Posts Tagged ‘Grant McLennan’

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From shambolic cult pop to FM-friendly accessibility, these tracks display Grant McLennan’s melodic genius and Robert Forster’s lyrical brilliance

Lee Remick

The earliest Go-Betweens recordings reveal the band’s simpler, shambolic pop aesthetic rather than the sophisticated sound for which they became renowned. The 1978 single Lee Remick was a bouncy, light-hearted love letter to the actor that’s as poppy as it is punk, but offered an early showcase for the Go-Betweens’ knack for melody. Lee Remick, alongside the primitive brilliance of other early recordings Karen and Eight Pictures, was written in the space of a month, not long after the Go-Betweens formed. The band consisted of two 19-year-olds, Robert Forster and co-founder Grant McLennan, who were joined by a drummer they knew. Nervous, depressed and distrustful, this was when the Go-Betweens focused their attention on what Forster described as “feelings in the bedroom, Brisbane, driving my car and anything from overheard conversations” rather than attempting to address universal themes. The group were still unformed in many ways, but Lee Remick’s addictive pop sensibility makes it an enduring cult classic that sounds as joyously youthful today as it ever did.

Your Turn My Turn

The band’s first album, 1981’s Send Me a Lullaby, confirms the notion that debuts usually present the least refined version of a group, but even here the Go-Betweens still sound more cultivated than most of their indie contemporaries. But there remained a raw post-punk sensibility in tracks such as Your Turn, My Turn, with its sharp edges. The combination of clunky, sporadic piano parts with the melody and sharp, resonant guitar creates an affecting contrast.

By Chance

WhileSend Me a Lullaby primarily dabbled in post-punk urgency, its successor, Before Hollywood, established the Go-Betweens’ propensity for melding calm, intricate melodies with something more frantic. The sudden shifts in tempo results in a record filled with variety and colour, exhibited in the contrast between Cattle and Cane – which focuses on the band’s more introspective tendencies – and the hurried frenzy of By Chance. The lyrics are cryptic here, but it’s the impulsive, stop-start arrangements that make it an often omitted Go-Betweens classic, alongside the desperate brilliance of Send Me a Lullaby’s Midnight to Neon.

Cattle and Cane

Their most celebrated song, Cattle and Cane, was composed in the summer of 1982 on a borrowed guitar in London, though it sounded meticulously thought-out and crafted, rather than impulsively put together in someone’s spare bedroom. That’s the effortless genius of Grant McLennan: an incredibly talented songwriter and guitarist who had a way with words that was haunting and evocative. “The rhythm struck me as strange, the mood as beautiful and sad. The song came easily, was recorded quickly and still haunts me,” he said in an interview shortly before his death, at the age of 48, in 2006. Cattle and Cane reflects a phase in the Go-Betweens’ trajectory when many of their songs dwelt on the subject of Australia, catalysed by the homesickness they felt after relocating to England.

As Long As That

The Go-Betweens progressed to a style that was more focused, if not unknowingly complicated and clever, on Before HollywoodBy this point, Lindy Morrison had become more proficient on drums – her effortless, no-frills approach was essential to the Go-Betweens’ sound. Filled with a series of intricate melodies, the slow, languid pace of As Long As That is a comparative slow-burner among the chaos of tracks such as By Chance and That Way. That variation and nuance made Before Hollywood one of the best records they ever made, and perhaps the absolute best.

Part Company

Part Company on first listen, it sounds like the perfect love song to soundtrack broken hearts and lovers going their separate ways: “What will I miss? Her cruelty; her unfaithfulness,” Forster laments, sounding both tragic and heartfelt, but never too sentimental. According to Forster, however, all is not what it seems. He wrote the song when the group were on the cusp of moving to England, and it is an ode to Australia. That all makes perfect sense once you delve a little deeper into the inner workings of Forster’s poetic discourse: “From the first letter I got to this, her bill of rights,” he sings. Part Company – from the band’s third album, Spring Hill Fair – displays the more mature style that Forster and McLennan were aiming for. It exhibits so many prevailing Go-Betweens qualities in one song: strong, literate lyrics that are never self-indulgent, arrangements that are filled with occasional subtle tweaks – such as the nervous hum of the keyboard low in the mix – and Morrison’s drums: simple, but effective. The best thing about Part Company is the interplay of Forster’s and McLennan’s guitars, a perfect example of their musical relationship being one of cohesion and understanding. What’s more, there will never be a moment in music as melancholy as when Forster sings: “That’s her handwriting, that’s the way she writes.”

