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The Go-Betweens Biography

Last updated: 08/05/2001 11:55:08 PM

Critics' favourites the Go-Betweens were formed in Brisbane, Australia, by Forster, Robert (b. 29 June 1957, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia; guitar, vocals) and McLennan, Grant (b. 12 February 1958, Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia; bass, guitar, vocals). These two songwriters were influenced by Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground, the Monkees (The) and the then-burgeoning New York no wave scene involving Television, Talking Heads and Smith, Patti. Although sharing the same subject matter in trouble-torn love songs, melancholy and desolation, Forster and McLennan's very different compositional styles fully complemented each other. The Go-Betweens first recorded as a trio on the Able label with drummer Dennis Cantwell.

McLennan took on bass playing duties for "Lee Remick"/"Karen" (1978) and "People Say"/"Don't Let Him Come Back" (1979). By the time of the latter release the line-up had expanded to include Tim Mustafa (drums), Malcolm Kelly (organ), and Candice and Jacqueline on tambourine and vocals. The duo later reverted to the trio format on recruiting ex-Zero drummer Lindy Morrison (b. 2 November 1951, Australia). At the invitation of Postcard Records boss Alan Horne, the band came to Britain to record a single, "I Need Two Heads". After this brief visit they returned to Australia and recorded Send Me A Lullaby for the independent label Missing Link. This roughly hewn but still charming set was heard by Geoff Travis at Rough Trade Records in London, who picked it up for distribution in the UK.

Travis proposed that the Go-Betweens return to the UK, sign a recording contract and settle in London, which the band accepted. Before Hollywood garnered favourable reviews, prompting many to predict a rosy future for the Go-Betweens. The highlight of this set was McLennan's evocative "Cattle And Cane", one of the Go-Betweens' most enduring tracks (later covered by the Wedding Present (The) ). The problem of finding a permanent bass player was solved with the enrolment of Brisbane associate Robert Vickers (b. 25 November 1959, Australia) in the post, thus enabling McLennan to concentrate on guitar and giving the band a fuller sound. The move to a major label, Sire Records, brought expectations of a "big breakthrough" in terms of sales, but for all the critical acclaim heaped upon Spring Hill Fair, success still eluded them. The break with Sire left the band almost on the brink of returning to Australia.

The intervention of Beggars Banquet Records led them to a relationship that allowed the band to develop at their own pace. Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express presented what was by far their best album to date. The successful use of violins and oboes led to the introduction of a fifth member, Amanda Brown (b. 17 November 1965, Australia; violin, oboe, guitar, keyboards), adding an extra dimension and smoother texture to the band's sound. With Tallulah in 1987, the Go-Betweens made their best showing so far in the UK album chart, peaking at number 91. That same year, Robert Vickers left to reside in New York and was replaced by John Willsteed (b. 13 February 1957, Australia). Prior to the release of 16 Lovers Lane in 1988, the single "Streets Of Your Town", an upbeat pop song with a dark lyric tackling the subject of wife-battering, was given generous airplay.

However, once again, the single failed to make any impact on the charts despite being lavished with praise from the UK music press. The album only managed to peak at number 81, a hugely disappointing setback for the band. After touring with the set, Forster and McLennan dissolved the Go-Betweens in December 1989. Remaining with Beggars Banquet they both released solo albums, while McLennan released an album with fellow Antipodean Steve Kilbey, from the Church (The), under the title Frost, Jack. He then credited himself as G.W. McLennan for his full solo set, Watershed, which proved that neither artist was lost without the other. Lindy Morrison and Amanda Brown, meanwhile, had formed Cleopatra Wong.

When McLennan joined Forster onstage in 1991, subsequent rumours of a Go-Betweens re-formation were strengthened by a Forster/McLennan support slot with Cole, Lloyd in Toronto that same year. However, both artists continued to release solo records at regular intervals throughout the 90s, although critical acclaim was not matched by commercial success. In 1997, McLennan and Forster re-formed for special live dates. They subsequently teamed up with Sleater-Kinney to record the excellent new Go-Betweens set, The Friends Of Rachel Worth.