Critical favourites formed in late 1977 in Brisbane, Australia, by Robert Forster (29 June 1957, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia; guitar/vocals) and Grant McLennan (b. 12 February 1958, Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia, d. 6 May 2006, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia; bass, guitar, vocals). These two songwriters were influenced by Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground, the Monkees and the then-burgeoning New York no wave scene involving Television, Talking Heads and Patti Smith. Although sharing the same subject matter in trouble-torn love songs, melancholy and desolation, Forster and McLennans very different compositional styles fully complemented each other.
The Go-Betweens first recorded as a trio on the Able label with the Numbers drummer Dennis Cantwell. McLennan took on bass playing duties for Lee Remick/Karen (1978) and People Say/Dont Let Him Come Back (1979). By the time of the latter release, the line-up included drummer Tim Mustafa (b. Temucin Mustafa, Cyprus), while Malcolm Kelly of the Godots guested on organ. At the invitation of Postcard Records boss Alan Horne, Forster and McLennan came to Britain to record a single, I Need Two Heads/Stop Before You Say It (featuring Orange Juice drummer Steven Daly). After this visit, Forster and McLennan returned to Australia where, after a brief experiment with a line-up featuring Clare McKenna (drums) and David Tyrer (guitar), they recruited ex-Zero drummer Lindy Morrison (b. Belinda Morrison, 2 November 1951, Australia) to complete the classic early Go-Betweens line-up. They relocated to Melbourne 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 England, 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 McLennans evocative Cattle And Cane, one of the Go-Betweens most enduring tracks (later covered by the Wedding Present).
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 the Go-Betweens. 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 bands sound. With Tallulah in 1987, the Go-Betweens made their best showing so far in the UK album chart, peaking at number 91. The album was a bit too polished for some of the bands fans, although it did contain one of their finest songs in McLennans Bye Bye Pride. 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 UK airplay. However, once again, the single failed to make any impact on the charts despite being lavished with praise from the music press. The album only managed to peak at UK number 81, a hugely disappointing setback for the band.
After touring with the set, with Michael Armiger replacing Willsteed on bass, Forster and McLennan dissolved the Go-Betweens in December 1989. Remaining with Beggars Banquet they both released solo albums which proved that neither artist was lost without the other, while McLennan released an album with fellow antipodean Steve Kilbey, from the Church, under the title Jack Frost. Lindy Morrison and Amanda Brown, meanwhile, had formed Cleopatra Wong, who went on to release two EPs (1992s Egg and the following years Cleopatras Lament).
When McLennan joined Forster onstage in 1991, subsequent rumours of a Go-Betweens reunion were strengthened by a Forster/McLennan support slot with Lloyd Cole 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, and two years later played a series of shows to promote the release of two compilations (one of which, 78 Til 79: The Lost Album, featured the Go-Betweens Able Label releases and a number of early tracks recorded in Forsters bedroom). In the new millennium, Forster and McLennan teamed up with members of Sleater-Kinney and regular associate Adele Pickvance (bass) to record the new Go-Betweens set, The Friends Of Rachel Worth. Forsters He Lives My Life, in particular, was easily the equal of any of his songs from the previous decade. The second coming of the Go-Betweens picked up steam with 2003s Bright Yellow Bright Orange, which was recorded in Melbourne with Pickvance and another musician who had regularly played with Forster and McLennan during the 90s, drummer Glenn Thompson. The set was even better than its predecessor, and was not at all overshadowed by the concurrent expanded re-releases of the bands classic 80s albums.
In June 2004, Forster and McLennan played a spellbinding set at the Barbican in London, completing the second half of the concert with a string quartet drawn from the players originally featured on Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express. They then completed the recording of another studio album with Pickvance and Thompson. Released in April 2005, Oceans Apart received even greater praise than the first two albums by the new Go-Betweens. The bands critical and commercial renaissance was cruelly shattered when McLennan passed away in May 2006.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.