We chat with The Go-Betweens
It was a pretty messy break up on the eve of the 1990s that saw the Go-Betweens part ways, and when the band’s founding frontmen Grant McLennan and Robert Forster revived the band a decade later, without long time drummer Lindy Morrison or any other previous members, some saw the fractured relationships and perceived snub as a blight on the band’s legacy.
However, as the old saying goes, it seems time heals all wounds, and after licensing the band’s back catalogue to EMI, the legendary Australian act has released the first ever best-of compilation spanning its whole history, from the classic Go-Betweens era between 1982 and 1988, and the last three albums by the reformed McLennan and Forster.
The new release’s track list was compiled by the surviving members of the classic line-up of Forster, Morrison, Amanda Brown (violin, vocals) and Robert Vickers (bass) (McLennan passed away in 2006), and although the band are on good terms again, Lindy Morrison explains it wasn’t easy getting the right mix of tracks: “we got online and we talked for bloody months, man, every day discussing every aspect of it, and in the end we came up with this fabulous recording.”
The release also features a second disc containing a live recording, Vienna Burns – Live 1987, which has been heard by few people other than Morrison since its recording. “It’s very exciting” she enthuses. “I had a cassette copy, but the masters just came from out of the blue, from a radio station in Vienna, and we were able to get the rights to it and put it out, it’s really exciting”
When McLennan and Forster did reunite in 2000, it was more surprising Morrison was not asked to return than anyone else, as while she hadn’t been a founding member, unlike any other of the Go-Betweens she had played on every album with McLennan and Forster.
Before joining the songwriting duo she was part of the Brisbane punk scene, playing in the ever-changing punk outfit Xero. “Because I was living in Brisbane and the politics were so abhorrent, the Bjelke-Petersen government was racist and homophobic; the Rights march was banned… It was a very political time so punk music really affected that.”
Morrison met McLennan and Forster through the punk scene in 1978, although Morrison says even then the duo weren’t like the rest of them: “I was playing in Xero, and they were two singer/songwriters who are not punk. They were very influenced by Bob Dylan, they were influenced by the Velvet Underground, Tom Verlaine. They were different to the punk crowd, and the punk group of musicians, although they liked them, used to kind of make fun of them because they were so straight and the music they played was so folk based.”
Although the punk scene was something Morrison was passionate about, she grew up listening to Australian pop music like the Easybeats, Normie Rowe and Billy Thorpe, along with soundtracks to musical films by the likes of Steven Sondheim and Michele Legrand.
“I had very diverse but very pop-oriented taste. Then in the early 70s I was listening to Bowie and Lou Reed and I was incredibly affected by punk music, and I was incredibly influenced by the Clash, the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, and Blondie, Pattie Smith, X-Ray Spex, The Slits.”
“Xero was everything like that, and I loved all that, but I guess in a way when I started hearing Robert and Grant, who were influenced by Bob Dylan and the Monkees and the Velvet Underground, they took me again back to what I was raised with and sucked me in. It was the song writing, and the boys,” reminisces Morrison.
“It’s not often the person approximates the artist, but in their case – the boys were as gorgeous as the work and so that was it, I was back into that folksy pop, in a way.”
While Morrison was quickly taken by McLennan and Forster, it was a lengthy courting that led to her joining them in the Go-Betweens, as the band seemed to have a revolving door policy on drummers in its early days.
“I just loved the band and I wanted to get to know them. I lived in this really cool area right in the middle of Brisbane” Morrison says. “Robert used to come to visit me and Grant would stay in the car. Time passed and they ended up rehearsing in the same rehearsal room as Xero, and I started jamming with Robert, and it didn’t take long before the jamming turned into an offer to join the band.”
“But that whole process took two years, between 1978 and 1980, and in that time they went to Scotland and came back and recorded two singles.” Even over those two years Morrison always believed in the band. “I really wanted to play with them. Who wouldn’t? I could really see that those songs were just going to be gorgeous” says Morrison.
The reunited Go-Betweens drummer also cites the songwriting duo’s drive as a factor in her desire to play with them: “And they were really ambitious. Not to be mainstream pop-idols, but to produce authentic music, authentic art. And that’s what I was into, that’s what I wanted to do. We were very similar culturally.”
Despite the drama that came out of the Go-Betweens’ dissolution and reformation, Morrison seems comfortable and at ease when talking about her former bandmates, and it seems any bad blood is now water under the bridge. In 2010, for the first time in many years, all the surviving members of the classic Go-Betweens era were together in the one place for the opening of Brisbane’s Go-Between bridge, named in tribute to the band.
“I never drive over the bridge” says Morrison, “but I always look at it and often walk down to it, because it’s the most elegant and beautiful bridge, and there’s actually a picture of it on the back cover of the new album… The opening the bridge was fabulous, it was great when we all got together again.”
The Best of the Go-Betweens: Quiet Heart is out now through EMI – you can view a sampler below: