed on Lee Remick; Youth Group capture the right tone of weariness of Grant McLennan’s Dusty In Here; and Glenn Richards of Augie March gets the edge of anxiety Forster gave to the fabulous House That Jack Kerouac Built.

I felt that the album highlights the legacy left by the band. Some cover albums can highlight how dated the music has become. However, although this albums plays it somewhat safe, it feels like their music could have been released now. Here I am reminded of Walter Benjamin’s discussion of the task of the translator.

The task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect [ Intention ] upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original. This is a feature of translation which basically differentiates it from the poet’s work, because the effort of the latter is never directed at the language as such, at its totality, but solely and immediately at specific linguistic contextual aspects. Unlike a work of literature, translation does not find itself in the center of the language forest but on the outside facing the wooded ridge; it calls into it without entering, aiming at that single spot where the echo is able to give, in its own language, the reverberation of the work in the alien one. Not only does the aim of translation differ from that of a literary work-it intends language as a whole, taking an individual work in an alien language as a point of departure but it is a different effort altogether. The intention of the poet is spontaneous, primary, graphic; that of the translator is derivative, [76] ultimate, ideational. For the great motif of integrating many tongues into one true language is at work. This language is one in which the independent sentences, works of literature, critical judgments, will never communicate – for they remain dependent on translation; but in it the languages themselves, supplemented and reconciled in their mode of signification, harmonize.

With this in mind, I wonder what a tribute album might sound like today? Other than Jen Cloher and Laura Jean, I wonder what other artists might be a part of the bill?

Listened Oceans Apart by Contributors to Wikimedia projects from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

Oceans Apart is the ninth and final studio album by The Go-Betweens, released in 2005. All the songs were written by Grant McLennan and Robert Forster. The album was recorded at the Good Luck Studios in London between November 2004 through to January 2005, except for “Boundary Rider” which was recorded at The White Room Recording Studio in Brisbane.

I always remember Oceans Apart, it did win an Aria, but I am not sure I ever heard it in full at the time it was released. I certainly never owned it. Listening now, it represents a classic Go-Betweens album, with a contrast between Robert Forster’s spritely upbeat tracks set-up in contrast with Grant McLennan’s dreamy pop. Although the band reunited with producer Mark Wallis, for me this album does not quite match the completeness of 16 Lovers Lane. I wonder if it misses the ‘Go-Betweens drama’ as Amanda Brown has put it or if a part of this disappointment is my own listening? I am going to assume the later. I think once I got over that I found that the hooks and melodies to be quite infectious. I also found the use of programmed beats and synthesisers worked, which seems ironic at time with how much the rallied against some of this in the 80’s.
Listened album by The Go-Betweens by Contributors to Wikimedia projects from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

Bright Yellow Bright Orange is the eighth album by Australian indie rock group The Go-Betweens, released in February 2003 on the Trifekta Records label. It was nominated at the 2003 ARIA Music Awards for Best Adult Contemporary Album, but lost to John Farnham for The Last Time.

Bright Yellow Bright Orange moves away from the rawness of The Friends of Rachel Worth to cut back to a more acoustic sound. Although not new, with 16 Lovers Lane being a heavily acoustic, this album is more stripped back about this album.

Bright Yellow Bright Orange is a perfect example of how guitar pop can sound when stripped of shallow musings and regurgitated anthemics.

The post-punk charge that found its way into some of the band’s early recordings is all but gone; the band focuses almost all of Bright Yellow Bright Orange (their eighth full-length) on their acoustic, folk-inflected side.

It may not be as quirky as the 1980’s but it is has an accentuated, intense beauty.

Listened album by The Go-Betweens by Contributors to Wikimedia projects from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

The Friends of Rachel Worth is the seventh album by Brisbane indie band The Go-Betweens, released 12 years after their sixth, 16 Lovers Lane. For this album, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan were joined by all members of American indie rock bands Sleater-Kinney and Quasi as well as new bassist Adele Pickvance. The album was recorded in Portland, Oregon at Jackpot! Recording Studio by Larry Crane.

