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It may have been limited to just 500 copies, but the release of Lee Remick/Karen in the late summer of 1978 had generated a bit of a buzz around Go-Betweens.
“We mailed our record to the Australian and overseas press, where it was widely and positively reviewed, and to a select group of people who were important to us. We also targeted a list of record companies , one of which, Beserkley UK, the London-based home of Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, overwhelmed us by offering a worldwide multi-album deal.”
The label had also suggested it would be willing to release each of Lee Remick and Karen as singles and encouraged Robert and Grant to come up with b-sides. They went about this with some gusto, walking around Brisbane with a huge swagger and self-belief. Only to find that when they asked the label that the costs of the studio time be repaid that all communication suddenly stopped.
“The deal was off, as was our fast track to stardom; we were getting a crash course in the music business and the cruel, cruel world outside the environs of Brisbane.”
By now, Robert had finally, at the age of 21, left the comfort of his parental home and moved into the house in which Grant had been living for a number of years, in what is described as a bohemian lifestyle with a group of friends. The house, on Golding Street in the Toowong district of Brisbane, was now the recognised centre of all Go-Betweens activity and it was there that many of the next batch of songs were composed.
In another arty part of the New Farm district in late 78/early 79, a band called Zero ruled the roost. Robert’s book records that Zero had started out as a fierce, feminist group, whose core members Irena Luckus (vocals/keyboards) and Lindy Morrison (drums), had added a new male bass player in John Willsteed who had helped the band move towards a post-punk direction with their live set including covers of songs by Gang Of Four, Wire and XTC. Robert was so besotted with the drummer that he changed some of the lyrics of one of his new songs, People Say from “So pack your bags your saxophone/I’m gonna take you to Rome” to “So pack your bags your drums/I’m gonna take you till the kingdom comes”.**
It may have been corny, but it did help. Robert was now in the first serious relationship of his life, with a woman six years older than him and one who had a huge, dynamic personality with confirmed views on politics and life in general. It was a seriously steep learning curve for him.
The next few months were frantic. A new drummer, Tim Mustafa had been recruited into Go-Betweens, and with the addition of Malcolm Kelly on keyboards, they went into the studio in May 1979 to cut a second single for Able Records.
The latter was the first Forster/McLellan joint composition. If you have one of the copies of this single, expect to get around £500 if you put it up for sale.
The single would be released in September 1979. The success of the debut meant the label pushed the boat out this time and pressed up 750 copies. But before it hit the shops, Tim took his leave of the band. A stand-in drummer, Bruce Ashton, enabled some supporting gigs, all in Brisbane.
“There was no organisation in place to play Sydney or Melbourne: you had to move there. I was conflicted about leaving, the dream of escaping Australia with Grant, two drifters off to see the world – and there was a lot of world to see – severely shaken by my relationship with Lindy. Things became further complicated when I joined Zero as a stand-in guitarist.”
Robert and Grant made up their mind to go to London which they eventually did in November 1979. That chapter in their story, which includes a spell in Glasgow, will be told next time round.
** In later years, the original lyric would be re-adopted, as per this live performance in August 2005:-