The fact that I’ve had no laptop for more than a week is the reason it has taken so long to pull this review together….and it’s a nice postscript to the earlier posting on The Go-Betweens vinyl.

It was last October when Robert Forster announced he’d be playing a few gigs in the UK to support the release of a forthcoming EP.  The tour was opening in Strathaven, a village not too far from Glasgow, with all the arrangements coming under the auspices of Douglas Macintyre of Creeping Bent Records, as part of his regular FRETS concerts.

It seemed perfect….except it was going to take place on Saturday 11 March, which was a date I long had an evening commitment with Raith Rovers.  The next night, Robert was playing in Edinburgh, but there was the strong possibility that 12 March would be a date on which I had other plans.

Determined not to miss out, I sorted out tickets for the show at Hebden Bridge Trades Club for Wednesday 15 March, and at the same time sorted out a hotel and train tickets while persuading Rachel she would enjoy the show.  Hebden Bridge is about 220 miles south of Glasgow, located on the train line linking Manchester and Leeds.

As the date drew closer, it became clear that our travel plans would be affected by a combination of engineering works (going down) and industrial action (coming back up) meaning it would be more convenient to travel by bus, albeit the journey times would be considerably longer.  We still went ahead, but decided to add an extra overnight stay in Manchester on the Tuesday so that we could best enjoy the show.

There’s loads that could and should be written about the journeys and everything we packed into the busy days away, but this is already a bonus posting, so I best crack on.

The Trades Club is one of my favourite venues.  The town it sits in is not large, and yet it attracts ridiculously stacked line-ups for the simple reason that singers and bands love playing there.  There’s probably all sorts of reasons for this, including the fact that the town is home to all sorts of creative individuals whose love for the arts in all forms is very apparent. Such folk probably make up the majority of audiences at the venue, while the rest comprised folk who have made something of a major effort to be there.  It all adds up to the room being packed with equal amounts of respect and anticipation.

Robert’s new album is The Candle and The Flame.  It has turned out to be one of his best and most consistent. Many of its songs were written as love letters to his wife, Karin Baumler, whom he met back in 1990.  Karen has been a major part of most of his solo albums (this is his 8th), contributing across a range of instruments and on backing vocals.  She has also been a regular member of his touring band.

After the songs were written, but before they could be recorded, Karin was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.   She has made a recovery, one which has been slow and painful, and while she did contribute to the album, there was no way she could go out on tour.

Which is why it is Robert as a solo artist, with one backing musician – Louis Foster, his 24-year-old son who came to prominence as one-third of The Goon Sax, whose three albums of sparkling and magical indie-pop have been real highlights of recent years.

In some ways, it’s a strange show.   Robert, who is usually so eloquent and talkative when on stage, keeps the chat to a minimum.  Louis spends his time seated, switching between lead and bass guitar, but never contributing anything in the way of a backing vocal.  It’s almost as if the stories associated with the new songs are still too raw to talk about openly, and so instead there is a quiet and steely determination to let them speak for themselves.

There’s probably also the realisation that Robert’s fanbase tend to devour all that is written, either by himself (he is very active across all forms of social media), or the near-universal positive reviews that have accompanied the album’s release, and so there is no need to drive home any point.

I’ve used the word ‘strange’, to describe the show, but at the same time,  it never at any point dipped below ‘exceptional’.

Robert was in great form while Louis showed that he’s developed into a really exceptional musician no matter the type of guitar in his hands.  The pacing of the set was perfect, opening with four songs from the new album.    A small number of songs from the Go-Betweens days are dotted through the main set, which comes to an end after an hour or so, but with the promise from Robert that he’ll be back in a few minutes, after he’s had a drink of water and taken off his jumper.

He’s as good as his word, and he returns completely solo to play a couple of old Go-Betweens songs, only one of which is really well known.  Louis comes back on stage for the final three numbers, the last of which he encourages and receives some gentle but fun backing vocals from the audience.

And then it all comes to an end.  It’s been a joy from start to finish, with perhaps the one slight disappointment factor being Robert’s decision, in advance of the tour and which he communicated at the time through social media, to seek to minimise any health risks, and so would be breaking his habit of hanging around any venues after the shows to chat, pose for photos or sign albums/CDs/posters etc.  Disappointing, but understandable.

Set List

It’s Only Poison (from The Candle and The Flame, 2023)
Always (from The Candle and The Flame, 2023)
When I Was A Young Man (from The Candle and The Flame, 2023)
She’s A Fighter (from The Candle and The Flame, 2023)
One Bird In The Sky (from Inferno, 2019)
Spring Rain* (from Liberty Belle & The Black Diamond Express, 1986)
Learn To Burn (from Songs To Play, 2015)
Danger In The Past (from Danger In The Past, 1990)
Did She Overtake You? (from The Evangelist, 2008)
The Roads (from The Candle and The Flame, 2023)
Rock and Roll Friend* (b-side of Was There Anything I Could Do?, 1988)
Inferno (Brisbane In Summer) (from Inferno, 2019)
Tender Years (from The Candle and The Flame, 2023)
Here Comes A City* (from Oceans Apart, 2005)


Spirit* (from The Friends Of Rachel Worth, 2000)
Head Full Of Steam* (from Liberty Belle & The Black Diamond Express, 1986)
Boundary Rider* (from Oceans Apart, 2005)
There’s A Reason To Live (from The Candle and The Flame, 2023)
Surfing Magazines* (from The Friends Of Rachel Worth, 2000)

The second of the Go-Betweens numbers from the main set list was later re-recorded, in an organ-heavy style, by Robert for his solo album Warm Nights, in 1996, an album on which Edwyn Collins was the producer.

mp3: Robert Forster – Rock’N’Roll Friend

It’s really poignant these days, even though it is coming up to 17 years since Grant McLennan suddenly and unexpectedly passed away



  1. Saw the London show on Monday at a tiny venue, absolutely crammed with people my age (pretty old). Enjoyed it, it was a direct, intimate and friendly show, good father and son musical connection. Set list was pretty much the same, although we didn’t get Head Full Of Steam, but had Dive For Your Memory. Kind of admire an artist who chooses not to play timeless masterpieces like Part Company or Clouds in favour of newer material, even though I would have loved to hear them. Roads stands out as a highlight on new LP.

  2. Like Chaval i went to the London gig on Monday at the slight odd LaFayette venue – half venue / half wine bar. Similar experience to you in that although Robert was less chatty than normal it was excellent. We got Darlinghurst Nights as well.

  3. Looks like there’s a few changes to the set list since Strathaven. I really enjoyed that concert, hadn’t seen him since he played completely solo in Toronto a few years back. The new songs sound good, although of course mean there’s a less space for “the old classics”. Couldn’t fault Louis at all, he’s very talented and has a lot of stage presence.

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