Now that The Go-Betweens have been knocked out of the ICA World Cup, I can safely turn my attention to the third in this very occasional series in which I’ll tell the story of the band’s musical history through the pages of the excellent memoir from Robert Forster.
The first two parts dealt with the release of singles in Australia and took us to up to November 1979 when the duo decided to take their chances in London.
“A few things were immediately clear. We bought the NME on the day it came out, and that shrinking of time and senses of being at the centre of the action was thrilling. It was also what made one thing spectacularly apparent – The Go-Betweens were going to get nowhere in London. The scene was too big, the walls too high, and we knew no one in the music business. We’d travelled sixteen thousand kilometres to advance the career of the band without bringing one telephone number.”
The duo went to a gigs, seeing Gang of Four, The Raincoats and Scritti Politti on one bill, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and A Certain Ratio together on another, while also on other occasions catching The Cramps, The Fall, The Cure and The Pretenders. As their savings ran out, and after a brief interlude in Paris for Robert and Greece for Grant they picked up menial jobs to get by. In due course, via a fellow Australian who worked in the Rough Trade record store, they got to meet Geoff Travis and let him hear Lee Remick but he dismissed it as being too poppy although he was willing to put the single on display in the store.
Two months later, Edwyn Collins, David McClymont and Alan Horne turned up at the same shop trying to get the owners to take the first ever Postcard single off their hands. All three had previously taken notice of Lee Remick when it had been played on the John Peel show and Alan Horne was intrigued enough to ask the Australian working in the shop how a copy had made it way to London from Brisbane. Having heard that Grant and Robert were in London, he put together a package and asked if it could be delivered to them. The package consisted of a single, some promo photos of Orange Juice and a handwritten letter inviting them to come to Glasgow and record a single for Postcard Records.
It would be fair to say that neither Grant nor Robert knew what to make of Falling and Laughing as it was unlike anything else they had heard during their time in London. But with nothing else happening, they pursued the offer and on 1 April 1980. they took the train to Glasgow. Their first impressions was that ‘it immediately felt right.’
They would spend six weeks in Scotland, playing gigs at which Steven Daly of Orange Juice would drum for them, on bills alongside that band and Josef K. Grant was put up in a spare room in Edwyn Collins’ flat while Robert was accommodated by two art school friends of David.
Watching Orange Juice on stage opened up their eyes to what was possible.
“There was a Beatles ’62 thing about them. Own humour. Own dress style. Own songs and sound in the heart of a city. Immediately obvious was their superiority to the bands we’d seen in London, drowning as many of them were in reverb and effects. Orange Juice had clarity, which made their stinging songs and each member’s contribution all the more powerful. ‘Falling and Laughing’ sounded much better live – like a classic, in fact, but they had at least half a dozen of them. Grant and I, five metres back from the stage, were counting.”
They ended up in a studio just outside of Edinburgh where they cut the two sides of the 45 for Postcard. They were team-tagged in the studio with Orange Juice and looked on as they recorded Blue Boy and Lovesick.
“It was clear that something special was happening. It was whiplash pop, miles removed from the doom of the Joy Division imitators or the rumble of The Fall. Orange Juice had cut a major record that, give any kind of chance, would break the band and all those who sailed in it along with them.
Which makes our decision to leave in late May all the harder to explain. Why go when we had a single recorded for a fast-rising label and were living in a city we dug? I was missing Lindy – that was the nub of it. First love had bitten hard. It was six months since I’d seen her, and six months seemed to be the length of time I could endure without her.”
Robert therefore put his personal life before that of the band. It wasn’t easy – he was left to make his way back to Australia alone, with his air fare paid by his parents. Grant went to New York but agreed to talk about things when he himself eventually got back home. Neither of them hung around long enough for the Postcard single to be pressed up and copies taken back to Brisbane, although Robert did have a cassette copy, along with a battered Nu-sonic guitar that had been gifted to him by James Kirk.