The Go-Betweens - Biography



Formed in Brisbane, Australia in 1977 by college mates Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, The Go-Betweens started life as a garage band with pop ambitions. Being enormous fans of The Beatles, The Monkees, Television and The Ramones, the early incarnation of the group leaned heavily on short, sharp shocks of tunefulness not unlike their heroes. "Karen," their first single, released on their own Able Label, indicated what was to come; simple tunes with subtle charms, tireless hooks and poetic lyrical landscapes that painted a concise emotional picture of whatever the song's subject, whether the movie star obsessions of "Lee Remick," or the soft noir vividly expressed  in "The Sound Of Rain." From their earliest incarnation, The Go-Betweens were creating a special brand of pop music that could span both time and taste.

 

After Tim Mustafa left the band following the first recordings [which resulted in 11 tracks, eventually released as The Lost Album 78'-79' (1999 Jetset)], fellow Brisbane musician and scene regular Lindy Morrison joined on drums, bringing instantly recognizable, idyosyncratic style, thus cementing the band's over all sound. They recorded their debut, Send Me A Lullaby (1982 Rough Trade UK) with the new line-up.  Far more angular and jagged in approach than their early singles, the result moved more toward post punk rather than the bright pop they dealt with back in 1977/78.

 

Their second full length, Before Hollywood (1983 Rough Trade UK), brought together their art pretensions with pop stylings, Grant McClennan stepped up to provide as much singing and song writing as Forster, this time providing the group with an enduring classic, "Cattle and Cane," a song of uncommon beauty that marked the more original direction The Go-Betweens would now start working. 1983 became the year the band expanded to a four piece, with McClennan switching to second guitar to make room for new bassist Robert Vickers, a fellow Australian who had put time in with New York power pop outfit The Colours. Upon his joining, the band quickly recorded their third full length Spring Hill Fair (1984 Sire UK). This release helped expand the band's reach, providing more fan favorites in McClennan's "Bachelor Kisses" and "Unkind & Unwise," while Forster continued to provide the darker, moodier material with his stinging narrative in "Part Company," "Man O' Sand To Girl O' Sea," and "Draining The Pool For You," a rumination on one sided relationships. Metal and Shells (1985 PVC), a stop gap sort of greatest hits collection for the American market, was compiled exclusively from Before Hollywood and Spring Hill Fair.

 

Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express (1986 Beggars Banquet) would become The Go-Bewteens' arguable masterpiece. Containing their most ambitious music, not to mention some of their finest images in word, the band produced the recording themselves with help from engineer Richard Preston, creating a record that recalls their love of 60's pop, baroque instrumentation,and dark themes drenched in buoyant reveries about loss and want. Tracy Thorn from Everything But The Girl provides backup vocals on two tracks, "Apology Accepted" and "Head Full Of Steam."

 

Tallulah (1987 Beggars Banquet) found the quartet expanding to a quintet with the addition of violinist/vocalist, Amanda Brown. With Brown's addition, The Go-Betweens hired a producer and made the obligatory move towards commercial acceptance. The recordings made reveal a band firing on all cylinders, the material just as fantastic, charming and subtle as ever, albeit with a production that can be a bit tough to take due to it's over reliance on trends of the day; over bearing drums, wet vocals and a few bombastic arrangements that could have used a bit more care in execution. Tallulah, however, survives to this day as yet another example of The Go-Betweens amazing ability to be both truly original and commercial, even if the hits were still not coming. Soon after touring behind Tallulah, Vickers left the band to stay in New York with his girlfriend, as the rest of the band moved back to Australia to prepare for their next record. John Wilsteed, a fellow Brisbane musician who was on the scene back when the band began, joined on bass.

 

16 Lover's Lane (1988 Beggars Banquet UK/Capitol US) came next, and is probably the band's cleanest, most commercial, and possibly most timeless recording. The music included not only explains Forster and McClennan's populist point of view, but provides surefire evidence that The Go-Betweens were writing material that would ultimately outshine, outstrip and outlive that of their far more commercially accepted peers.  After the initial tour for this record, the band fell apart during the recording of demos for their next projected release (heavily bootlegged as The Botany Sessions). The Go-Betweens officially broke up in 1989, the victims of lacking commercial success, proper label support, artistic understanding and the age old inter-personal squabbling (most possibly relating to the fact that McClennan was carrying on a romance with Brown, Forster and Morrison had been a couple, and nobody really liked Vickers' replacement ,Wilsteed.)

 

Both Forster and McClennan quickly jumped into solo careers, each producing a total of four releases throughout the 1990's. McClennan's Watershed (1991 Beggars Banquet), Fireboy (1993 Beggars Banquet), Horsebreaker Star (1994 Beggars Banquet) and In Your Bright Ray (1997 Beggars Banquet), were definitely of the commercial pop variet. McClennan seemingly still was trying for the pop stardom that had eluded him during The Go-Betweens' initial run. Forster's solo work, Danger In The Past (1990 Beggars Banquet), Calling From A Country Phone (1993 Beggars Banquet), I Had A New York Girlfriend (1994 Beggars Banquet) and Warm Nights (1996 Beggars Banquet), is typically artistic, choosing concepts and poetry over stylized hit singles. McClennan also released two records-Jack Frost (1991 Arista) and Snow Job (1996 Beggars Banquet) under the moniker Jack Frost, a band he formed with The Church's Steve Kilby. All of these releases by both men indicate that they still had the magic to produce material worthy of their legacies.

 

In 1999, Forster and McClennan reformed The Go-Betweens, recording a new record titled The Friends Of Rachel Worth (2000 Jetset) with new bassist Adele Pickvance and Sleater- Kinney drummer Janet Weiss. Soon after, drummer Glenn Thompson joined, thus solidifying the newest line-up. Bright Yellow Bright Orange (2003 Jetset) and Ocean's Apart (2005 Yep Roc) followed, as well as a live record, That Striped Sunlight Sound (2006 Yep Roc). This line-up flourished, with the accolades for the new records and the band's career coming hard and heavy. Yet, it was not meant to be.  In May 2006, Grant McClennan died from heart failure, thus ending The Go-Betweens story. Robert Forster released a fifth solo record, The Evangelist (2008 Yep Roc), which included 3 unfinished/unrecorded McClennan numbers as a tribute to his departed friend.

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