I never saw The Go-Betweens live. When I began writing songs and playing in bands in high school in the mid 90s, no one much cared about The Go-Betweens, as far as I could tell. Grunge was finished, but in its wake there was a boom of new, young Australian bands who I (and all my guitar playing friends) would fall in love with.
It’s probably the nostalgia talking but I think of it as a kind of Golden age of Australian Indie Rock. From Perth in West Australia there was Jebediah, Fur and Beaverloop, from Melbourne there was Magic Dirt and Something For Kate, Sydney had You Am I. These are just the ones I can remember. But Brisbane had the holy trinity of Regurgitator, Powderfinger and Custard. Custard were my favourite. And it was because of Custard that I first heard of The Go-Betweens.
In a 1997 Live at The Wireless broadcast, Custard performed a cover of The Go-Betweens song Draining The Pool For You. I loved it. I taught myself how to play it and went looking for more. I couldn’t find a single Go-Betweens CD, record or tape in any of the in any of the big record stores in town. As I mentioned earlier, no one cared much about The Go-Betweens as far as I could tell.
At this point it may have been nearly ten years since their last record. I turned to the internet – I think in these days it may have been Napster – and took what I could get. A handful of songs. All wonderful. I realised that some folks did care about The Go-Betweens and they were making all the music I loved. Dave McCormack of Custard seemed to mention Forster and McLennan in nearly every interview I read.
And so I listened more and more. A nice thing about coming to a band late in their career, or even after it has finished, is there is a whole body of work you can discover piece by piece, in a context of your own choosing, rather than with the weight of expectation that comes with new releases. Many of the bands I loved when I was younger eventually made records I didn’t like. But I have grown to love The Go-Betweens more and more as I have gotten older – they tell me more about myself than I am prepared for and it catches me off guard.Bill Botting & the Two Drink Minimums play the Grant McLennan 10th anniversary gig at Bush Hall on May 6.
The song Streets of Your Town, captures that city, Brisbane, so perfectly it plays tricks on my memory. It’s a city I have some resentment for – don’t we all do that for our hometown – but the song catches the light and eases the heat, the heat that dries your bedsheets on the line and makes you drink too much. If you know what I mean. I’m not sure I do.
I don’t remember where I was or what I was doing when I first heard the song Apology Accepted, but I remember how it made me feel. All the guilt I’ve ever felt, all the regret, and the shame, and there has been some, were laid out in this lyric, which seems so specific but all-encompassing at the same time. And as a performance, I have to say, Grant breaks my heart every time.
A few years after I had that first encounter with the music of The Go-Betweens, the band I was playing in was making our first record in a little studio in North Brisbane. At around the same time, Grant and Robert used the same studio to record some demos – I think perhaps for what would become Friends of Rachel Worth, but I’m not sure.
The engineer who was helping us make our record played some of our songs to them while they were there and Grant said some very encouraging things about the songs I had written. I don’t expect he ever thought about it much again, but it meant the world to me and it still does.
This is how good they were last year: