A BOOK REVIEW…..AND A POINTER TO A NEW OCCASIONAL SERIES

A short time ago, I went along to a cultural gathering in my home city.

Robert Forster was appearing at Mono, a location that is part music-venue, part vegetarian cafe and part record-store that is owned and run by Stephen Pastel.  Robert was going to take part in an interview to promote his recently issued book Grant & I : Inside and Outside The Go-Betweens and in the process sing a few songs.  It was an event that I’d have more than willingly paid a fair bit of money to get to and yet the tickets were free.

It was, as you’d expect, packed full of folk who had been Go-Betweens devotees at one time or another. I knew a lot of people in the room,many of who have become close friends in the near eleven years since I began this blog.  It was always going to be a special and emotional evening, not least as the Australian band were indirectly responsible for me getting my finger out and launching TVV and I’ve still never quite gotten used to the fact that Grant McLennan is no longer with us.

It turned out to be everything I could have wished for and more, thanks to the opportunity to meet Robert at the end of the night, have a photo taken with him and have him sign a copy of the book, with the dedication to The Vinyl Villain.  I’ve only one other book with such a dedication and it came from Grace Maxwell and Edwyn Collins;  I tend to shy away from having my records and books ‘defaced’ with signatures.

The following day I started reading the book and soon found it all-consuming.  Robert is an extremely talented and entertaining writer and of course the story he gets to tell is rather extraordinary.  The blurb on the back nails it perfectly:-

Beautifully written – like lyrics, like prose – Grant & I is a rock memoir akin to no other, Part ‘making of’, part music industry expose, part buddy-book, this is a delicate and perceptive celebration of creative endeavour. With wit and candour, Robert Forster pays tribute to a band who found huge success in the margins, having friendship at its heart.

It’s easy to forget that this was a band who never enjoyed the success in the 80s that their collective talents and output deserved.  The albums were well received but their singles all flopped despite most of subsequently proving to be timeless classics (unlike many others from the same decade).  They recorded for numerous labels, finding themselves dropped all sorts of strange and unrelated reasons looking on as so many of their contemporaries hit payola. But not once does the author feel the need to settle any old scores or cast aspersions on those who did get rich and famous – indeed I think there was just one swear word within its 330 pages and the profanity was followed by an immediate apology in brackets!

Instead, it is a celebration of the fact the band had a lengthy career, initially from 1977 -1989 and then again when they reformed in 2000 through to Grant’s sudden death from heart failure in May 2006.  The book has a strong supporting cast including long-standing band members Lindy Morrison, Robert Vickers and Amanda Brown, various friends, family and band associates. There’s also many wonderful cameo appearances dotted throughout from other leading Australian musicians, the Postcard Records cognoscenti and all sorts of producers and artists.

Much of the book is set in Australia, and at different times paints wonderfully evocative pictures of the cities of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, It certainly made me want to get on a plane and go see these places for myself.  It is rich in its description of life in London in the 80s, getting across the bizarre notion of musicians who were hugely respected and appreciated by just about everyone in the industry and yet rarely had more than £50 a week per person to live on.  There is a lot of self-deprecating wit on display throughout, punctured occasionally by a sentence or two that is genuinely shocking with revelations about personal circumstances that a sharp reminder that rock stars are human beings and suffer from the same type of frailties that impinge on the rest of us mere mortals.

But here’s the thing.  Having devoured the first 80-90% of the book in a matter of days, it took me weeks to pick it up again and finish it. It was all down to knowing that the hero dies in the end and I just didn’t want to face up to that. I had to be in the right frame of mind for finishing it off…but despite my best efforts I did find myself upset and crying.

I am delighted that Robert Forster has produced a masterpiece, as fine a music memoir as I’ve ever read, and given I have about 200 such books lying around the house I’m in a reasonable position to make such a judgement.  Even if you know little or nothing about the band, there is much to enjoy from the writing and the telling of what is a wonderfully played out story of two soul mates who perfectly complemented one another.

The book has given me an idea for a new, occasional (at best monthly) series and that is to look at the music and offer up some of Robert’s words as an accompaniment.  Staring right back with the debut single, released originally in 1978 on the Australian indie Able Label and restricted to just 700 copies.  If you want one nowadays, be prepared to shell out almost £1,500.

mp3 : The Go-Betweens – Lee Remick
mp3 : The Go-Betweens – Karen

The latter was just about the first song the university student Robert Forster wrote. By this time, one of his best friends was fellow student Grant McLennan; Robert had been rebuffed by Grant in an effort to form a band as Grant was far more interested in and occupied by cinema.

