on a Sunny Afternoon
That's where it starts, and ultimately, ends. If you really
want to really understand the Go-Betweens and their music, then
you have to understand sunlight. Not the physical, prismatic qualities
of light, but the emotional nature of it as a means of defining
a time and a place in England what sunlight there is is generally
described as "dappled." It's filtered and more often
than not the consistency of thin sickly milk. In Australia it blasts
the landscapes, seeking out nooks and crannies, penetrating cracks
in buildings and catching every particle of dust in the air. And
somewhere in the middle were the Go-Betweens, stranded between continents,
styles, cultures and landscapes, but always with their eyes focused
firmly on the sun. When they were here they wanted to be there,
and when they got there they cast their minds back here, but wherever
you are, the sun is always overhead. Whether it's cold and
dusty in here or the sun it finds it's warm beside me.
so one sunny afternoon (naturally) John Mullen and I meet Robert
Forster and Grant McLennan on Grant's back deck for Pernod
and ice, percolated coffee and chilled water and an exhaustive overview
of the Go-Betweens life, loves and art. The reasons are simple:
MDS have repackaged the entire back catalogue of the Go-Betweens
on CD, remixed and remastered and reissued with additional liner-notes,
band photos and associated ephemera. And even if the jury is still
out about the graphics used in the repackaging, there's no
denying Robert and Grant's pride (and one suspects, relief)
that all six albums have finally been released here on one label,
even if, contrary to early reports, there are no additional b-sides
and outtakes which seems the vogue these days for CD reissues ("Well,
Highway 61 didn't have any additional tracks," reasons
with the re-release of the albums in two batches of three during
April, Robert and Grant are playing a series of shows next weekend
which follows their sold-out Zoo gig late last year. After that
they head to Europe for one show in Paris in June, after which they
will resume their solo careers. Add to that the recent releases
of Right Here, a tribute album, featuring twenty-one of Robert and
Grant's finest sung by everyone from Pray TV and Snout through
the Meanies to Frente and the Killjoys, and it's obvious that
the Go-Betweens are finally enjoying a long overdue renaissance.
So welcome then to the history of the Go-Betweens, a strange, funny
and bittersweet tale spanning two decades and as many continents.
And the Go-Betweens' move to England in late 1979, at the height
of the viciousness of the Bjelke-Petersen National Party government
is as a good a place as any to start. Given, in the light of the
recent change of state government, that Robert intends to record
his next album overseas, is this just a coincidence? Plus ça
"My brother pointed this out to me
No, it's just
good timing. Well, the first one was a lot more serious. The late
seventies, it was
I mean the city's changed so much,
it's just extraordinary, which I think is great. I mean, there
was just no encouragement for anyone, that was the thing that really
hit me, it was just like there was a real dumb this was the
time when the Queensland Cabinet, half of them hadn't gone
to secondary school, right? and it was like nothing was fostered,
nothing was encouraged, and even if you were doing photography,
filmmaking, anything that was outside of real estate, selling cars
or trying to get a mining lease somewhere outside of Charters Towers,
or the demolition business, if you were interested in those things,
then you were encouraged. But for anyone with even a fraction of
any sort of artistic bent or any creative endeavour or anything,
there was just no infrastructure, there was nothing. That's
what I found the toughest. It was appalling."
did you feel when 'independent' MP Liz Cunningham handed
the Nationals the keys to the state?
"Well, these people are politicians, they don't operate
with the same kind of moral or ethical principles that I operate
on I'm not talking about other people but you
know, unfortunately it's within our parliamentary system that
a very marginal seat can pull down a government. I think in general
the Goss government wasn't functioning as well as it was when
it first started so they have to accept responsibility. I think
it's a shame that it went that way, I think it's a joke.
My politics obviously lie more to the left, it's just a shame
that Gladstone has been besmirched, the home town of my brother."
one thing that always struck me was that the Go-Betweens were never
an overtly strident political band, they somehow engendered a political
attitude through their very apoliticality.
"Well for me it wasn't a motivation, to me it was just
the way it was, and the way Robert was when we first started the
band. It was clear, I just knew from talking to him when I first
met him that he was left and bent in many ways and at that stage
in my life I was like that too. And the people who eventually played
with us in the three piece and then the four piece and then the
five piece all had similar leanings. Obviously, you're not
going to have Nazis or Ku Klux Klan people in the band
also we never made an issue out of the fact there were women and
men in the band. We weren't interested in the political agenda
and a class thing which all the English groups when we first started
had this dividing line between things. Mainly it was just due to
our attitude which came through in the songs and the way we played
them and the way we presented ourselves
"And the way we walked."
was one of, in no kind of big way, just one of tolerance,
a kind of questioning, stuff like that. We never focused on one
point of view where people would align you to something. We never
the classic rock and roll story of how Mick Jagger met Keith Richards
on a station and struck up a conversation purely on the basis of
Richards' Willie Dixon records. How did you two first meet
"Friendship, I think, just looking for people I think. This
was at Queensland University, just trying to find people to start
something. It's a stage, and for me personally the big thing
I had to realise was that I played with musicians, but I had to
get past that. Looking for musicians was going to get me nowhere,
and I had to find someone that was just entirely on the same wavelength,
that was willing to learn the bass. And that was Grant. So once
we got over that hurdle which at the time was a big thing, if you're
starting a band, you've got some songs, and the immediate people
that you start looking for don't play any instruments, it can
be quite difficult. And then the next person we looked for was,
we were looking for a woman to play drums and Grant and I were asking
women at gigs that we thought just had a feeling, or looked the
way, and we eventually had a girl that was learning to play the
drums, that was just taking lessons. And the first ever photo of
the band was with that other girl, who at that stage was just learning
to play the drums, who wasn't playing with us. So the whole
idea was if you were just communicating on this theme, the songs
were quite simple, we'll just get there. And it wasn't
also, well let's try and learn an hour and a half's worth
of cover versions, it was just four songs, but the songs
Lee Remick and Karen and stuff were so simple and so direct
that we got people
But to get to that stage where you're
forming a band and you're looking for people who aren't
musicians, to get them in, that was the major step."
inspirational were The Saints?
"Well I think the fact they were from Brisbane was good, the
fact they'd made such a great single, the fact that they'd
recorded an album
the only other band before that were like
the Railroad Gin, but they were real muso musos. And neither bands
were making records. Like it's so different if you grew up
in like Birmingham or Sheffield or Manchester or Liverpool, your
uncle was probably in a band that made a record, you know. You'd
go down to the pub, and the local publican had sung with someone,
do you know what I mean? But here it was like no one had done anything.
No one had ever made a fucking album! And so you never met anyone,
you never met anyone who said 'I went to school with Mick Jagger.'
It was like a whole
no one had made an album, and then The
Saints just suddenly came through and just went Bang! Classic single,
Bang! make an album in Brisbane, Bang! get out of Brisbane. It was
like this triple punch."
"Yeah, we did our pilgrimage, we went up to Petrie Terrace
and saw the fireplace before they tore it down, saw 'I'm
Stranded' while it was written there."
"They should have taken that wall down, that should be in the
Queensland Art Gallery. You just sort of cut it down, put it there,
if someone had the foresight to do that
Me A Lullaby (1982)
"Send Me A Lullaby is to me an inauspicious debut. It's
a record that I think if I'd heard well, it's hard
for me to say that, but if I'd heard that and I wasn't
in the band, I think my comment would have been 'What the fuck
is going on here.' There's great melodies but then there's
changes which to this day I can't work out. There's lyrics
to this day which I don't understand and when I actually summon
up enough courage to get to the microphone, I sound like a choirboy
with a mouthful of fruitcake. It's a very unusual record to
me and I have to say it really wasn't
there were two
albums before that which I think we should have made, and in hindsight
that's why I'm so disappointed with the record, it's
got nothing to do with the public because they haven't heard
those first two.
first album I always think of is an album of the first two singles
and the songs that Robert had til 1979, and then I think of the
record that was demoed in Brisbane for Missing Link, and I think
we recorded one song or two songs off it for the record six months
later or three months later and Missing Link just spewed, they preferred
the first one. The first one, Very Quick On The Eye, was more melodic
and straightforward; we get to Melbourne and start hanging around
St. Kilda and The Birthday Party and
"And also we were with Tony Cohen."
"We were familiar with Tony's
of Very Quick On The Eye, which cropped up many years later in vinyl
bootleg form, Robert says simply, "Yeeaaaah, let's just
forget the whole period."
"Well that's a very good album."
"Oh good, I'm getting the weird ones."
"That's a very good album. We're on form there, It's
all starting to come together. But it's a leap, we had to
Send Me A Lullaby's like a complete deconstruction. We were
a lot more straightforward band in the late seventies, and then
we deconstruct, and then we start to put together what I guess is
going to take us all the way through the eighties. We start to work
in a different way, to write a lot more contemporary work. We could
have kept on well, I could have kept on writing sixties
sort of pastiche-type numbers for quite a while but we had to
I don't know, go on. We'd seen the Birthday Party, we'd
seen the Laughing Clowns, we'd seen Orange Juice and we had
to come to terms with that as opposed to trying to learn side two
of that. We had to go on. And so Before Hollywood is the start of
that. It's recorded in England at a seaside town called Eastbourne."
"It was a Christian studio."
"They were doing gospel on Sunday, Go-Betweens Monday to Saturday."
important were your contemporaries in terms of feeding off each
(laughing) "I think we completely influenced The Birthday Party.
I think they ripped everything they had off us."
"Oh yeah. The Birthday Party listened to our first record,
then went out and did Junkyard."
"I think in terms of The Birthday Party and The Laughing Clowns,
we were completely different, but I think that we were a lot more
in awe of them than they were of us, definitely. We were just Brisbane
bumpkins basically, but looked on affectionately. But they were
at full strength, they were at full blast."
"They'd hit their second change in life
and we were still on the first step. But then by the
time we hit Before Hollywood, we were competing, we were there with
them. Some people would say surpassing them, I'd let those
people say that."
"I never heard Nick say that."
"I'd probably go 'Well, if you want to say that,
that's okay with me,' but I go 'No comment.'"
Hill Fair (1984)
(groans) "I'm getting the tough ones."
"I'll take this one, you can go to Liberty Belle, you
can go back to the bad ones if you want. Ummm, Spring Hill Fair
France, Robert Vickers in the band."
the choice of album title a reflection of a particular state of
"No, I remember very clearly, I think we were at Marseille
airport or some airport down there Cannes and we'd finished
the record and we were sitting around and I remember very clearly
sitting in a coffee shop or something and we were talking about
what we were going to call the record, and I think it had dawned
on us that both of the first albums had two 'L's in them
and so when the name Spring Hill Fair came up, we were originally
going to have an 'E' on the end of Fair, so it was going
to be more a Renaissance/Pentangle sort of thing."
"A Pentangle vibe! Were we thinking that?"
"Well that's what you were thinking, you were going for
that, you were trying to put the Fayre into it. Vickers was talking
about Edmund Spencer, the little booky that he is. But Spring Hill
Fair came from
it was generally not that we were homesick,
I think we just wanted to have, after Before Hollywood, which was
so obviously an American kind of thing, a regional home-town thing.
And Spring Hill Fair is an annual festival, and that was the reason."
"It's also where we'd lived during the Send Me A
week, David McCormack passed on Simon Holmes' definition of
a band's first three albums as the first being naïve,
the second as 'I hate being a rock star,' and the third
being a balance of art and commerce. Is the latter a reasonable
description of Spring Hill Fair?
"That's a fair comment, but don't forget we were
on our third label for our third album, so art and commerce
at the moment we were also on our third label, so were pretty jaded.
Art and commerce didn't come into it, we were on Sire so we
thought Talking Heads, Richard Hell and the Voidoids
"Madonna, so we thought 'Let's give it a go',
but we just weren't as burning and inspired. If you'd
actually got the ten songs off Before Hollywood and put them beside
the ten songs on Spring Hill Fair, I think the ten songs on Before
Hollywood were better, and that really has nothing to do with art
and commerce, it has to do with songwriting."
there's definitely a production edge on Spring Hill Fair.
"Yeah, there is, which is the producer's fault
idiot! A complete and utter fool! We had a fraction of a budget
in a groovy little studio; we get tons of money and he goes 'Oh,
I can get a deal down in the south of France,' and we're
going 'He did such a great job on the last album, it's
the same guy,' but he sort of flipped out a bit. The only other
point is we're now which I think is important
we're the classic rock band: drums, bass, Grant and I on guitars.
So we had to get that together, and now we've been going since
1978, it's now 1984, and suddenly six years, we're the
classic rock band. So we had to reinvent that, which takes us to
the next album, which is the reinvention."
"Yeah it is, but also have to
Spring Hill Fair has to
be put in perspective of what we came from with the first two records,
having to pinch and save and beg for an extra ten pounds to use
a bit of reverb or something, to going down to Jacques Loussierre's
studio where Jon Anderson (Yes) sang in front of the mosaic window
and 'Would you like some rabbit for dinner?" It's
just like 'Oooh, I love France, and the last thing I want to
do is go into the studio.'
I mean, we're young, we're impressed
by it, but Robert's point about John Brand, the producer, he
did change between the second and third, which we did as well, but
he went and made a very produced 1984 English pop record, which
in a way
well, that's not what we were. We were the band
from Before Hollywood, but now a four-piece, and it should have
been done that way."
effect did changing of record companies for the first three albums
have on the band?
"It made a huge difference, because Rough Trade was going bankrupt
basically, and they decided to put all their pennies
when we first arrived there was like twenty groups on the label,
and a year and a half later it's us and The Smiths, and they
quite wisely decided to put all their pennies in The Smiths, who
were already in the charts with This Charming Man. So if Rough Trade
had more money, and imagine a label
a band puts out a great
album, it made the top twenty of all the music papers, Before Hollywood,
and they haven't got enough money to make the next album, it's
a crime. It's a crime against art and humanity. They couldn't
give it to us, and if we'd been able to stay there, if we had
have stayed in house we'd have had Jim Travis and everything
and it would have been a lot better, but instead they go bankrupt,
somehow we get flipped over onto Sire, suddenly they go 'Okay,
here's eight to ten times the budget they'd had before,'
and you just go, well, now it's a whole different system. And
we go 'Well, no, we don't want all that money, we just
want to go back to that little Christian studio?' You don't
do it. You go upwards and onwards."
"And also some of our friends in some of those bands that we
mentioned, they were recording in similar studios with similar budgets,
which were fair to the project and so we felt 'Okay, here's
a chance.' But to me what came out was a good record when it
could have been a great record."
"Yes, but the other thing was, it was the south of France,
go down there and a big studio, okay let's do it, but we were
never like, you know 'Grant, you've got to write Cattle
And Cane part two, I've got to do something and let's
go back to the same studio, we've got our acre of success with
Before Hollywood, now let's just keep it there and clone it,
let's keep it there and diddle a little with the formula, 'it's
never been our way. It's like, these are impulses go!
And often it worked, occasionally it stalled or got halfway there,
it was always interesting. And that's the way it ended up."
Belle And The Black Diamond Express (1986)
"And then we put out Spring Hill Fair and it gets great reviews,
"We were always getting encouragement."
"we tour, things are getting better, London's getting
more bearable, our friends are successful so we can go around and
see them and drink their champagne, and we find ourselves in a position
of having to find a new label. It was English Elektra, and Elektra
is once again a label Television was on! The Doors! We're fans,
and Robert will tell you the same thing, it was like 'Great!
Elektra! Fuck!' One of my favourite records ever made is on
Elektra. It was a great label, and an actual great label on their
record too, and we were talking about putting the original Elektra
label on it, not the new one. And so it's all very serious
and we go into the studio and it's cold and we rehearse a lot
for it and I just know straight away that the songs that we've
got a real together more than Spring Hill Fair. On Before Hollywood,
the songs just kind of flow into each other whereas on Spring Hill
Fair they jump from song to song. Whereas when you listen to Liberty
Belle it just kind of flows. And there were problems with the record
because the label that we were doing it for
"Well, that one collapsed too."
"Yeah, it collapsed, in the middle of the record."
"Fourth album, fourth label, bang!"
"That label collapses in England so in the middle of the recording
Beggars Banquet stepped in and we've been with them ever since,
so that was very nice of them. But also we used another person on
that record, like we had on Before Hollywood, a kind of keyboard-y
dude called Dean B. Speedwell, and he was such a musician that we
could say 'Well, we want vibes like Lionel Hampton' and
he could do it, or we wanted a bassoon part and he could play it."
"A very talented man."
"And it was downstairs in the basement, so it was completely
different from the huge chateau that we were in the previous year,
so it was back to garage recordings. And then Robert got sick after
we'd done the record and he couldn't do his vocals, so
we went to a mixing studio and Robert did his vocals there. So it
was a strange thing. Robert and I didn't get the chance to
experiment with the vocal, he didn't have a lot of time. But
Tracey Thorn (Everything But the Girl) sang on a couple of tracks
(Head Full of Steam, Apology Accepted), we put strings on the record,
which we had a little bit on Spring Hill Fair just to go
back a bit, we had two versions of Part Company, we actually had
a version with strings on it and we never used it, we used the Jacques
Loussier version. I was very interested through the pop thing we
were talking about before, and then we did a tour not long after
that and when we were in Australia we met Amanda Brown who played
violin, so that's that record. I still think it's a great
record. And the actual remastering for Liberty Belle is brilliant.
It really is."
"That's the one thing that shines up, that's the
one that everyone's going to talk about."
"We were never able to well, to my ears have
it sonically the way I wanted it, and remastering hasn't affected
any chord changes or anything, it's just brought it closer
to how I originally heard it, and it's brighter and richer
and fuller. It's great."
me the muted colours of the cover of Tallulah, the orange hues and
even the fruit used in the group shot on the cover, suggest a lushness
and mellowness after the crisp sparkle of Liberty Belle.
"Well, it's good that you get that because the first version
of Tallulah, if you'd have heard that, you wouldn't have
thought that. We'd have had rotting fruit on the cover
"Again, we were sort of cursed. We had the engineer that we
were using on Liberty Belle, Dicky Preston, and working with Dicky
was good. We then went on to the next one and we were put into this
"Was it Camden or something?"
"Yeah, it was over a practice room or something, I don't
"Holloway, Holloway. You could see the prison."
"And so Dickey didn't do a good job I think on Tallulah,
so it had to be rescued and remixing a little but which always sounds
horrible but it actually worked out okay with Mark Wallis who went
on to do; we'd sort of meet people and they'd go on to
do the next album, because Dickey had done demos for Spring Hill
Fair, that's how we met him, which actually sounds better than
the actual album does. And then we were doing the next one and we
liked the engineer who had done the demos so he comes on, and then
we remixed Tallulah and we meet Mark Wallace who does the remixing
and we bring him down here to do 16 Lovers Lane. But our last London
you see talking to Grant and I, we're very tough
on them. And really, you'll talk to us and we'll point
out all the things we don't like about them, and all the little
things, the could-have-beens or whatever. Really we should be actually
praising the shit out of these albums and going 'Masterpiece,
masterpiece, masterpiece! Buy, buy, buy! They're at Toombul
Music now, get there in a Kombi bus as fast as you can!' Grant
and I should be saying that
"Get some for Mother's Day."
"But Tallulah really could have been the big, dark masterpiece,
and I don't know, we didn't
But it's good."
"It's also having a new member in the band, there were
more instruments to use, there was another voice to use, the songs
once again jump around, no track ever falls into the next like Liberty
Belle and Before Hollywood. Tallulah gets named after some friends
of ours' baby in Melbourne, we find out that Tallulah means
what was it? God of some American Indian theme wasn't
"Oh really, I never knew any of this."
"Yeah it means something. Lindy I think discovered this or
someone told her. But it was a record which I originally wanted
Kate Bush to produce. I remember us sitting down and talking about
"That was very realistic of you."
"Yes it was. Well, we tried for John Cale with Spring Hill
Fair if you remember rightly."
"No, we never tried for John Cale with Spring Hill Fair, he
got foisted on us at every opportunity."
"It was going to be a thousand pounds a track, which was
"We were going to do it on a cassette player a someone's
house he'd still get the thousand pounds!"
"So when we hear it back, it definitely had to be remixed,
and the record's better for that reason. But I listened to
it a couple of weeks ago and it is a very good record. Songs which
at the time escaped me, like a song like You've Never Lived,
I listened to that this morning and it's great
You Tell Me."
