Robert Forster pays tribute to Go-Betweens bandmate Grant McLennan on 15th anniversary of his death

"You can't lose 31 years of friendship, especially when half of it is spent working together in music, the other half spent laughing, planning, coping with lives lived around music"

Robert Forster has written a heartfelt tribute to his friend and Go-Betweens bandmate Grant McLennan on the 15th anniversary of his death.

Reflecting on McLennan in a message shared to his Facebook page (May 6), Forster wrote that McLennan “still shapes” the singer-songwriter, with “a deeper connection that runs through [his] thinking and artistic decisions”.

“I can’t shake him and don’t want too. You can’t lose 31 years of friendship, especially when half of it is spent working together in music, the other half spent laughing, planning, coping with lives lived around music,” Forster wrote.

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“I met him at 18, he was 17. That seems impossibly young now, and just the right age to meet someone of importance. What dawned on me then, and has stayed with me right up to this minute, is that we complimented each other. And both of us were up for adventure, no set plans, ready to push the boat far out from shore.

“You don’t encounter many people like that, and we were lucky to be in teenage time when you’re up for acting out every crazy impulse. From that meeting, we talked wildly for two and a half years – the first phase of The Go-Betweens in place before we played a note.”

Greetings on May 6.Grant McLennan passed away fifteen years ago today. It's a fair stretch of time now or feels like…

Posted by Robert Forster on Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Forster and McLennan formed the Go-Betweens in Brisbane together in 1977 – the pair had met a year earlier while attending the University of Queensland. Drummer Lindy Morrison joined in 1980, with the trio releasing debut album ‘Send Me a Lullaby’ the following year.

The lineup later expanded to include multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown and bassist Robert Vickers – the latter replaced by John Wilsteed in 1987. The Go-Betweens released six albums before disbanding in 1989, concluding with 1988’s seminal ’16 Lovers Lane’.

Forster and McLennan made up the principal songwriting partnership throughout the band’s existence, with McLennan penning some of the band’s most beloved songs – including ‘Cattle and Cane’, ‘Bachelor Kisses’, ‘Right Here’ and ‘Streets of Your Town’.

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The Go-Betweens
The Go-Betweens circa 2000. Photo credit: Patrick Ford/Redferns

Following their dissolution in 1989, Forster and McLennan reformed the band in 2000 with a new lineup that didn’t include any previous personnel – the two are the only Go-Betweens members to have played on every release.

The reformed Go-Betweens released three more albums – 2000’s ‘The Friends of Rachel Worth’, 2003’s ‘Bright Yellow Orange’ and 2005’s ‘Oceans Apart’. McLennan died in May 2006 from a heart attack, ending the band. Forster and McLennan’s friendship and musical endeavours are largely the subject of Forster’s memoir Grant & I, which was released in 2016.

In his tribute today, Forster said he traces his friendship with McLennan best through Go-Betweens songs, reflecting on their creative partnership.

“Sitting, writing ‘Your Turn, My Turn’ together in Spring Hill. Him playing me the bones of ‘Cattle And Cane’ in Ladbroke Grove. Hearing his guitar lines on ‘Spring Rain’. Him playing me the cascading opening chords of ‘Love Goes On’ in sunny Sydney. Me playing him ‘Darlinghurst Nights’ in New Farm, his head bowed listening.”

Forster concludes the note by suggesting ways fans could celebrate McLennan’s life today, should they have the “time and inclination”.

“Pour yourself a good glass of red wine, or be bold and make that spirit concoction you’ve always dared yourself to mix. He’d like that. Any tiny extravagance will do. Read a poem – the sadder the better. Buy a book in a bookshop if you can, he had walls of them and treated them as the most precious thing he had.

“Iced champagne, oysters. Open a window, play Dylan’s ‘I Want You’, anything by The Monkees or from the first four Orange Juice singles, and if you look out you’ll see him there. Ghostly in the air, a twisted-lipped smile on his lips in silent appreciation.”

Forster has continued to perform as a solo musician since McLennan’s death and the Go-Betweens’ dissolution. His latest album, ‘Inferno’, arrived in 2019.

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