The Go-Betweens Revisited
Formed by songwriters Grant McLennan and Robert Forster in the late Seventies, Brisbane’s The Go-Betweens had poetic sensibility and indie cool enough to thrill sensitive hearts and minds throughout the 1980s. Breaking up in 89, they reformed in 2000 before songwriter Grant McLennan’s death in 2006 brought the adventure to an end. The band’s now released Quiet Heart: The Best of The Go-Betweens, and Robert Forster spoke with Andrew Shaw about choosing the songs, and the city that inspired them.
Robert, I remember hearing ‘Cattle and Cane’ in 1983 and that was the first time I’d heard an Australian band take Australia seriously as its subject matter.
I think it goes back to when Grant and I started the band, it goes back to taking Brisbane seriously. When we used to go down to Sydney and Melbourne, the people thought we were hillbillies. And there were a lot of Brisbane people living in Sydney and Melbourne who played down the fact they were from Brisbane. For Grant and I and The Go-Betweens in general, we saw this as an advantage: we were artists and that’s where we came from. So Brisbane, and Queensland in general, was something that was not going to be denied.
There’s a live performance from 1987 included with Quiet Heart, what was it like listening to yourselves play back then?
It was a real pleasure, and I think in terms of the packaging of the Quiet Heart CD with a selection of studio tracks and a live album is really great. With recordings and being in a studio it’s studied and thought-through and then especially the mood of the band in Vienna in that performance in 1987 is very wild and impulsive and I think that’s a good combination of things to have with a record.
What informs your choices for a ‘best of’ album?
You’re doing many things. You know there are songs that need to go in there, people expect them and rightfully so. Then there are other songs that are similar but, which one? That’s where it starts to get more complicated. It’s a real chance to put a picture of the band to the public and so it’s taken very seriously.
Did you think, ‘What would Grant have liked in there?’
A little bit. But I think also with Grant... Grant very much – perhaps a little bit more than me – felt the band was a little bit... didn’t gain the mainstream popularity that it deserved or could have. He felt that a little bit more than me. And so I think the idea of bringing out a best of record is important and would be something he’d cherish and really like; that a record company wants to do this and put it out there, someone like EMI doing this would be something he’d be very happy about. At the same time I know his opinion on various Go-Betweens tracks – well, on a lot of them, actually. So I always had that voice in my head.
Queensland’s become politically conservative again recently, where do you stand on an issue like same-sex marriage?
Same-sex marriage I’m 100 per cent for. It’s something that should happen; and I think the tide is slowly turning. I think it’s to do with political will. I think the people are on the side of this and it’s one of the things I find frustrating about Julia Gillard. I can’t understand her point of view. I think if she was on board it would happen, or the momentum would be greater. I find it mystifying.
IMAGE: Robert Forster.