McLennan said, “Rachel felt really natural – it wasn’t like Robert and I had separate managers or any of that industry bullshit. We’d always wanted to record in America, too, so that was a real dream. I think it has a really mysterious, otherworldly, ‘lost’ feel to it.”

Listening to The Friends of Rachel Worth, I am left thinking that any sort of follow-up to 16 Lovers Lane is going to be something of a come down. I think Pitchfork captures this dilemma in suggesting that the album feels like a ‘relic of another era’.

The Friends of Rachel Worth comes off as a relic of another era. New generations of Aussie pop bands have emerged since those early days

I remember listening to an interview about David Byrne’s album with St. Vincent, in which he talked about thinking about first space the music would be performed when writing the music. This album feels like music written for smaller spaces. For me, this particularly comes through in the way that the vocals have been recorded, they always feel close. There is also something raw about the sound and feel that reminded me in part of their first album Send Me a Lullaby, but still the precision of their later work.

The result is an album that combines the rawness of early recordings with the spare and pristine emotion of the band’s later material

Although there are explorations and extension of their sound, with synths, strings and distortion, gone are the layers of production.

Listened album by The Go-Betweens by Contributors to Wikimedia projects from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

16 Lovers Lane is the sixth album by Australian indie rock group The Go-Betweens, released in 1988 by Beggars Banquet Records. Prior to the recording of the album, longtime bassist Robert Vickers left the band when the other group members decided to return to Australia after having spent several years in London, England; he was replaced by John Willsteed. The album was recorded at Studios 301 in Sydney, between Christmas 1987 and Autumn 1988.

16 Lovers Lane was the final release from the original version of the band. The Go-Betweens broke up in 1989 and would produce no other material until Grant McLennan and Robert Forster reformed the band, with a completely different line-up of personnel, in 2000.

I doubt that it is any surprise that 16 Lovers Lane is my favourite Go-Betweens album. It was meant to be there breakout with a big push from the record companies. I am not sure what makes the album click, maybe it is the influence of multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown, the addition of John Willsteed on bass and guitar, the impact of big-name producer Mark Wallis, or the natural progression of time and technology? One thing that stands out to me is the consistent sound throughout. Gone is Tallulah’s experimentation with the funk grooves or distortion, this is instead replaced with the acoustic guitar that beds much of the album. Although it is heavily produced, leading to some songs being difficult to reproduce live, it still feels more subtle and subdued than say Spring Hill Fair. All in all, I feel that you can easily listen to their previous albums with an feeling that each provided its own piece of the puzzle to allow this album.

One thing to note is that a little bit like Before Hollywood, it is interesting listening to Streets of Your Town. Although it fits with the acoustic vibe of the album, it jumps out like a familiar landmark during a long drive. Even though the lyrical content is dark:

Don’t the sun look good today,

but the rain is on its way

Watch the butcher shine his knives,

and this town is full of battered wives

In some ways it almost feels too upbeat, neither fast nor slow, almost joyful compared to the rest of the album.

For me, one of the interesting things about the album is the legacy. I grew up seeing Cattle and Cane and Streets of Your Town late at night on Rage, however I never really knew anyone who actually listened to The Go-Betweens. It was not really until their second coming that I really went beyond the singles.


That Record Got Me High podcast explore some of the connections between Bob Dylan and The Velvet Underground.

SBS Classic Albums – 16 Lovers Lane provides some useful insight and context to the album and The Go-Betweens in general.

Listened album by The Go-Betweens by Contributors to Wikimedia projects from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

Tallulah is the fifth album by The Go-Betweens. It was released in May 1987 in the UK on Beggars Banquet Records. Prior to the recording of the album, the group had expanded to a five-piece with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown. The original release consisted of ten songs. In 2004, LO-MAX Records released an expanded CD which included a second disc of ten bonus tracks and music videos for the songs, “Right Here” and “Bye Bye Pride”.