Robert had instead formed a three piece called The Godots who were down to play in a Battle of the Bands competition in Brisbane. The set had to comprise one cover and four originals, one of which would be Karen, receiving its first ever public airing.

“My songwriting had also improved, taking a lion-sized leap with the completion of a simple, predominantly two-chorded number, a paean to the female librarians at the university – helpful, distant women I idealised – that swelled and built over three choruses to end in a shouted climax of the song’s title”

“An attentive silence came over the room as we began the song, brought on by the hypnotic beat of the long introduction; I was sensing a power I’d never known as I stepped up to the microphone to deliver the opening lines.”

Grant McLennan was in the audience watching his friend perform, perhaps sorry that he had declined to be in the band. They didn’t win the competition – in fact they weren’t even billed as The Godots, a misunderstanding with the organisers leading to the band being introduced as the less pretentious sounding The Go-Dots. By the end of the year, that band were no more and Grant, having been aware that Robert was writing other songs, including one that was all about Hollywood actress Lee Remick, said that he was willing to take away a cassette copy to listen to back home during the Xmas/New Year break of 1977/78. The rest, as they say is history.

Worth mentioning too that Lee Remick herself, many many years later, did meet Robert Forster and accept the gift of one of the singles that bore her name. She revealed that she was aware of its existence and was charmed by it. Robert, in the book declares the meeting as one of the highlights of his entire life.

JC

 

SAME AS IT EVER WAS

One of the reasons I began blogging was to feature some great songs that were often hard to track down thanks to them only ever being released as b-sides on vinyl that was often long deleted.

Today’s offering is an example of one such track – a piece of music by The Go-Betweens that many other bands at the time would have loved to have been able to offer up as a single rather than something that’s almost a throwaway:-

mp3 : The Go-Betweens – Wait Until June

It first appeared in July 1988 as the b-side to the dreamy yet sinister Streets Of Your Town, which was about as close to a UK hit as the band ever got.

This song was once rare and difficult to track down. But, as would become increasingly common, later re-releases would see albums come back to the shelves and racks with bonus material, usually consisting of long-lost b-sides and live recordings from a particular era, and was the case back in 2004 with 16 Lovers Lane. Things have moved on even further with i-tunes, spotify etc. making just about everything in the back catalogue immediately accessible.

So technically, Wait Until June isn’t all that difficult to get a hold of nowadays, but there’s got to be something different about the mp3 being via a needle settling into the groove. Especially when it hits the bit that jumps and skips at the one minute mark (you’ve been warned!!!)

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #99 : THE GO-BETWEENS (Vol 2)

I said most of what I had to say yesterday. Here’s some more great songs.

Side One

That Way from Before Hollywood (1983) : lead vocal by Grant McLennan

Until now, I don’t think I, or indeed anyone, has ever opened up an ICA with the closing track of an LP. It just goes to show how many great songs there were back in the day that they could put this gem at the end.  It certainly would make you want to get up and turn the record back over immediately.

The House That Jack Kerouac Built from Tallulah (1987) : lead vocal by Robert Forster

Having failed to crack open the markets with the first four albums, everyone involved threw the kitchen sink and the rest into the recording of Tallulah including the addition of a fifth member on violin and oboe. It was a record greeted with some scepticism on its release as a result of to its lush production and move away from indie-guitar pop, but which is now regarded as a bona-fide classic.

The Wrong Road from Liberty Belle and The Black Diamond Express (1986) : lead vocals by Grant McLennan

The thing is, the path that would lead to Tallulah had in some ways been set by this track from the album released the previous year.  The addition of violin, cellos, viola and organ take this to places the band hadn’t explored before and the result was one of their finest ever songs.  Epic.

Was There Anything I Could Do? from 16 Lovers Lane (1988) : lead vocals by Grant McLennan

FFS. How did this single not get any airplay?

Surfing Magazines from The Friends of Rachel Worth (2000) : lead vocal by Robert Forster

Here’s a band that came out with some of the best lyrics of their generation falling back on a variation of la-la-la-la-la for the chorus and pulling it off with some style.

Side Two

Bye Bye Pride from Talullah (1987) : lead vocal by Grant McLennan

In which the decision to bring in a new member who plays oboe is totally justified in four minutes flat.

