- 08 Sep 17
Robert Forster’s new memoir is a poignant look back at his time in The Go-Betweens, when he and late bandmate Grant McLennan wrote several classic albums.
The sparking indie-pop of The Go-Betweens gave us some of the finest songs of the ’80s. Yet despite several masterful albums (including the legendary 16 Lovers Lane), the band – with the brilliant songwriting duo of Robert Forster and grant McLennan at its core – never quite achieved the mainstream success they deserved. But perhaps that is part of why we love them so.
Having split in 1989, they reunited in 2000 and released some of their most successful material. When Ocean’s Apart won the ARIA Award for Best Contemporary Album in their native Australia in 2005, it seemed the second era of The Go-Betweens might finally win them the renown that so long eluded them. But this hope evaporated with the untimely death of McLennan in 2006.
Now over ten years since his death comes Grant & I, by Robert Forster; an affectionate and insightful account of The Go-Betweens, which also serves as his memoir and a biography of his friend and co-writer.
“I started it in 2008, but it took a number of years to write,” he reflects. “That was for two reasons. I wanted some time to have gone by since Grant’s death, and I was also learning the craft of writing a book as I went along.”
Their story is a tale of struggle, travel and poverty. Forster says he was aware of this from an early stage, comparing their journey to Joyce at one juncture in the book.
“In the way Joyce had to leave Dublin to write Ulysses,” he says, “and struggle in poverty in Europe, I knew we would have to leave Australia. I just knew that our path was going to be the James Joyce path, which is the hard road, or, the long road to recognition.”
On arriving in the UK, a fortuitous meeting with Edwyn Collins saw them befriend Orange Juice and move to Glasgow to record a single. Like The Go-Betweens, the Scottish band stood out from the crowd at the time. “The scene was quite dark,” notes Forster, “with bands like Joy Division, Killing Joke and Siouxsie and the Banshees. There weren’t people walking around that looked like Orange Juice. It was quite humourless in a way. And Orange Juice were just very, very funny. We were laughing most of the time. And Edwin had these great songs that were sort of punky but poppy.”
Another reason the band stood out in the ’80s was Robert’s penchant for wearing a dress on stage, several years before Kurt Cobain.
“It went with the person that I was,” he says, “and the type of songs that I was writing at that time. I also wore capes back then. It was just a feeling, a visual to how I felt and how the songs felt. I was still in my late twenties so I could pull off a dress!”
As Robert is Dublin bound for a book event in The Gutter Bookshop, I ask about his favourite memory of playing the city over the years.
“I remember we played a midday show at Trinity just after we put out Tallulah,” he recalls. “We were just really on fire! I had studied Joyce and the poetry of Yeats, so to be playing Trinity meant a hell of a lot to the band.”
In terms of other upcoming events, Robert also reveals there is a new Go-Betweens documentary, which has just screened at a film festival in Sydney.
“It’s by a guy called Kriv Stenders, who actually did some of our early videos,” he explains. “It features all the members who have been in the band, and it’s been getting really good reviews. Hopefully it will make its way over to Europe in the next couple of months.” The most striking aspect of the book is the closeness of Forster and McLennan as songwriting partners and friends. Does Forster have any regrets?
“I guess I wish that we had talked to each other more,” he says. “I wish we had reminisced more. You don’t reminisce because you think it is going to go on. We were in our mid-to-late forties at the time, so you are not in reminiscing mood. I felt like, ‘Why didn’t I say this, or ask him that?’ And it would have been nice to have known what he felt about those things.”
Robert Forster reads from Grant & I at The Gutter Bookshop, Dublin on September 8.