Robert Forster stated that with Amanda Brown, that the band sounded like no other. Although I agree with this, I am not always sure that it always works with Tallulah. Unlike the experimentation of their earlier albums (Send Me a Lullaby and Before Hollywood), it feels like the experimentation on Tallulah was in sound and texture. For example strings are placed front and center in The House That Jack Kerouac Built and Right Here, the funk groove of Cut It Out is like no other, Hope Then Strife introduces the spanish guitar, Spirit of a Vampyre introduces the distorted guitar, while Bye Bye Pride brings in the Oboe.

In part I can see how this can be seen as a search for the right formula, but for me it all feels like a ‘what if’ album, what if there was a new multi instrumentalist in Amanda Brown? Andrew Stafford explains the school of thought that ‘every second album was better than its predecessor’:

Among fans of the Go-Betweens, there’s a school of thought that every second album they made was better than its predecessor: the first exploring a style, the second perfecting it, before they would immediately move on to a new form. In this way, the Go-Betweens’ parameters kept expanding, like Chinese boxes.

Listened Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (The Go-Betweens) by Contributors to Wikimedia projects from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, the fourth album by The Go-Betweens, was released in March 1986 in the UK on Beggars Banquet Records, the record label that would release the remainder of the original group’s LPs through their break-up in 1989. The album was recorded at Berry Street Studios in London, England.

Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express is often heralded as a favourite album. Gone is the technological experimentation tinkered with in Spring Hill Fair, what remains is a consistent bright sound and feel produced using a more organic approach. As Robert Forster explains in Grant and I:

The production credit for Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (what a wonderfully pretentious title) was going to read, ‘The Go-Betweens and Richard Preston’. There’d be no drum machines, no piecemeal recording, no acquiescence to a higher authority – we were experienced enough in the studio, and flying on the strength of our demoed songs and Richard’s easy, collaborative ways. Our intention was to expand upon the crisp, woody sound of Before Hollywood, to include a grander, more exotic range of instrumentation – vibraphone, oboe, piano accordion, and, at Grant’s suggestion and to my apprehension, a string section. But he was right; we were making music and living lives that demanded strings. And we had a crack rhythm section, with Robert’s swinging melodic bass and Lindy’s signature rolls and fills, inventive and sturdy under every song.

I found it one of that albums where after a few listens each tune sticks in your head. It marks a real progression in Forster and McLennan’s writing, although it may simply be a reflection of their movement away from experimental song writing to more standard 4/4 song structures.

Grant McLennan: There was quite a fundamental musical change in the band, towards simplification. Something we’ve been accused of in the past, of being almost a pop band, almost an art band, you know, now we’re simplifying. Thinking more of 4/4.

I really like how Clinton Walker captured in back in 1986:

That the Go-Betweens’ language is unlike anyone else’s in rock is undeniable; now, it is totally at ease with itself, stepping out boldly. Deceptively simple pop songs contain a whole world. Even if this isn’t the album that will provide the Go-Betweens with a real breakthrough, it will certainly pave the way. It is in itself an assertion of a right to life.

What is interesting is that even though this album moves away from the precision provided by programmed beats and synthesisers, the sounds is still very tight. With the development of their sound, it feels like the bass and drums have found their place providing a base for the jangly guitars. I was left wondering how the album might have sounded differently if say John Brand had produced it?

On a side note, Tracey Thorn reflects upon Head Full of Steam in her book on Lindy Morrison:

Years later, when their relationship is shattering and dissolving, he will write a song called ‘Head Full of Steam’, and when they play it live on UK television on The Old Grey Whistle Test, he’s added a few lines that don’t appear on the album version: ‘Steam may rise / Steam may tear / Can I come to your place / Can I wash your hair.’ At the time, Lindy tells me those lines refer to an actual event, which is precious in both their memories, and I feel in possession of secret information, privy to the background details which make up the vivid story of this song. — LOCATION 425

Read Grant & I by Robert Forster

The Go-Betweens, one of Australia’s most talented and influential bands, very nearly wasn’t. Grant McLennan didn’t want to be in a group, and couldn’t even play an instrument. That didn’t stop the singer-songwriter duo of Forster/McLennan becoming one of the most acclaimed partnerships in Australian music history.

