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Grant & I by Robert Forster - review

The inside story of The Go-Betweens

The Go-Betweens could have been as big as The Smiths or R.E.M., their sparkling riffs and guitar-based pop a regular Top 20 fixture, except for a seemingly jinxed career. They released six albums during the 1980s in their first incarnation – always centred around the twin songwriting team of lanky extrovert Robert Forster and stocky romantic dreamer Grant McLennan – yet with each one seemed to come a new record label, a new broken promise, a fresh shattered hope.

Relationship problems, label problems and lifestyle problems contributed to the band’s wrongful lack of success. As raconteur Forster points out in this tribute to his former musical partner, subtitled Inside And Outside The Go-Betweens, they were no Fleetwood Mac, and yet the stories that swirled around his band’s literate, laconic love songs (and relationships) are easily worthy of more hailed contemporaries. In their home town of Brisbane, there’s even a bridge named after them – the Go-Between Bridge.

Grant & I is the book Forster promised McLennan, the day after his premature death in 2006. The attention to detail is mesmerising, if a little too painstaking: at times, Grant & I reads like an extended credits list when you wish Forster would give you just one anecdote about drugs, or sharing a house with Nick Cave, or his tempestuous love affair with Go-Betweens drummer Lindy Morrison. Likewise, the numerous sections where he quotes lyrics.

There are parts of the book where McLennan is simply not present, and what’ s left out of the story often feels more telling than what’s put in. Maybe that’s not so odd: the Go-Betweens’ great strength was the restraint and awkward chemistry.

All is forgiven for the final few chapters, where, with tears prickling down your face, you read Forster’ s memories of his final few days with a man he so clearly loved.