10 Questions For Robert Forster

On the occasion of the release of the second instalment of the G Stands For Go-Betweens boxset, co-founder Robert Forster casts an eye back at the band’s matchless middle period. Gary Tipp interrogates the Brisbanite…

The Go-Betweens

Do you think the three studio albums in the boxset represent the peak of your powers as a band? Your imperial phase?
“I think they are very good as a three-album run. Perhaps our best, but I hesitate to commit to those kinds of groupings.”
Did leaving Sire for Beggars Banquet feel like a new beginning for the band? The songwriting on Liberty Belle seems to have found another gear…
“It did find another gear. It went up to fourth gear. I had learnt a lot about my songwriting over the previous years. There were hints of where I was going on Draining The Pool For You and Part Company from Spring Hill Fair. A more ‘classic’ approach, but definitely in my own style. I fell in love with a strumming kind of melody again, that I had in the late 70s. But I was doing that much better in the mid-80s.”
Were you and Grant McLennan competitive as songwriters?
“We were, but it was a healthy look at each other’s work. Not bitter or tough. We watched what each other did. New advances in chord structures or new kinds of riffs appearing in songs. Cattle And Cane showed me a new way of writing ‘personal’ lyrics. Bringing family and friends into songs.”
The live double LP in the boxset captures a Town & Country Club gig dating back to May, 1987. Is it a gig you can recall?
“Very clearly. It was big show for us. We lived in London at the time, so it was kind of a hometown show, and you remember them. Plus, we knew we were being recorded. The mobile recording truck was parked outside.”
What difference did the inclusion of multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown make to the band?
“An enormous amount, but also she was a big influence on our new live sound. We sounded bigger and punchier on stage. Also, with a violin and oboe player in the band, it meant we sounded like no one else. Which is always a good thing. On Tallulah, she broadened our sound, and gave it more drama, which the songs needed.”
16 Lovers Lane coincided with the band’s return to Australia. Did that have an impact on the way it sounded?
“Yes, it did. It is almost a cliché how the differences from London to Sydney make us sound. Tallulah was very dark and dramatic and screaming for attention, while there is a sunny languid charm to 16 Lovers Lane recorded in Sydney. Light comes in. The struggle of London life gives way.”
Were the demos recorded with producer Tony Cohen intended for the seventh album before the 80s split?
“Yes, there was supposed to be 10 or 12 songs chosen from these songs tobe the seventh Go-Betweens album. Not rediscovered gems, the good songs still sound good and the OK songs still sound OK. A song of Grant’s, You Can Dream About Tomorrow, is one of his very best. And an unrecorded song of mine here, Running The Risk Of Losing You, I still strum and admire.”
The accepted definition of The Go-Betweens is bags of critical acclaim but no commercial sales. Surely the band’s enduring legacy is a huge measure of success?
“I agree. An annoying false narrative has grown around the band. A strangling moss that obscures somewhat, all the good music we made. I always think of the band as successful. We came from a small house in Brisbane in the late 70s, and went out to the world, making music people still love and need to discover.”
This year’s Inferno was met enthusiastically. Is there another solo album in the making?
“Another album? I keep writing, song to song, and hope to make another record one day.”
If you could handpick one of Grant’s books to receive in your copy of the boxset, which would it be?
“A movie book. He loved cinema and had a fantastic collection of books on US and European cinema. When I first met him, they were the biggest and most interesting part of his books.”

Gary Tipp