Just as The Go-Betweens always defied categorisation, Grant & I is like no other rock memoir. At its heart is a privileged insight into a prolific artistic collaboration that lasted three decades, and an extraordinary friendship that rode out the band’s break-up to remain strong until Grant’s premature death in 2006.

Unconventional in lineup and look, noted for near misses and near hits, always a beat to one side of the mainstream – the band’s unusual beginnings were followed by twists that often confounded its members as well as fans and record companies. The story of The Go-Betweens is also the story of the times, and Grant & I is a wonderfully perceptive look at the music industry and a brilliantly fresh take on the sounds of the era.

As distinctive a writer of prose as he is of songs, Robert Forster is wise and witty, intimate and frank, astute and knowledgeable. There could be no better tribute than Grant & I to this partnership and band who remain loved and revered.

Grant and I is a memoir that traces the history of The Go-Betweens through Robert Forster’s relationship with Grant McLennan. The narrative traces the journey though beginnings of the band, the various ideas and inspirations that influenced them, trying to make it in Australia and abroad, and the experiences of producing each of the albums. Even with all the supposed accolades, Forster pulls back the curtain to capture a life of living in squats and endless touring, pointing out that although they may have tramped all over Europe, they never really got a chance relax and take things in, and how they were left paying back the advance given to tour with REM for the next 26 years.

In a review for Australian Book Review, Doug Wallen summarises it as follows:

As with the band’s songs, Forster’s account is melancholic, cheery, and self-deprecating all at once. It is often unruly and mischievous as well. Rather than presenting a stock-standard Australian success story, Grant & I offers up the tangled lives of two kindred spirits who decided to make music together. Younger readers who only know The Go-Betweens as canonised legends with a major bridge in Brisbane named after them can discover how long the band toiled in obscurity before securing that lasting recognition.

There has been criticism that Forster left a lot out, such as the place of heroin in their lives. However, I was left wondering if that was asking something from the book that it never promised to provide and if maybe that was not Robert’s story to tell? In some ways, there was an air of David Malouf’s Johnno or F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to it all, both books mentioned in the book, with McLennan both known and unknown.

Listened Spring Hill Fair (The Go-Betweens) by Contributors to Wikimedia projects from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

Spring Hill Fair is The Go-Betweens’ third album, released on 27 September 1984 in the UK on Sire Records. The LP was recorded during a “very wet May”[1] at Studio Miraval in Le Val, France. Prior to the recording of the album, bass player Robert Vickers had joined the group, enabling Grant McLennan to move to lead guitar. The original release consisted of ten songs. In 2002, Circus released an expanded CD which included a second disc of ten bonus tracks and a music video for the song, “Bachelor Kisses”.

Spring Hill Fair continues to develop The Go-Betweens towards the jingle-jangle sound that I associate them with. Gone is the contrast between fast and slow of their early albums. This is replaced with the attempt at a slicker pop sound, with the introduction of synthesizers and drum machines. However, they could not completely shake this earlier sound.

In the end, Spring Hill Fair feels like a searching album. I have read criticisms of John Brand, the producer of Before Hollywood, and the way in which he wanted to make a ‘proper album’. Some tracks feel honed, such as the singles Bachelor Kisses and Man O’Sand to Girl O’Sea, while other tracks still feel raw, such as Five Words and River of Money.

Wikipedia has a good collection of responses to the album:

Clinton Walker, writing in The Age newspaper, felt “the album as a whole was disappointing, disjointed and uneven.”[27] Helen FitzGerald was more enthusiastic in her review for Melody Maker, writing, “There’s an endearing imperfection to this record, but it’s a calculation of style rather than incompetence of design. In places, the vocals quaver dangerously as out-of-focus love songs paint a picture of the kind of melancholia that’s impossible to forge.” The songs were compared to sepia-toned photographs.[28] Biba Kopf of NME said, “It would be silly to pretend the Go-Betweens are a sparkling fun experience – they are sometimes excessively sombre, verging on sobriety. They don’t make for the easiest of entries, but the pleasures and rewards are longer lasting.”[29] NME ranked Spring Hill Fair at number 11 among the “Albums of the Year” for 1984.[30] In 1996, Robert Christgau of The Village Voice gave the album an “A” rating.[26]

With this album, maybe like the classic Beatles debate between Lennon and McCartney, I felt myself becoming more engaged with McLennan’s tracks, rather than Foster’s.

Listened album by The Go-Betweens by Contributors to Wikimedia projects from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
I was listening to The J Files on Cocteau Twins the other day and Robin Guthrie spoke about the influence of The Birthday Party. They played a few gigs together and were a part of getting them a start with 4AD. The Go-Betweens were similar in that vein. Although it can be easy to go looking for associations and inspiration, what seems at play at the time is the punk ethos.

There are two things that stand out for me about The Go-Betweens second album Before Hollywood. Firstly, the addition of the piano and organ to there sound. I think it is significant that the organ comes in early in the opening track A Bad Debt Follows You. This sets the tone for me for the rest of the album.

The second thing was the contrast in intensity throughout the tracks. One minute there is an urgency, then there is not. Even with this though, there is always a hook pulling you back in.

In a review from the time, Clinton Walker argues that Before Hollywood is a ‘more complete’ album.

Where Send Me a Lullaby was fragile and occasionally faltering, yet still possessed of an uplifting resonance, Before Hollywood is a more complete album. Endearing as their vulnerability was, the Go-Betweens now play with confidence and solidity, though still with an edge . . . [here] they offer ten deceptively simple pop songs that pack an emotional impact just below a skin of finely wrought and realised melody and rhythmic attack.Page 209

It was interesting listening to this album as I grew up watching Cattle and Cane on Rage late at night, but did not really know any of the other tracks. On Cattle and Cane, I love the story about how McLellan used Nick Cave’s guitar and stole it’s only tune:

The album’s centrepiece, Grant’s ‘Cattle & Cane’, was a song born of a certain homesickness/nostalgia, and written on a guitar owned by Nick Cave. ‘So that’s why I could never write anything on it,’ Nick later complained. ‘Did I steal its only tune?’ Grant apologised. ‘I’ll give you a credit next time I see my publisher.’ Page 180

Listened album by The Go-Betweens by Contributors to Wikimedia projects from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

Send Me a Lullaby is The Go-Betweens’ debut album. It was released in November 1981 in Australia on Missing Link as an eight-track mini-album. It was subsequently released in the UK on Rough Trade Records, an independent music record label (Missing Link’s UK distributors) in February 1982, as a 12-track album.

Send Me a Lullaby is The Go-Betweens first album recorded in November 1981 with the help of Tony Cohen. It is interesting going to an artists early work and listening afresh. All in all it is an album that feels like it is trying to find itself. One minute there are jangley hooks that I could imagine coming up in a Talking Heads album, then there is a track like Eight Pictures which I could imagine Dave McComb brooding to.

The band’s first official album, Send Me a Lullaby, produced by The Go-Betweens and Tony Cohen, on Missing Link in Australia, was released as an eight-track mini-album in November 1981.[1] Missing Link’s UK distributors, Rough Trade, released the album in the UK, three months later, with four tracks added.[2][5] Morrison provided the album title, in preference to Two Wimps and a Witch, from a Zelda Fitzgerald novel Save Me the Waltz.[8] The group had developed a subtler sound consisting of dry semi-spoken vocals, complex lyrics and melodic but fractious guitar pop influenced by contemporary bands such as Television, Wire and Talking Heads. Australian rock music historian, Ian McFarlane, described the album as “tentative and clumsy [with] its brittle, rough-hewn sound”.[2]

Andrew Stafford explains that it is very much reflection of the times.

Released in 1981, it now sounds very much of its time: jerky, influenced by all sorts of even jerkier-sounding British post-punk bands like Gang of Four, the Raincoats and the Slits.

It was interesting to read Robert Forster’s reflection in Clinton Walker’s Stranded:

Robert Forster: I think it’s really important, especially in Australia, that we’re seen as feminine in opposition to the across-the-board masculinity of Australian bands. But you see, I see the Birthday Party as feminine too.

I find it hard to imagine a world where The Go-Betweens are hand-in-hand with The Birthday Party.