River of Money

River of Money is the Go-Betweens trying their hand at sleazy post-punk in the spirit of their friend Nick Cave. Put next to an album such as 16 Lovers Lane, you’d think it was an entirely different band. The lyrics are some of the Go-Betweens’ best, and on paper they read like strangely affecting free verse: “It is neither fair nor reasonable to expect sadness to confine itself to its causes.” River of Money plods along at such a leisurely pace that it sounds like it’s stuck on the wrong RPM, but it sits comfortably among the other more buoyant, upbeat songs on Spring Hill Fair, and the contrast displays the band’s breadth of vision perfectly.

Draining the Pool for You

A lesson in how to write the perfect indie rock song, Draining the Pool for You sounds like the inspiration behind everything Pavement have ever done, though Forster confessed to writing the melody in 10 minutes in a London hotel while writing for Morrison to put on her lipstick. The lyrics are set in a mansion in Los Angeles where the narrator is working for an “idiot movie star”. He sees himself as the only intelligent, talented person there, yet he is hired to clean the pool for the luxury parties that take place. Lyrically, it’s perhaps one of the more simplistic Go-Betweens songs, but the arrangements – leisurely guitar lines, aptly placid, repetitive drums, and an unforgettable, soaring chorus – should make this a hit in an ideal world. The song portrays resentment brilliantly: “I remembered your name – evidently you’ve forgotten mine,” Forster sings, apathetically, feeling overworked and underappreciated.

Head Full of Steam

Released in March 1986, the Go-Betweens’ fourth LP, Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, was the band’s most accessible album up to that point: Morrison said she believed that if drum machines and synthesisers had replaced the organic arrangements it would have been a hit. This new FM-friendly approach was a surprise to those who had been following the Go-Betweens from the start, but in retrospect it was a natural progression for a band who always had a pop sensibility. Liberty Belle is often regarded as rather hit and miss, but Head Full of Steam is a highlight. Its softer, janglepop sound showed that shifting towards simplification could work in their favour. As Forster said: “I’m writing a lot less complicated music, and it’s giving me space to put myself in it.”

Clouds

In a 1988 NME interview, McLennan said: “I maintain that the Go-Betweens write about love better than anybody else in the world.” He wasn’t wrong: their sixth LP, 16 Lovers Lane, is shamelessly lovelorn. It should have been the album that took them beyond being a cult band – one for whom the phrase “critics’ favourite” might have been invented. Gone were the ragged edges; lyrics became less obtuse, the production more polished, the guitars acoustic and the strings warm and contemplative. The Go-Betweens were at their most accessible, and with that came praise from many critics, but fans seemed sceptical of the change in direction and the breakthrough didn’t happen. Still, 16 Lovers Lane had a cohesion their other albums perhaps lacked. Forster’s lyrics sat perfectly alongside McLennan’s heartfelt, melodic impulses. Clouds showcased that juxtaposition: its uplifting tone is undercut by a deep sadness.

Geniuses will always be geniuses ….. And I could not define in another word what happened in Brisbane, Australia in the distant past of 1977 ….

The reunion of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan generated one of the most beautiful bands that the universe has given us, the name, well everyone knows, or should know, The Go-Betweens.
This project is our small tribute to the magnificent work that these magicians created. My special thanks to all the bands that are part of this project.

And, briefly, the main feeling everyone wants with this project is that…. “Loves Goes On”...anyway.

In memory of the eternal Grant William McLennan.

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Grant McLennan Australian alternative singer-songwriter and guitarist. He co-founded the Go-Betweens with Robert Forster in Brisbane in 1977. In addition to his work with the Go-Betweens (1977–89, 2000–06) he released four solo albums, Watershed (1991), Fireboy (1992), Horsebreaker Star (1994) and In Your Bright Ray (1997). He also undertook side-projects and collaborations with other artists. McLennan received a number of accolades recognising his achievements and contributions as songwriter and lyricist.

