The Gentle Three-Headed Monster
Mat Snow New Musical Express, 21 August 1982
The Birthday Party, The Laughing Clowns and The Go-Betweens all played London's Venue recently, which was a neat way of seeing three of the planet's better groups.
They're all Australian and all know each other, but obvious connections cease there. The same spirit moves them in different directions, and in each direction they lead the pack.
The Go-Betweens are the quiet ones. Both live and on record they are deceptively unassuming. Simultaneously direct and oblique, the music's lyrical melodiousness barely conceals a core of violent passion.
Singer, songwriter, bass player and occasional guitarist Grant McLennan elaborates: "I'm embarrassed by extravagant outbursts in myself. I can't do it and that's why I don't do it on stage; but there is a perverse interest to want to be like that".
Grant is neat, compact and deliberate. He shares with the two others a relaxed amiability and intense seriousness, but at time his wit is as taut and cutting as an E string.
By contrast, fellow songwriter, singer and guitarist Robert Forster gives the appearance of unruffled bemusement which accords with his considerable height. But once stirred he shoots from the hip.
Completing the trio, Lindy Morrison just LIVES drums. Energetic and leonine, she beats a constant tattoo on chairbacks, jampots, anything. "I choose beats because I can't trust words".
Robert and Grant have been partners for four years since student days. Their single Lee Remick/Karen on their own Able label caught the attention of Postcard's Alan Horne, who contacted them whilst on their travels in the UK. The result was the acclaimed 45 I Need Two Heads.
Robert enthuses over Postcard and the movement associated with it: "The last time any rawness or genuine passion broke through was about April last year when Orange Juice put out Poor Old Soul, the Scars put out All About You and the Fire Engines put out Candyskin. They were great records and there was a promise that all that would go through and it didn't. Groups like the Human League and Soft Cell came along.
All that music is rooted in pop like Gary Glitter, Abba and T. Rex, whereas Orange Juice and the Fire Engines were drawing on non-standard stuff like the Velvets and Television. It wasn't a recognisable sound that people had known over the past ten years like glamrock".
Ironically Robert scorns the man who did so much in print to put OJ et al into the public eye.
"It comes from people like Paul Morley that whole Dale Carnegie approach that he's got to pop, of money, action, power, 'my five favourite people' all that camp Warhol stuff. 'Dollar is the most avant garde group in the world'. It reads well, certainly it's outrageous, nobody else is thinking that. Paul Morley is just trying to drum up something around himself a journalist who wants to attach himself to a generation like Tom Wolfe does".
Grant: "There's only one person around who talks about passion in music and we all know who he is and he's just a hippy sham".
"Yeah, Mr. Passion".
Robert: "Just him standing there with the clothes and the profile how people can still talk in terms of soul and commitment being the absolute charlatan that he is "
Grant: "All the great songs they're meant to be writing nowadays they're just borrowing phrases. Ian Penman wrote that they're not BEING passionate, they're just singing ABOUT passion. A totally different thing. I tend to trust passion more when it's in a quieter voice, when it doesn't announce itself"
Grant and Robert thus returned to their native Brisbane, and in the summer of 1980 the trio was completed by Lindy who had drummed in local bands for five years. The aggressive versatility of her style (she lists Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Billy Ficca ex- Television now Waitresses, and Geoffrey Wagner of the Laughing Clowns amongst her influences) dissipates any suspicion of whimsicality in the Go-Betweens' music.
Frustrated with Brisbane, they moved to larger, swankier Melbourne, home of the Birthday Party. There they recorded the album Send Me a Lullaby for Missing Link. It's a minor masterpiece. Though their main influences early Talking Heads, the "beautiful, cathedral-like sound" of pre-country Byrds, Dylan, Richman, '60s folk- rock, the Velvets are apparent, the strength of their own vision distinguishes the Go-Betweens as true originals. Their songs are the expression of authentic and complex feelings inspired, inspirational and affecting.
But mass exposure still eludes them. As Robert says, "If you make great records you want as many people as possible to hear them."
So when Rough Trade offered an advance of three plane tickets to the UK as part of a deal on the British release of Lullaby, the Go-Betweens not surprisingly took off.
Before leaving Melbourne they found themselves in the studio with the Birthday Party, when members of both groups recorded a Forster-McLennan number After the Fireworks. Its fate is a subject of dispute between bands and labels. As for what it's like, Robert comments, "It's an interesting mesh of Go-Betweens' and Birthday Party's styles. The Birthday Party win."
Since arriving in London in the spring, uncomfortable survival has been possible with the sympathetic support of Rough Trade, for whom they will be recording their second album in October. Judging by new songs aired live and on the Peel show, this promises to be a classic more sharply defined and fully realised than their debut.
The last word to Grant: "The Fall are a band I've got immense respect for. I love that idea of hillbillies coming into a big place and just doing what they want. Like the Birthday Party the response they got was great, these wild people ! And whilst we're not as loud as the Fall or as photogenic in a crazy way as the Birthday Party, I'd like to think we're close".