Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens passed away this weekend. He was 48.
When I was, what, 17 maybe, I came across a book by Clinton Walker called Stranded: the Secret History of Australian Music. I’m searching my mind and I can’t figure out what drawn me to it. I couldn’t have known more than 3 bands mentioned in it, this personal history of Australian music of the 80s (give or take). It had a horrendous cover, but I was hooked. I read in whilst it was in an half open school bag at lunch times.
One of the bands written about with fondness and humour were the Go-Betweens. They sounded like they could be a poppier version of the Saints or something right? Wrong. They were so different to the other bands written about in that book, that I then went to discover.
First thing I got was 16 Lovers Lane and I was hooked. Love Is A Sign. Dive For Your Memory. Streets Of Your Town. I was washed in romantic notions of hot Brisbane in 80s (sure the band spent most of that in London – NOT THE POINT) and even managed to hunt down a copy of the 12″ Able Label Singles. I read the David Nocholls book, bought all the Mushroom reissues, then in recent years the Jetset ones. I could go on with random memories of me and the Go-Betweens forever.
One of my first ever not-snuck-into over 18s gigs was Foster and McLennan at the Basement. I brought along my Able Label 12″ to get signed, and I told Robert that I had just turned 18 and he signed it “Happy 18 and 1 month – Robert.” He handed it to Grant who promptly wrote “Who Cares? – Grant”.
In the height of my Go-Betweens obession, I played a gig on acoustic guitar, accompanied by a violin player (named, of all things, Karen) whilst wearing my Abel Label t-shirt. Someone I didn’t know who happened to be in the bar at the time came up to me and said – “so the Go-Betweens, huh?”
There is an Australian bands Go-Betweens tribute where everyone pretty much covers the Robert songs, but that’s selling Grant short. He had the more difficult role – the straight man. Where as Robert had the eccentric side that gave the Go-Betweens so much of their flavour, without gorgeous solid Grant songs like Bachelor Kisses, Right Here, Cattle And cane, Devil’s Eye, Streets Of our Town and many more…they could have been lost. It’s no doubt that any success they had in the pop market in the first phase of their career was Grant’s doing.
So start with 16 Lover’s Lane if you don’t know where to start. It’s a very wonderful pop album. It’s the one that got me. Now one of the voices on that album is gone.
NEWS: Sydney Morning Herald: Go-Betweens singer was all set to celebrate
NEWS: Billboard: Go-Betweens’ Grant McLennan Dies In Australia
MP3: The Go-Betweens – The Devil’s Eye
– From the album 16 Lovers Lane (Beggars Bandquet, 1988)
MP3: The Go-Betweens – Bachelor Kisses
– From the album Spring Hill Fair (Sire, 1984)
I was concerned about the Robert Forster getting covered more then Grant on the ‘Right Here’ … A Tribute to the Go-Betweens (Hippy Knight 1995). Robert’s songs are far more open ended and allow more scope to intrepid. Grant’s songs are closed ended and well they’re perfect you can’t do any more to them really. One band which really turned Grant on his head was ‘Ashtray Boy’ who turned ‘Right Here’ (from Tallulah) that even Robert at the time of release was quoted as saying completely eclipsed the original.