Grant and I: Inside and Outside The Go-Betweens

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Author: Robert Forster
Category: Biography
Australia: Penguin Hamish Hamilton 2016, 339pp.
ISBN 9780670078226 (pbk)
Reviewed by

In December 1977, Robert Forster asked Grant McLennan to form a band with him. Some weeks later, McLennan agreed and The Go-Betweens were formed. Grant and I is a story of Forster and McLennan, their friendship and the music they made together.

This is a beautifully constructed memoir, revealing in its innocence and insight, through driven by a strong narrative and carefully selected detail.

Go-Betweens Lindy Morrison (left), Grant McLennan, Robert Vickers and Robert Forster

Go-Betweens Lindy Morrison (left), Grant McLennan, Robert Vickers and Robert Forster

It’s clear right from the start that Forster and McLennan will steer their own pathway through the music business. The pair met in English classes at the University of Queensland and grew closer during their studies. McLennan wanted to be a film-maker or film-critic. He could not play an instrument. Not an impediment thought Forster, I’ll teach him. His faith was quickly rewarded.

Forster reveals that another Brisbane band, The Saints, provided a template for the pair. “The steps were glass-clear and majestic – record a classic first single, send it overseas, and get signed to a London label for a multi-album worldwide deal. Voila! For a band of dreamers, which The Go-Betweens were, here was our shining path.”

What struck me reading Grant and I was how willing they were to back their ambition. Arriving in London in 1979 on the strength of their two Able Label indie singles, they face a brick wall, largely a product of their own inexperience. Then in almost unbelievable circumstances, Edwyn Collins from legendary Scottish indie label Postcard Records notices their single in a London record store, locates them in a nearby hotel and invites them back to Glasgow where they record their third single.

Grant and Robert

Grant and Robert

The first third of Grant and I is set largely in Brisbane, capturing the pair’s shift from students to musicians. A new relationship enters the frame as Forster moves in with Brisbane drummer Lindy Morrison and she joins the band. The story then moves to London during the 1980s. Robert and Lindy’s personal relationship eventually fractures and a European tour in support of R.E.M. leads indirectly to the band’s collapse. Forster moves to Germany and marries, McLennan’s in Sydney and hoping for solo success.

The final part of the book begins in 1999 when McLennan asks Forster if he wants to reform The Go-Betweens.  Forster returns to Brisbane with his young family and the re-formed Go-Betweens emerge not just as the covers band of their earlier selves, but as creatively renewed collaborators at the top of their game. Then it stops. Suddenly. On 6 May 2006, McLennan dies following a massive heart attack. The Go-Betweens are no more.

Robert Forster

Books by Bob Dylan and Patti Smith have set a new benchmark for the music memoir in recent years.  Forster’s book sits well in their company, though it’s Tracy Thorn’s wonderful I Was A Bedsit Disco Queen that it recalls. Both are stunningly well written accounts of outsiders inside the music industry. The authors even cross paths during their musical careers.

Grant and I bears witness to a deep and complex friendship, one that wove an unconventional arc across almost three decades of Australian music history.

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