"I was surprised, I think it was in the J-Mag, but Stuart Coupe
had that as his favourite Go-Betweens album, and he's listened
to them, he knows them. But that's what I like, people have
their favourites. And that's what I was saying before, we've
done enough albums for people to say that. It's not like Television
Marquee Moon, or with certain groups you go 'That's
definitely the best, the other two are crap or okay.' It's
like so many people have different favourites, and that's when
I know you've done enough work."
Lovers Lane (1988)
on 16 Lovers Lane you almost sound like you're musically and
"People say this and they get it wrong!"
"Resigned to what?"
life, love and the end of the band. After all, the last song is
Dive For Your Memory.
"I think that's true. That song, which I wrote and which
was placed there was in no way placed in terms of any forward thing
which we couldn't have had."
"But it is brilliant, isn't it?"
"It was a good way to go out. I think to me 16 Lover's
Lane was the perfect combination between and this is just
my perspective, it's going to sound horrible it's
the perfect combination between London melancholy and Sydney sunshine,
recording, being there. So it's like taking all this stuff
that's been done in a dark place, and then taking it to this
well, we'd spent five years in London blackness, darkness,
greyness and poverty and suddenly for some reason we seemed
to have more money in Sydney, and we all had places to live and
being in a city where after five years we can go to the beach in
ten minutes. And just sitting around the back of people's houses
just writing, playing guitar, like this. But the songs were from
this sort of thing, and our feeling somehow just burst into sunshine
suddenly. And this time instead of the Spring Hill Fair huge
studio, we fuck up somehow we get someone who goes 'Huge
studio' and knows how to use it Mark Wallis who
goes 'Okay, we've got the songs.' And like you say,
bang! And it works."
"Yeah, exactly what Robert is saying I think is illustrated
by the last song from the previous record, which I think is Hope
And Strife, and the first song on 16 Lover's Lane is Love Goes
On. So it was exactly what he was talking about. The last thing
you heard was that, and then the next thing you hear is Love Goes
also a record which we worked on very differently to the other records,
because Robert and I demoed all the songs together and then showed
them to the band and the producer, so that was a fundamentally different
way of working. And in a way it meant that the songs structures
were already down, there was less discovery in away, so it is a
very homogenised kind of
It's like, have you seen when
holes are in windows and sunlight's pouring in through holes
like that in a dark room? That's what the record is like to
did the Go-Betweens break up at the right time?
"Yes, definitely. I think breaking up right at the end of 1989,
I think that was right. I mean, look! (he grabs the six album stack)
That looks pretty thick to me, do you know what I mean? That looks
like a good body of work, and if we'd broken up after two or
three albums, I'd have gone, 'A lot of unfulfilled promise,
a lot of avenues we didn't do.'
We could have gone on for three albums, we could
have gone on for two albums four albums but by the
time we got to six, I think that was exactly right. There's
a lot of moods, a lot of ups and downs and time periods and everything
encased in that and it's like, two more albums than the Velvet
Underground did. It is a solid body of work, so yeah, I'm happy
with it. Especially right at the end of 1989, I thought was good."
the advantage of six years hindsight, is it easier now to see it
as a logical time to end the band?
"No, it was a lot more emotional ending at the time, as you
can imagine. So it felt right at the time and it felt a lot more
emotional. Now you can be a bit more dispassionate about it and
I'm just as convinced it was the right thing. I was very happy
after the band broke up, I was very very relieved and I woke up
just started a new song called German Farmhouse and it goes 'I
was living in seclusion for a couple of years in a German farmhouse
and drinking beer/Every day I'd wake up with a smile from ear
to ear.' And that's what I'd think. I'd wake
up happy, not knowing that there was a band meeting and I had to
be somewhere, or worries about who's producing the record,
tours, getting money for wages, all that
I was very happy
that was over."
"Oh yeah, it was the right time. It was interesting because
we were rehearsing another record and we did play a couple of shows
with a new bass player and sometimes I think about what that record
might have been like because we were talking about Mick Harvey producing
it and maybe Berlin we were using, what
and Dangerous were the three words we had, so that would have been
interesting, but in retrospect I think there perhaps should have
been a little more
maybe we should have put a little more
distance at the time on it, like actually think about our decision
a little more. But the band was always run on coincidence and serendipity
and things like that, and the fact that Robert and I were both thinking
it at the same time kind of meant that it was a spiritual reason,
and that was the reason why we started the band in the first place."