The Go-Betweens were one of those classic bands that were adored by many, yet couldn’t quite cross over into the big time. The two songwriters in the group were Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, their contrasting personalities and song writing styles produced a band that were consistently interesting and appealing. This memoir by Robert Forster charts the friendship between the two of them, from student days through to the untimely death, three decades later of McLennan in 2006.
Forster writes beautifully about the formative years of their friendship in Brisbane, Australia. The tentative early steps on the path towards a musical career are captured with good humour, as Forster desperately tries to persuade McLennan that they should form a music partnership. Initially at least, McLennan was rather less than keen on the prospect. Luckily for the rest of us, Robert Forster persisted.
Eventually McLennan decides that it could work. The band are up and running and reasonably soon they realise that they need to leave the comfort of Australia behind them, if they really want to make a go of things.
Whilst this provides some wonderful stories, it’s fair to say that life was always a struggle. Critical plaudits alone are not enough to provide the band with any modicum of financial stability. It’s pretty shocking to read just how short of money they were during the life of the band. They move around a succession of dingy flats, shared houses or squats, just about getting by, always hoping that the next record will help them turn the corner.
Forster writes with a delicious black humour about the perils of their situation, never wallowing in the discomforts that they endured. They repeatedly come tantalisingly close to the all important big hit record, yet it never quite happens. Record companies come and go, as do producers who try to shape the sound of the band, with varying degrees of success.
The book is great on the personal details of the band as well, it’s clear that there were some strong personalities in the band. Lindy Morrison, Amanda Brown and Robert Vickers all have a very important part to play. The relationships between Forster and Morrison, and McLennan and Brown add some inspiration and complications along the way. Forster gleefully opens our eyes to the impact those relationships had upon the the songs that he and Grant McLennan produced.
It’s a book that’s filled with love, tenderness and admiration for the talents that McLennan brought to the band, even if this was combined with a little emotional chaos along the way. Ultimately it is a touching epitaph for a close friend and an intriguing insight to a world that many would dream of. Having read the book, you will be guaranteed to be digging out your old Go-Betweens records. Or maybe you will discover them for the first time, lucky you.
Robert Forster - Grant & I, Inside and Outside The Go-Betweens