Formed in 1977 by songwriters and guitarists Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, The Go-Betweens are one of the 80s’ most overlooked, yet precious gems. They’re one of those rare guitar bands that traversed through the 80’s (skipped the 90’s) and carried on into the 00s with ease; like ‘an easy greasy Sunday‘ to quote the band themselves.
Over the years various other members, often lovers, have come and gone. Drummer Belinda Morrison and Forster were previously a couple for some time. Later McLennan would form a tumultuous relationship with the bands violinist Amanda Brown. In fact, the full list of members over the bands existence looks more like the line up of a rugby union team (subs included) but the core duo of Forster and McLennan, were ever-present; that is to say, until the band split up in 1989.
Forster and McLennan reformed the band in 2000 with a brand new line-up. This new line up and their 2003 album Bright Yellow Bright Orange is the focal point of this edition of 3 Song Rule. Tragically, their hugely popular reincarnation was short-lived as Grant McLennan died on 6 May 2006 of a heart attack. A devastated Robert Forster subsequently announced that The Go-Betweens had disbanded for the last time. Forster continued a modest career as a solo artist but spent most of his time writing music reviews for ‘The Monthly’ magazine.
In a damning indictment of the chart system, The Go-Betweens long and illustrious career never afforded them an Australian or UK Top 50 chart single. They just about managed to break into the top 100 though on more than one occasion. In 1988 “Streets of Your Town” (which was used as an identification jingle by the Prime Media Group in Australia for 2 of their regional television networks) reached the Top 100 in both Australia and UK.
Despite this apparent lack of success, the band were loved by fellow musicians (they’ve been referenced in song lyrics by Belle & Sebastian and Teenage Fan Club), music critics and a devoted following of fans. In fact the Go-Betweens have something of a cult following and as Alex Petridis said in The Guardian:
“The Go-Betweens inspire cult devotion – which could explain why Australia has just named a bridge after them.
The Go-Betweens seemed to have great affinity with Ireland (sure who wouldn’t?) and always included Ireland in their brief and thrifty ‘World Tours’. They reference Ireland in the lyrics of their first single Lee Remick. The song, in typical Go-Betweens fashion, is a cheerful, self-deprecating, yet bold ode to a beautiful actress (star of The Omen):
She comes from Ireland
She’s very beautiful
I come from Brisbane
I’m quite plain
She’s from the mountains, so close to heaven
Clouds on her shoes, stars on her chest
I love Lee Remick, she’s a darling
Their lyrics are always ladled with irony and a blunt Australian wit. They sound like a classic 80’s guitar-pop group with a Velvet Underground edginess, very similar to Belle and Sebastian, with bright sharp guitars and a sense of self-deprecation about their songs. They did spend a lot of time in Scotland in their early years so unsurprisingly, the band recorded a couple of singles in 1980 for independent Glasgow label, Postcard).
The band have had a long an illustrious career with many standout moments. There are hidden gems in their back catalogue such as 1999’s ’78 ‘Til 79: The Lost Album’ (recorded in Forster’s bedroom using McLennan’s two-track tape deck), however I’ve chosen a more modern album to get you hooked. Without further ado, here are 3 (of many) reasons why you should buy the Go-Betweens’ 2003 classic album Bright Yellow Bright Orange; coincidentally these are the first three tracks on the album.