Up and down

You will notice that the new Go-Betweens compilation is a "Best Of", not a "Greatest Hits" - and therein lies the problem

You will notice that the new Go-Betweens compilation is a "Best Of", not a "Greatest Hits" - and therein lies the problem. The best band ever to come out of Australia never really did the bar-code business down the record shops, but just glancing down at some of the songs here (Cattle And Cane, Bachelor Kisses, Streets Of Your Town and Spring Rain) is enough to really hammer home that this is a band with sublime songwriting powers. Compiled by Robert Forster and Grant McLennan themselves, this is the ideal album for people who had heard a lot about the band but never got the albums the first time around, and/or Go-Between completists, of whom there are many.

If you still don't get it, consider this: when the best rock magazine in the world, the French Les Inrockuptibles, was celebrating its tenth anniversary in 1996, they conducted a massive nationwide poll to determine the three most influential rock acts of the previous decade - first were Nirvana, second were The Pixies and third were The Go-Betweens.

They began as a post-punk two piece - just Robert Forster and Grant McLennan - but over the years evolved into an ornate six-piece who excelled in classic three-minute pop wonders. Although they would be the last one to make excuses, it's a simple stark fact that record company-wise they spent the best part of their career being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Initially signed to Rough Trade for their debut Send Me A Lullaby album, the label couldn't afford to finance a second album and later both Sire and Elektra (who, at differing times, signed the band) closed down their UK offices just when an album was about to be brought out.

It's invidious to single out certain albums of their 1980s heyday, but certainly Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Ex- press - which is bursting at the seams with aching melodies - is a highlight. If it was ever going to happen for them, though, it was going to be with 16 Lovers Lane, which had radio-friendly unit-shifter written all over songs like Love Goes On, Streets Of Your Town and Was There Anything I Could Do? Around about this time they were out on tour with the band they are still compared to - in terms of quality songwriting - REM. For a while it really was a toss-up between the band from Brisbane or the band from Athens, Georgia as to who would go global. Sadly there was only room for one band that year, and The Go-Betweens split up not long after; but they kept in touch with solo work and various side projects.


"I've tried being resentful about what happened to us, but I can't be," says Robert Forster. "People often ask me would I swap the artistic reputation for a top 20 hit - but I wouldn't, and that comes down to how we feel about the music. There really is no need to sell 10 million copies of your album, and while that situation would certainly have helped us, it's not what we're about. It was good to go out on a record like 16 Lovers Lane."

Now re-formed, The Go-Betweens are happy enough to travel the world playing from their back catalogue, but they have no real intention of writing any new material. "I really think we've done enough with the six albums. Also, I don't think our work has been put in the right context.

People go on about REM and stuff, but the race hasn't been run yet. One day people will see The Go-Betweens for what they really were. I'm sure of that."

By their own admission, they're not in the reunion business for the dosh, simply for the laugh of it. Having started to play together again at the Les Inrockuptibles ceremony in 1996, they've discovered that they're all still good friends. "We've been pleasantly surprised that people still remember us and that they still hold the songs in such affection," he says. The last time they were around these parts it was the full (ish) band line-up on stage, but this time out it's just Forster and McLennan - an arrangement which, if anything, serves to remind just how strong the songs are when they're stripped down to near-acoustic sparseness. Still, with a massive cult following intact, you'd be best advised to arrive early for their gig at Dublin's Vicar Street tonight (doors 8 p.m.).

Another reason to get there early is to have a listen to local lad Brian (aka Ken Sweeney) doing the support honours by playing some material from his new(ish) Setanta release, Bring Trouble.

Bellavista Terrace: The Best Of The Go-Betweens is on the Beggars Banquet label.

Brian Boyd

Brian Boyd

Brian Boyd, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes mainly about music and entertainment