Lappin June 1 1997
the tragic beauty of a brilliant band that didn't make it big. But
hark, is that the Go-Betweens on a comeback?
the gold dust slips between the cracks. The "critics' band is something
of a music business cliche, usually denoting a bunch of indulgent
goateed Californians, constructing sound collages out of white noise
and the sampled voice of Jeffrey Dahmer, rightly ignored by the
consumers and left to languish in music-press end-of-year writers'
though, a group comes along, releases a few records that are reviewed
using every superlative in the dictionary, yet by some combination
of fashion and market weirdness, fail to sell their genius to the
public, lost forever in a kind of half-life, patently brilliant
yet lacking the chart positions and platinum discs to prove it empirically.
best example of such a phenomenon is The Go-Betweens, an Australian
group that released six albums in the Eighties, records that by
any standards featured the finest lyrical guitar-pop of that decade
(Smiths included). Yet The Go-Betweens were destined never to trouble
pop's statisticians, their effortlessly melodic records accumulating
review stars by the shipload, yet remaining unbought in the record
racks. Frustrated by the lack of a commercial breakthrough, they
broke up at the end of 1989.
reasons were legion. Notably, the group lacked a frontman as their
focus, boasting instead two singer songwriters in Grant McLennan
and Robert Forster, with contrasting styles.
two met at film school in 1976, the only students who could match
each other's ego and confidence. They started a band. McLennan was
the group's McCartney, his pop sensibility filtered through an adoration
of Dylan and The Byrds, Forster its Lennon, an angular sarcastic
lyricist with a fondness for Talking Heads and American art rock.
The Go--Betweens' musical differences were apparent from the outset,
yet the writers complemented each other, preventing the group from
ever succumbing to Forster's penchant for rock-star indulgence or
the McLennan tendency to harmonic sweetness.
another cliche, but they were a group ahead of their time. You suspect
that through the 90s Forster and McLennan would have had to regularly
suppress a few thoughts of what might have been when they saw the
success of Crowded House, peddling a diluted version of The Go-Betweens'
melodic pop, or the rise of their contemporaries REM with
whom The Go-Betweens played regularly in the Eighties to
world domination, or the sudden global welcome for hitherto underground
guitar-pop. Instead they have to be content with the acknowledgments
of the new generation of bands, continued critical reverence, and
a back-catalogue that sparkles with three-minute masterpieces.
and now maybe the acclaim of a few discerning live audiences. For
Forster and McLennan are back together, The Go-Betweens are performing
again. It's not a full-scale reformation, not a case of sad old
lags trying to revive the days when they were creative, not even
a Sex Pistols-style cash-in. It's just a series of gigs in Europe,
a quiet acknowledgment of the 20-year anniversary of their formation,
a chance to play the old songs again, before Forster and McLennan
return to their prolific, if still cultish, solo careers.
in Brisbane, McLennan is packing his bags for the trip to Europe,
whistling the tricky middle-eight to Bye Bye Pride, and musing on
being a Go-Between once more.
and I started the group in December 1977, so there is that 20-year
thing," he says. "And well, I'm probably a bit more sentimental
than him. Last year Beggar's Banquet re-released all the records,
and that stirred up more interest, so we wanted to do something
that would bring it to a dignified end."
thousand miles and 20 hours away Robert Forster is sitting in the
kitchen of his Bavarian farmhouse fingering the guitar solo from
bigger might come out of it," he says, "but we're just going to
see what happens. At the moment I'm just accepting it as an opportunity
to play with Grant again, revisit some great old songs and float
about Europe in June."
says the set-list he and McLennan have put together, drawn from
the full Go-Betweens canon, "sounds like 15 hit singles,"
but the poignant fact is that none of the songs charted.
songs still sound so strong, but given the climate of the time,
it wasn't to be our fate," he says. "I don't have a great feeling
of bitterness about it or anything. If I'd have felt that strongly
about it, then I'd have probably hid myself away from the world
in shame when the group finished."
records continue to live," says McLennan. "I have no regrets about
The Go-Betweens breaking up or anything to do with them. I've got
the records, I've got friendships, I've got my memories, and over
time you get a different perspective on these things."
group's split in 1989 wasn't acrimonious, Forster and McLennan never
being rivals for control of the group. They kept in touch in the
interim, even writing a film script together "It's in the
hands of some Hollywood people," says McLennan, "and I'm not making
looking forward to their Glasgow show on June 6, remembering that
when they first arrived in Britain from Brisbane in 1981, it was
Alan Horne's Glasgow-based Postcard Records who gave them their
first outlet, releasing the single I Need Two Heads and giving them
instant entry to the coolest roster around at the time.
an audience liberally studded with Glasgow's 30-something rock survivors.
have rehearsed," McLennan emphasises. "Make sure you put that in."
Go-Betweens are back, and they've rehearsed.