In 1977 Grant McLennan met Robert Forster at university. Forster encouraged him to learn bass guitar and to form an alternative rock band, Along with Robert Forster, Grant McLennan became one half of the song-writing team behind The Go-Betweens. While The Go-Betweens were on hiatus during the 1990s, Grant McLennan embarked on a solo career, releasing four solo albums, two albums with The Church’s Steve Kilbey, and one album with the Far Out Corporation. McLennan’s songs which evoke the impressions and imagery of the regional background of his childhood include “Cattle and Cane”,“Unkind and Unwise”, “Dusty in Here” (about his father), “Boundary Rider” and “Bye Bye Pride”.

I’m not going to pretend that McLennan’s 1990s work out-shines his songs in the 1980s with The Go-Betweens. It’s certainly not uncommon for pop musicians to do their best writing in their twenties, and there was a sense of McLennan struggling to find his solo identity in the decade. After balancing perfectly with the acerbic, angular Forster in The Go-Betweens, he could be a little overwhelmingly saccharine by himself, and he flirted awkwardly with the mainstream on his first two solo records.

Robert Forster and Grant McLennan play an acoustic version of ‘Cattle & Cane’ and talk about writing a song about growing up in Queensland while living in London. ‘

But 1994’s countrified double album “Horsebreaker Star” is a masterclass of song-writing, even if it tends to blend together, and McLennan is among my favourite song-writers, like a comforting blanket with his warm voice and melodic charm. McLennan didn’t get the chance to add to his solo catalogue after The Go-Betweens’ reunion in the 2000s, dying prematurely from a heart attack in 2006, but here are some of his highlights from his 1990s:

“Providence” (Jack Frost) In 1990 Grant McLennan on lead vocals, bass guitar, lead guitar and keyboards formed a rock band, Jack Frost, in Sydney with the Church’s front man, Steve Kilbey on lead vocals, bass guitar, lead guitar, keyboards and drums. The group released a self-titled album in 1991 and the pair resumed the collaboration in 1995 for a second album, Snow Job.
McLennan’s collaboration with The Church’s Steve Kilbey was recorded in 2 weeks, with the pair playing most of the instruments themselves. McLennan’s work with Kilbey is moodier than his other solo work.

“Surround Me” He released his debut solo album, Watershed, under the name G. W. McLennan in 1991, which was produced by Dave Dobbyn on Mushroom Records’ White Records label. For its United Kingdom version it appeared on Beggars Banquet. It was an “ambitious and highly personalised collection of songs charted McLennan’s emotions in the wake of The Go-Betweens’ break-up. [it] revealed McLennan to be, in turns, the introspective singer/songwriter or the carefree and gregarious performer. McLennan “isn’t the most talented singer; his voice is a bit plain, and his range somewhat limited. He isn’t the most gifted guitarist his playing sometimes amounts to basic acoustic strums. He is, however, a truly exceptional artist who, in the spirit of Lloyd Cole, crafts moments of brilliance to fit his limitations the mainstream sound works for this hooky slice of pop/rock, and its big chorus.

In November 1992 McLennan issued his second album, Fireboy, which was produced by Dobbyn again,  compared to his previous one and found it was “an even more melancholy set of songs that boasted fuller (though never obtrusive) arrangements, it “finds the musician in excellent form, with a baker’s dozen worth of songs that won’t challenge preconceptions, but do make for a great listen all around” with “sweetly sparkling, sometimes barbed, numbers. During 1993 he toured Australia with a backing band comprising Michael Barclay on drums, Pedro Bull on keyboards (both ex-ex-Paul Kelly and the Messengers), Maurice Frawley on guitar (ex-Paul Kelly and the Dots) and Phil Kakulas on bass guitar (ex-Blackeyed Susans) One track “Fingers”
Another song from Fireboy, a moody piano ballad that missed the cut for Intermission, the excellent compilation that McLennan released in tandem with Robert Forster, documenting their respective careers in the 1990s.

McLennan’s third album, Horsebreaker Star, appeared in December 1994 as a double-CD. It was recorded in Athens, Georgia with American session musicians and was produced by John Keane it was McLennan’s most consistently catchy solo album providing 30 snapshots of a resigned romantic while unrolling tune after sweet, simple-seeming tune. its wide-screen outlook, the album shifted from country rock to bright acoustic pop with a great deal of optimism and passion. It was “more of a country/Southern rock bent…his ear for focused, sharp lyrical portraits of life and love, paired with his ever-striking crisp singing style, continues to lead the way. Opener Simone and Perry sets the tone nicely, similar to previous character sketches like The Go-Betweens’ ‘Right Here’.

