I Think They Are In The Next Aisle
A few years ago I was doing the grocery shopping on a Saturday afternoon. Nothing unusual in this. In the great divvie up of household chores this chore is mine. I have always liked shopping centres and shopping. They are great places to people watch and unlike most men allegedly, I quite like a bit of retail therapy.
Walking down the aisles at your local grocery duopoly buying the weekly food supplies is also rather soothing for me as long as the parking is easy. My wife will tell you that looking for a park is a form of hell for me and I am often ejected from the car and told to wait over there while my more patient and supremely luckier wife finds a hero park within seconds of me happily leaving the car.
But once inside I’m good. I have a list, a task to do and KPIs confirming success of said task. All in all very satisfying.
On this Saturday afternoon I was in a smaller shopping centre in the inner west of Brisbane in the aisle with the tinned vegetables, oils and condiments etc. when I looked up from the shelves to see a tall man pushing a trolley approaching me down the aisle. He was better dressed than most for a visit to your local Woolies on a Saturday arvo where sporting and surf wear seems favoured by patrons of both sexes and all ages, even by those who clearly have not done much in either field for some years.
Dressed in and black leather shoes, slacks and a white business shirt, he looked like a well-credentialed schoolteacher or Uni professor who had snuck out to buy the evening’s dinner ingredients,
It was Robert Forster from The Go-Betweens.
The Go-Betweens are the best band to come out of Brisbane. If only because they would not have existed if they hadn’t come from Brisbane.
That sounds a bit quantum mechanics trippy I guess, a bit like if a tree falls in a forest and if there is no one there to hear it does it still make a noise kind of head spin stuff.
And if you like that stuff go to the Internet and look up Schrödinger's Cat, WTF!
The point is that the Beach Boys didn’t come from SOCAL in the 60s for no reason. Could Nick Cave ever have strutted out of Darwin all black mascara and menace?
And so with The Go-Betweens. Kindred minds in the right environment at the right time produce a unique creative output. In this case, music from a band who were a band.
I point this out because the other members of The Go-Betweens, especially Lindy Morrison and Amanda Brown were critical to the sound if not as central as Robert and Grant McLennan were to the creation of the songs. I feel that until recently this importance has not always been acknowledged. This is interesting because in Fleetwood Mac, the other 70s band where relationships between band members created tensions and issues but drove the creative output to great heights the acclaim has been much more evenly spread.
But The Go-Betweens exist because the band was the vehicle chosen not as a means for rock stardom but just the way Forster and McLennan chose to release their creativity.
Brisbane of the 70s provided the rest. There are plenty of books on this period of Queensland history, almost all of them written with the politics of Joh and the National Party Government as the central figures. There were other bands that railed against the crooked, corrupt government and Queensland’s sleepy inertia. Bands like Xero and The Saints.
But it was The Go -Betweens who represented a different, future Brisbane. They created that “sunstriped sunlight” sound with brittle jangle and made the politics personal. Their songs are about place and the only politics that really matter, the politics of the heart. They realised like Billy Bragg that you could be "embraced in the ideological cuddle”
And the greatness was in their differences as writers being able to exist and express in the same band. Indeed exist in their deep friendship until McLennan’s sudden tragic death in 2006. In broad terms Robert provided the darker lyrical twists and McLennan the softer, more narrative tales.
Together with the invaluable instrumental contributions from Morrison, Brown and other members Robert Vickers, Adele Pickvance and John Wilsteed a Brisbane sound was created. Unlike other “sounds” Motown and Grunge for example, the Brisbane sound was most often put to vinyl in places far away and opposite in feel and climate from the band’s birthplace.
Such is the power of the river city and Queensland that even when rebelling against its conformity and conservatism the drag of its warm nights, open verandas and make your own fun kept popping up in the songs. Brisbane has grown up a lot since then but the architecture, the climate and the feel are still there and you can hear it in Brisbane bands of today like The John Steele Singers and Halfway.
Back in the 70s the inner west of Brisbane was where it was at. Close to the University of Queensland, a key bit player early in the Go-Betweens tale, the area is filled with big old Queenslanders, steep streets and trees. Hotter than out near the bay and close to the CBD it was the logical place for Brisbane’s youth of the time to congregate. As far as I know when Robert has been living in Brisbane he has made the west his home. Ditto with me, it is the old Brisbane to me and now with the gentrification of the city one of the areas that best bridges the past and future for a good Brisso suburban boy.
Perhaps that is the hidden genius of the Brisbane City Council naming one of the bridges across Brisbane’s meandering river The Go-Between Bridge in honour of the band in 2009. The Go -Between’s music is a bridge between decades in the city. Between what we were and what we are and between what we have lost and what we still have.
In the supermarket I tried to catch Robert’s eye. I wanted to mumble something inane but heartfelt. Something simple maybe, like thanks for the music. Maybe he would ask me in what aisle the muesli bars were. But in the end we passed each other, without acknowledgement, two middle age men pushing trolleys of packaged foods to take back to our striped sunlit homes.
There is something very Brisbane about that.
Top 4 Go-Between Moments
Bye Bye Pride with Amanda Brown’s lovely oboe solo [Words I thought I would never say] Steve Kilbey from the Church is quoted as saying “This song is so full of longing and regret and naive hope. The lyrics are so Brisbane I can almost see it all happening right before me.”
Bachelor Kisses - McLennan at his best
Head Full of Steam - More Forster this one, propulsive, funny and lustful with great drumming from Lindy Morrison. Check out the video
Surfing Magazines- Play this one at my funeral please, a gentle loving, knowing pisstake I think.