The Go-Betweens: Right Here Review
Brisbane-based The Go-Betweens were not the first, and won't be the last, example of a band whose influence outweighed their commercial success. In nearly thirty years (1977-1989 and 2000-2006) they recorded nine studio and three live albums, and had singles make the lower reaches of the Top 100 in Australia and the UK. They did a little better in the UK Indie Chart, with three top ten singles there, beginning with “Lee Remick” in 1978. “Cattle and Cane”, a single from their second album Before Hollywood in 1982, was selected by the Australasian Performing Right Association as one of the top thirty Australian songs of all time. In 2010, Brisbane named a bridge after them.
The band had several lineup changes, but while acknowledging the contributions of the other members – especially drummer Lindy Morrison and multi-instrumentalist (violin and oboe mainly) Amanda Brown – the two constants were Robert Forster and Grant McLennan. They met at the University of Queensland and soon formed the band, originally a duo with Forster on guitar and McLennan on guitar and bass, with both writing songs and singing. Forster's songs tended to be jagged and angsty, while McLennan's relied more on character observation, and both men's songs could be more musically intricate than those of other band's. (For example, the verses of “Cattle and Cane” are in 11/4 time – counted 5-2-4, for the musicians out there.)
In an attempt to interest record labels in their songs, they travelled to the UK in 1979/80, associating with Scottish indie band Orange Juice (borrowing their drummer Steven Daly for their single “I Need Two Heads”) and fellow Australians The Birthday Party, led by Nick Cave. Returning to Australia, they recruited Lindy Morrison as their new drummer, and she and Forster became a couple. They became a four-piece with Robert Vickers on bass (replaced by John Willsteed in 1987), and a five-piece with the arrival of Brown, who entered into a relationship with McLennan. However, partly due to the lack of commercial success and the break-up of the relationships within the band, Forster and McLennan disbanded The Go-Betweens in 1989 and pursued solo careers. The band was reformed in 2000 and they made three more albums until McLennan's death from a heart attack in 2006.
The Go-Betweens: Right Here tells this story from beginning to end, with to-camera interviews from most of the principals and from others including fellow musicians (David McClymont from Orange Juice, Mick Harvey from The Birthday Party, Paul Kelly, Lloyd Cole), family members and friends, archive footage and television appearances. Director Kriv Stenders (best known for Red Dog and its sequel) has history with the band, as he made their video for “Streets of Our Town” in 1988. This is his first documentary feature. He does introduce a few arty touches, in the framing of the interview sequences, and shooting the interviews with the non-principals in black and white while the rest of the film is colour, but this doesn't distract too much. The value is in those interviews, with Forster – in a suit and tie – rather reserved, and Morrison very candid. She says that she has always found intense, nerdy men very attractive and so it was inevitable she would fall for Forster. However, Forster and McLennan's breaking up of the band is still clearly a sore point for her and Brown. It's as if they were just the girlfriends to be dumped, rather than integral parts of The Go-Betweens.
With McLennan's death, The Go-Betweens are no more. Forster continues as a solo artist and music writer. But their legacy continues, with younger Australian musicians, Courtney Barnett for one, citing them as an influence. The Go-Betweens: Right Here is a worthy part of that legacy.
The Go-Betweens: Right Here has a UK cinema release on 5 October and will be released on DVD in the UK on 23 November.