Rock and Roll Friend b-side to Was There Anything I Could Do? (1988) : lead vocal by Robert Forster

A song that became synonymous with Robert’s efforts to get back in the saddle after Grant’s shock death in 2006.  It must have been very tempting just to pack it all in. Instead, he went into the studio and recorded The Evangelist, his first solo LP in 12 years and hit the road and in every show he played this (a song he had re-recorded himself in 1996) and dedicated to his late band mate.  It’s worthy of a place on this ICA for that alone notwithstanding it is such a fine number.

I Just Get Caught Out from Tallulah (1987) : lead vocal by Robert Forster

Another great little failure of a pop single.  I defy you to listen and not dance.

Dusty In Here from Before Hollywood (1983) : lead vocal by Grant McLennan

A  ballad just to mix things up a bit and because it fits in well at this point on this ICA.

Dive For Your Memory from 16 Lovers Lane (1988) : lead vocal by Robert Forster

Couldn’t think of a more fitting way to end this ICA. The other song that Robert often dedicates nowadays to Grant; there’s something poignant that he once wrote a line ‘I miss my friend.’

Don’t we all?

Bonus 45 : The debut single from 1978.

mp3 : The Go-Betweens : Lee Remick
mp3 : The Go-Betweens : Karen

Tune in tomorrow for ICA #100 as it features a tale and a half from Badger.

AN IMAGINARY CONCEPT ALBUM : #98 : THE GO-BETWEENS (Vol 1)

Continuing the headlong rush towards #100 in the series.

It’s impossible to do justice to The Go-Betweens in one ICA, so here’s the first of two successive days of me tearing what little is left of my hair out to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Side One

Man O’ Sand To Girl O’ Sea single (1983) : lead vocal by Robert Forster

As I’ve said before, the single (and its b-side) which was indirectly responsible for me starting to blog back in 2006.  An absolute belter of a 45 – but let’s face it they all were – and a completely different version from that found on the LP Spring Hill Fair. Angular guitars, a pleading desperate lyric and a rhythm section that drives things along to a perfect beat….oh and not forgetting the vocal harmonies.  Perfection in just under three and a half minutes.

Streets Of Your Town from 16 Lovers Lane (1988) : lead vocal by Grant McLennan

See that thing I mentioned about perfection….feel free to apply it to this too. This was rightly released as a single and was the closest they ever got to a chart hit…..when it reached #80.  There’s all the evidence you need to realise just how criminally ignored this band throughout a stellar career that saw nine studio albums all told (six in the period 81-88 and three when they later re-formed between 2000-2005, the last of these being just 12 months ahead of Grant’s unexpected death from a heart attack at the early age of 48)

Going Blind from The Friends Of Rachel Worth (2000) : lead vocal by Grant McLennan

The re-formed band was Grant & Robert with musicians who hadn’t been part of the original line-up but whose pedigree was incredibly impressive.  The keyboards came from Sam Coomes who has long been an integral part of the USA west coast indie scene while his then wife, Janet Weiss, played the drums.  On this track, Janet was joined in the studio by her two fellow band mates from Sleater-KinneyCorin Tucker on vocals and Carrie Brownstein on guitar.  This indie super-group in turn gave us something delightfully 80s at the turn of the century.

Here Comes A City from Oceans Apart (2005) : lead vocal by Robert Forster

If you need proof that the second incarnation of the band could make music that was as enjoyably catchy and infectious as in their mid 80s pomp, then look no further than this, the opening track of what proved to be their final ever record.  Sure, it owes a lot to the style and delivery of David Byrne but there’s little wrong with that.

Spring Rain from Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (1986) : lead vocal by Robert Forster

Yet another flop single.  It always bemused me that so few fans of The Smiths fell for the charms of The Go-Betweens given the fact that the two bands were responsible for the best indie-pop with a guitar bent of the era.

Side Two

Right Here from Talullah (1987) : lead vocal by Grant McLennan

Another great pop song that was given a release as a single only to be criminally ignored.  I make no apologies for the fact that so many 45s are on this volume; it only demonstrates just how cloth-eared radio station producers were in their continual failure to not put the songs on daytime playlists.

When She Sang About Angels from The Friends of Rachel Worth (2000) : lead vocal by Robert Forster

This was a band, who when they slowed things down, were every bit as effective as when they cranked out another indie-pop classic.  Two examples on this ICA are back-to-back – this first being from the comeback album in 2000 with a tune that Roddy Frame himself would have been proud of…..followed by….

Cattle and Cane single (1983) : lead vocal by Grant McLennan

The single version is some 20 seconds shorter than the version on the LP Before Hollywood.  I’ve mentioned before that this is a very special song to me for a number of reasons; nowadays, it makes me sad as it reminds me of Grant’s sudden and very unexpected death but it is a song, along with a few others, that I associate with some of my happiest days, weeks and months on Planet Earth when I fell properly in love for the first time.

Some facts : It was written as a recollection of childhood in a London flat in an effort to combat homesickness with the band as far away as can be from their native Australia, cold and skint and fearing they’ll never succeed.  It was written using the acoustic guitar belonging to the owner of the flat while he lay comatose from drug abuse.  The guitar belonged to Nick Cave.

Sublimely beautiful.

Draining The Pool For You from Spring Hill Fair (1984) : lead vocal by Robert Forster

One of best things about The Go-Betweens is the complete contrast in styles from the two lead singers.  It enabled a much wider range of songs and tunes to emerge from the recording process and things were never dull.  Robert is the first to admit that he’s most the most classical of singers, but he’s still going strong today releasing a series of top-notch solo albums and when he tours he’ll slip in quite a few of the tunes from the days of his old band.  I love it when he plays this break-up song that is witty and clever and far from sad.

This Girl, Black Girl b-side to Man O’ Sand To Girl O’ Sea single (1983) : lead vocal by Grant McLennan

Just because.

Volume 2 coming your way tomorrow.

ANOTHER CLASSIC 45 WITH GREAT B-SIDES

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All three of these songs have been featured on this blog in the past, but not as one posting.

The single was released in October 1988 but again failed mysteriously to give The Go-Betweens a hit single.

mp3 : The Go-Betweens – Was There Anything I Could Do?

As the heading of the post indicates, the single came with more than decent b-sides. Here’s those from the 12″ release:-

mp3 : The Go-Betweens – Rock n Roll Friend
mp3 : The Go-Betweens – Mexican Postcard

Enjoy

PS

The blog has sort of taken a bit of a back seat in recent weeks as I’ve spent loads of time either watching football on the telly or making the most of the light nights and playing golf.  With Euro 2016 coming to a conclusion soon (i.e. there’s not games on the telly every night!), I’m hoping to crank things up again in the coming days including a few guest ICAs that have been sent in.

Cheers.

JC

 

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (13)

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON WEDNESDAY 7 MAY 2008

(8 years ago to the day!!)

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On many an occasion in this rundown, I’ve mentioned that I had major problems narrowing down which particular song should be chosen for a band. I reckon the biggest dilemma came with The Go-Betweens. How can I possibly ignore the merits of the genius, majesty and sheer beauty of Cattle and Cane – the track that is probably their best-known and best-loved song? Not to mention the gorgeous vocal delivery of the much-missed Grant McLennan.

The answer is that the follow-up single just means an awful lot more to me.

It was at the age of 20 that I finally moved out from underneath my parents’ protection and branched out to a place of my own. It was a student residency flat on campus in Glasgow City Centre. It was a two-bedroom job, complete with kitchen, toilet and shower. I had the single room, while my two flatmates shared a larger space. The rent for each of us was £510 – for a full year including the summer months.

I had a reasonable record collection, but one of my other flatmates had a collection that I reckon was probably only second to that of John Peel (for instance, he had every single that had come out on Postcard Records). It was a time when my musical tastes broadened more than ever before, thanks to hearing some old stuff for the first time, but also on account of new and emerging bands throughout the early and mid 80s. This was where I first learned about, among others, The Go-Betweens.

The location of the flat was incredible, a mere stone’s throw from the student union where we seemed to spend most of our free time. We’d spend hours every weekend getting ready to go out, taking turns to play some of our favourite songs, often dissecting the lyrics and melodies in a way that seemed very important and meaningful.

Every Friday and Saturday, the set-lists for going out would change, but there was one single from October 1983 that always seemed to get played – as indeed was the b-side:-

mp3 : The Go-Betweens – Man O’ Sand To Girl O’ Sea
mp3 : The Go-Betweens – This Girl, Black Girl

Robert Forster’s manic delivery of the line ‘I feel so sure about our love I’ve wrote a song about us breaking up’ is one of the finest moments in pop history. As is the chorus that isn’t a chorus – ‘I want you baaaaaack.’ And don’t get me started in the great backing vocals.

There’s also a little footnote to this particular single that also helped it clinch selection ahead of Cattle and Cane.

This was another 7” which was ‘lost’ in Edinburgh all those years ago, although I did still have copies of the songs on a double compilation LP called 1978-1990. However, by the early part of this century, it was all CDs or digital and I just couldn’t get my hands on a copy of the b-side.

But….there came a day when, after much humming and hawing, I plucked up the courage to ask a bloke called Colin who at the time had a great blog called Let’s Kiss And Make Up that had previously featured The Go-Betweens if he could post an mp3 of This Girl, Black Girl. He willingly obliged.

Colin also later replied to other e-mails from me in which I asked for advice in setting up my own blog – and without fail he was always courteous, charming, witty and hugely supportive, especially in the very early days when I was unsure of what I was doing and terrified that I was out of my depth, making a fool of myself and wasting my time.

So if there’s a song from this rundown that I’d like to dedicate to anyone, then its this particular track.

Thanks comrade. I’m proud to call you a mate.  Real proud.

PS

How uncanny is it that, having more than six months ago set out to look back at this old series that the entry for The Go-Betweens would happen to fall just one day after the 10th anniversary of the sad and untimely passing of Grant McLennan……

 

1978 – 1990 ON VINYL (Part 4)

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Completing the look back to 1978 – 1990, a 2 x LP compilation from The Go-Betweens released just after they had initially broken up.  Sides 1 and 2 were more or  a ‘Greatest Near Hits’ comprising flop singles and some of the best-loved album tracks (and can be found in postings earlier this week)

Sides 3 and 4 however, are a bit different consisting of some rarities, radio sessions and previously unreleased tracks and is what made the purchase of the record so essential back in the day.  Side 4 was curated entirely by Grant McLellan and he supplies the liner notes.

Side 4

1. Dusty In Here

This song is about my father who died when I was four.

(Recorded in October 1982 in Eastbourne, England. Originally released on the LP Before Hollywood in May 1983 on Rough Trade)

2. A King In Mirrors

Emmylou Harris meets The Velvet Underground. I sang this is a French toilet during the Spring Hill Fair sessions but I prefer this earlier version. It’s spookier and more languid. I’m very happy with the lyric.

(Recorded in December 1983 in London and broadcast on 5 January 1984 on the David Jensen Show on BBC Radio 1)

3. Second-Hand Furniture

I had a dream about a divorced man who looked into a shop window and saw his old bed. I think it was snowing. The catalogue of objects was an ad lib. For some reason this song is popular in Stockholm.

(Recorded in October 1984 in London and broadcast on 29 October 1984 on the John Peel Show on BBC Radio 1)

4. This Girl, Black Girl

There was an annual event in north Queensland country life called the Oak Park Races. People came together to race their horses and to congratulate each other on a good year or to console each other if it has been a bad one.  I had just returned from a trip which included a recording session in Scotland, a close shave in Egypt and a six-week hangover in New York. I found myself in a tent three hundred miles from the nearest bookshop. My relatives asked me to play the guitar for them but I knew it was impossible to dance the gypsy tap to “I Need Two Heads” so I wrote this song.

(Recorded in August 1983 in Sussex, England.  in Brisbane.  Originally released in November 1983   as the b-side to on the 7″ only release of Man O’ Sand to Girl O’ Sea. It’s also, indirectly, the song that led to me starting up a blog, the original TVV, back in September 2006)

5. Don’t Call Me Gone

I’ve always liked country music. This is a typical mix of pathos and sentimentality in the tradition of George Jones and Tammy Wynette. It comes close to pastiche but The Go-Betweens seldom genre hop so this is what it is.

(Recorded in January 1987 in London.  Originally released in November 1983  as a bonus track on the 12″ release of Right Here)

6. Mexican Postcard

This is a super 8 film about a country I have never been to. For further reference listen to the soundtrack for “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid”.

(Recorded in August 1988 in London. Originally released in October 1988 as a bonus track on the 12″ release of Was There Anything I Can Do?)

7.  You Won’t Find It Again

This is an acoustic version of a song that never made it onto “16 Lovers Lane”. It was a great summer and you could see the Sydney Opera House from the window. It was also only twenty minutes walk to Bronte Beach.

(Recorded in January 1988 in Sydney. Previously unreleased)

Just click on the song titles to get the mp3s.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the past four days.  I have.