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Dead Leaves On A River-bank
Before, In-between and After The Go-Betweens

Part II: 1985 - 1990

You'll find part I (1978 - 1984) under the August moon.

1985 - maybe not the greatest year of rock, as we take a look back in time. Anyway, one thing of some importance happened; The Go-Betweens kept working with new material, going for a new album. And, almost like it was being their guardian angel, they met up with this friendly "bum party", and finally got themselves a steady record deal, with a loyal label. The company was Beggars Banquet, which aslo went on to be the label to house both Grant McLennan and Robert Forster when they took on solo careers after the demise of The Go-Betweens.

coverpic In October and November 1985 The Go-Betweens recorded what was to be their fourth album at Berry St., London. The self-financed Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express, recorded and produced by their friend Richard Preston, showed a band better and more fit than ever. The leading indie-label Beggars Banquet was, as already mentioned, keen, and the record was released in March 1986. The opening track, Spring Rain, shows The Go-Betweens at the most optimistic, in sort of a jazzy, strolling manner. Liberty Belle... also showed a more fulfilled and cleaned-up folk-pop band, even with a slight touch of country, as Grant had a certain liking for some American country music. This time they'd also added something extra to their sound, by introducing a lot more non-rock instruments such as the cello, the bassoon and violins. The album was neatly arranged, and presented a line of brilliant songs; The Wrong Road, In The Core Of A Flame, Head Full Of Steam (with backing vocals by Tracey Thorn of Everything But The Girl), and Apology Accepted, to name but a few. Like always their album was hailed by the press, and again the group could start touring to promote the new record. Now they also brought along a violinist, Amanda Brown, who could give their live sound an original twist. She was soon to be a full, fifth member (also playing oboe, guitar, keyboards, and singing backing vocals), contributing light and delicate string-work with a feminine touch to concerts. They were also gaining more popularity than ever, especially at home, down under in Australia. Anyway, after touring Europe (and visiting Norway for the third time!), they went over to the USA, where MTV had started giving them air-play. Still, the album wasn't to bring a massive commercial break-through to glorious success. I guess Liberty Belle..., or their music in particular, is far to personal and low-voiced to hit the big masses.

"The songs still sound so strong, but given the climate of the time, it wasn't to be our fate. I don't have a great feeling of bitterness about it or anything. If I'd have felt that strongly about it, then I'd have probably hid myself away from the world in shame when the group finished."
(R. Forster, 1997)

coverpic Already at the end of the year they started to record songs for a forthcoming album. 1987 lead to two major incidents: a new album, Tallulah, plus a line-up change, as bass-man Robert Vickers were leaving the group. Tallulah was another brilliant beauty, a more poppy and extrovert album than Liberty Belle..., without missing their very personal signature. The bittersweet melancholy was still present. The production was far more mainstream, but miles away from sell-out. Album #5 contained a group of catchy pop-melodies of majestic, noble pride, and was to be their biggest commercial success to date. Right Here, a classy summer-pop-song of somewhat sad, but not resigned, love by McLennan. The tense and suggestive The House That Jack Kerouac Built by Forster. And, maybe the finest pearl of them all, the growing strength of Hope Then Strife. As always, their lyrics are excellent storytelling. Fascinating tales of life, and dreams, joy and sadness. Philosophic, poetic, filmatic.

I was slowly dying in a clinic just outside L.A.
You came and saw me (thank you) that picked me up straight away.
You said: "Learn to dance, learn to act, learn the piano"
And most of all you said: "Learn to live again"

(R. Forster: Spirit Of A Vampire)

A white moon appears, like a hole in the sky,
The mangroves go quiet.
In la Brisa de la Palma,
A teenage Rasputin, takes the sting from a gin.

(G. McLennan: Bye Bye Pride)

During the summer of 87 they played some festivals in Europe, after having their first holiday for a long time. They had been a band for 10 years, working and living together as a tight unit. Forster told a Norwegian music paper (Nye Takter) in June 1987:

We don't want to walk a well-trodden path. We tend to stay off what's safe. The Go-Betweens don't want to be standing still.

coverpic Robert Vickers was replaced by another Australian, John Willsteed (bass, guitar, hammond organ, piano). In 1988 they returned back to Australia to record what was to be their swan-song. This was their first album recorded at home since their debut LP, Send Me A Lullaby, seven years earlier. 16 Lovers Lane contains of 10 songs. Some fine moments, indeed, but I sense some tiredness. As if they knew this was to be the last The Go-Betweens album. Despite some up-beat pop-songs, there's a darker tone to most of the songs and lyrics. And, I find it sort of symbolic that the record opens with a song entitled Love Goes On!, and ends with Dive For Your Memory. Of course they didn't reach stardom this time either. It was almost like they were bound to stay a cult band. Praised by critics, loved by their fans, ignored by anyone else. Towards the end of 1989, after touring the world presenting their latest attempt, Forster and McLennan made the decision. They dissolved The Go-Betweens in December, to seek new adventures in solo careers.

And the reunion tour of 1997? Well, nothing more than coming together, doing some of their old songs. Sort of like being together on holiday. Just like good old friends. Here's my advice: be sure to "dive for the memory" of The Go-Betweens. You won't regret it!

Epilogue:
In 1990 Beggars Banquet released 1987-1990, a "Best Of..." collection.
In 1993 a video was released, That Way, about which Melody Maker wrote:

"...at about 3 am on a rainy Sunday night, watching this is the next best thing to making a cup of tea, coming back and watching this while drinking it. Cheaply magnificent." (Taylor Parkes, MM, June 1993)

Robert Forster has so far made four albums on his own: Danger In The Past (90), Calling From A Country Phone (93), I Had A New York Girlfriend (94), and Warm Nights (96). All on Beggars Banquet. This year Grant McLennan released his fourth solo album, In Your Bright Ray (July in Europe, September in the USA). The others are: Watershed (91), Fireboy (93), and Horsebreaker Star (94). All on Beggars Banquet as well. Grant has also recorded two albums with fellow Australian Steve Kilbey (of The Church) under the name of Jack Frost.

Copyright © 1997 Håvard Oppøyen e-mail address

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