In September of 1997 McLennan released his fourth solo album, In Your Bright Ray, with Wayne Connolly producing (You Am I, Bluebottle Kiss, Underground Lovers) returns him to his more well-trodden ground, [and] is as warm and soft as a cake out of the oven, a just-washed blanket, and an Eskimo coat. In 1998 he collaborated with Powderfinger’s Ian Haug on guitar in Far Out Corporation. In Your Bright Ray
The title track from McLennan’s final solo album is beautiful and restrained, a sunny, thoughtful piece of pop.

McLennan died of a heart attack at the age of 48 and was survived by his fiancée, Emma Pursey.

It has been announced that three members of beloved Brisbane band The Go-Betweens will reunite for the first time since 1989 to take part in an epic tribute concert for their acclaimed sixth studio album, “16 Lovers Lane”.

Lindy MorrisonAmanda Brown and John Willsteed will pay homage to the 1988 album on which all three played along with co-founders Robert Forster and the late Grant McLennan  — the last Go-Betweens record of the ‘classic’ era — with assistance from Dan KellyDanny Widdicombe and Luke Daniel Peacock rounding out the core line-up of the band.

That already-acclaimed ensemble will be joined by a range of incredible other Australian musicians including The Church’s Steve Kilbey, GANGajang’s Mark Callaghan and Died Pretty’s Ron Peno, as well as festival artistic director Katie Noonan and her brother, Tyrone (both also known for their work with george), plus MontaigneSam Cromack and Jen Boyce (Ball Park Music), Tim Nelson and Zoe Davis (Cub Sport), Sahara Beck and Kirin J Callinan.

“We will be recreating that amazing album on its 30th anniversary … it’s going to be amazing,” Noonan said . “And Lindy, Amanda and John haven’t played together since Berlin in 1989, I think … so that’s super-special.

“You know, Grant was one of my heroes as a musician, but just as a human being — he was the sweetest man — and I thought, well, you know, it was only the 10-year anniversary of his passing, I think, the year before last [Ed: it was 2016], so, you know, he just influenced and inspired so many musicians in Brisbane, Queensland, and around the world; they were such an example of, ‘Wow, you can be from, y’know, St Lucia and have an international career as a musician’.

“Them and The Saints paved the way for so many other artists, so it’ll be beautiful to celebrate Grant’s and Robert’s incredible songwriting and songbook.”

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A 4cd or 4LP Anthology with original with rare and archival recordings and extensive liner notes from Robert Forster, Domino Records are honoured to announce the upcoming Autumn 2014 release of an extraordinary anthology for one of the most beloved and influential Australian groups of all-time, The Go-Betweens.

G Stands For Go-Betweens Volume One extensively documents the band’s origins in an ambitious box containing four vinyl albums, four compact discs and an extensive 112-page book, featuring a trove of archival photos and extensive historical liner notes from founding member Robert Forster, along with additional pieces from guest essayists, fans and contemporaries. The box set captures the band’s output from 1978 through 1984 and includes the first vinyl re-pressings of their first three studio albums in over thirty years (Send Me A Lullaby, Before Hollywood & Spring HillFair), all re-mastered from the original analog tapes. G Stands For Go-Betweens also brings together their early classic and collectible singles together on a fourth vinyl LP entitled The First Five Singles, featuring new artwork from its creators. Additionally, the set comes with four compact discs of rare, hard-to-find and unreleased demos, recordings, radio sessions and a complete live concert radio broadcast from 1982. If that’s not enough, the set comes with a silkscreen of their first promotional poster for their debut single, “Lee Remick”, as well as a reproduction of their very first press release from their own Able Label.

http://www.dominorecordsco/gobetweens/

The first three albums, the first five singles, outtakes, demos, radio sessions and a live show…

In the 1980s, Australia’s Go-Betweens were the dark horse among all those sharp-edged, sweet-and-sour guitar bands with literary pretensions. For those who found the cult of Morrissey too messianic and Lloyd Cole too self-satisfied, here was a connoisseurs’ choice: a band who name-checked Jean Genet while blending Sixties pop nous, 80s indie elegance, the brittle intensity of post-punk and the wayward non-conformity of The Modern Lovers.

