March 21, 2008 / 3:42 PM / in 11 years

Go-Betweens co-founder pays tribute to fallen friend

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - “It’s all different now,” Robert Forster sings on the closing track of his new album The Evangelist, his first since the unexpected death of his songwriting partner Grant McLennan.

The song, “From Ghost Town,” is an elegy to Forster’s friend, with whom he played for nearly 30 years in the Brisbane, Australia-based band the Go-Betweens.

In those years, the two forged a sound that combined the thoughtful tuneful folk rock of the 1960s with some of the more angular and challenging sounds of post-punk.

“After Grant died, some close friends wrote notes to me,” Forster said in an interview. “The first line of (one) letter was ‘It’s all different now.’ It was really a bold thing to write to someone.”

Forster and McLennan, who met at the University of Queensland in 1976, were in the process of writing songs for their follow-up to their 2005 album Oceans Apart. On May 6, 2006, McLennan took a nap before a housewarming party and never woke up.

“People had already started to arrive for the party,” the 50-year-old Forster recalled. “The people who were there were Grant’s closest friends, the ones who would arrive early to help him organize, put food out and stuff. I’d arrived early. But I was told he was asleep.”

McLennan’s fatal heart attack at age 48 brought a tragic end to one of Australia’s best-loved homegrown bands.

As the expression goes, if bands got paid for rave reviews, the Go-Betweens would be millionaires. The band fused the folk rock style of Bob Dylan’s fecund mid-1960s period with the herky-jerky rhythmic styles of early Talking Heads or Wire.

The closest thing they had to a hit was “Streets of This Town,” a dark portrayal of Brisbane set to a bouncy melody that years later became a hometown anthem of sorts.

The Go-Betweens split in 1990. McLennan and Forster pursued solo careers and performed together from time to time. When their Australian label Beggars Banquet compiled a best-of collection, the two men toured together to promote it.

Five or six shows into the tour, they decided to collaborate again. The result was one of the few reunion gambits that lived up to the quality of the band’s older work. But it was cut short by McLennan’s death.

Forster regrouped with the remaining members of the Go-Betweens — bassist Adele Pickvance and drummer Glenn Thompson — and assembled an album from the tracks he was working on with McLennan when he died.

“I’d drive over to his house, once a week, once every two weeks and we’d play and talk for three or four hours,” he said.

“We were at a stage where we could sit down and play eight songs pretty much off the bat. It wasn’t like he’d died and I suddenly got these (unfinished) songs. We’d played them together. So I had a good feel for them,” he added.

The Evangelist, due out on April 29 on Yep Roc Records in the United States continues in the same vein as the Go-Betweens more recent albums, but with most of the post-punk edges smoothed out.

Three songs on the new album are credited as Forster-McLennan collaborations as virtually all of their Go-Betweens output was.

“On the last Go-Betweens records, Grant had written his lyrics while we were doing demos or actually in the studio just before (recording), which was very Grant in a way because he was always melody driven. So he’d have all the songs worked out and always he’d have a chorus and a song title. So I would write lyrics at home and I’d bring them in to him.”

Forster described McLennan as a complete bohemian.

“He hadn’t changed his lifestyle in 30 years. If there’s any consolation that I could take it’s that I got to make nine albums with the man,” he said.

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