A vehicle for the songs and voices of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, the Go-Betweens formed in December 1977 in Brisbane and ended their first act in 1989. Six years into a fruitful post-Millennial reunion, they finally ceased trading in 2006 following McLennan’s sudden death from a heart attack. Forster has been plotting this gargantuan eight-disc slab of cultural excavation since shortly after that unhappy event; the first of three planned anthologies, it’s a beautifully conceived exploration of the band’s origins and early evolution.

Included are the first three Go-Betweens albums, Send Me A Lullaby (1982), Before Hollywood (1983), and Spring Hill Fair (1984), as well as all ten sides of their first five 45s, collected here on a new stand-alone LP titled The First Five Singles. Running parallel to these four vinyl albums are four CDs, arranged chronologically, consisting of outtakes, hard-to-find and unreleased demos, radio sessions and a complete (and excellent) live concert, recorded at the Mosman Hotel, Sydney, on April 23rd, 1982. There are over 100 tracks in all.

Meeting as fellow arts students at the University of Queensland, Forster and McLennan named their band after L.P. Hartley’s 1953 novel, and throughout its lifespan the group’s music was characterised by a darting intellectual curiosity. Debut single “Lee Remick” is a faux-naif piece of fan mail directed at the actress (“She was in The Omen / with Gregory Peck / She got killed / what the heck”), but its dumbness is studied and self-aware; on the B-side, “Karen”, a song clearly in thrall to Patti Smith’s “Gloria”, they’re already name-checking Brecht, Joyce and Chandler.

By 1980, and third single “I Need Two Heads”, the music had started to catch up with the words. Released on Postcard Records following trips to London and Glasgow, the song is an assured blend of The Cure and The Gang Of Four, giving the Go-Betweens their first Top 10 indie hit in the UK. Orange Juice drummer Steven Daly guested on the track, but by the time they started recording Send Me A Lullaby Lindy Morrison had joined on drums. As a settled three piece, the Go-Betweens’ house sound began to emerge: brittle and sharp, with lots of air between Forster’s guitar, McLennan’s bass and Morrison’s idiosyncratic rhythm. “Careless” has the compulsive twitch of early Orange Juice, and the urgent jangle of “Hold Your Horses” has shades of REM’s Chronic Town, but any sweetness is balanced by a sour twist. The vivid psycho-sexual drama of “Eight Pictures” creeps and crawls, the waspish digs at some thespian love-rival (“Same publicity shots for six years”) barely lightening the mood, while “It Could Be Anyone” recalls the neurotic funk of Talking Heads.

Released the following year, Before Hollywood marks a leap forward in both composition and execution, excising any lingering hints of ramshackle amateurishness. Robert Vickers joined as bassist, McLennan moved to guitar, and piano became a more prominent texture, notably on the lovely “Dusty In Here”. The album includes the masterful “Cattle And Cane”, a taut, minimal, bittersweet reflection on McLennan’s Cairns childhood, written on Nick Cave’s guitar. A slightly reconfigured version of the song features on the fourth CD of rarities.

On Spring Hill Fair, the Go-Betweens’ sound shuffles towards something lusher, more pop-savvy. A serrated edge remains on “Five Words” and the lowering “River Of Money”, but by now the band were lining up against the great song stylists of the mid-80s. Washed with synthesisers, “Bachelor Kisses” is animated by the same restrained romanticism as Prefab Sprout’s “When Love Breaks Down” (if anything, the demo is even more swoonsome), while “Part Company” – from its quivering emotional urgency down to its intricate, concentric weave of bass, vocal and fluid guitar lines – is a kissing cousin to The Smiths’ “Reel Around The Fountain”.

Parts of Spring Hill Fair point towards the glossier, more measured elegance of the Go-Betweens next phase, bookended by 1986’s Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express and 1988’s 16 Lovers Lane. But that’s another story, for another anthology. For now, Volume One of G Stands For Go-Betweens is a giddy treat, marking the spot where the headlong rush of new beginnings meets the steadying hand of accomplishment.