Monday, January 19, 2015

Go-Betweens

The Go-Betweens, Toronto, Sept. 1987

THE ONLY THING I KNEW ABOUT THE GO-BETWEENS was that friends in bands liked them a lot. One of those bands - The Lawn; more about them later - opened for the Australian group when they were passing through town, playing the El Mocambo. There was no client and no subsequent record of any print made in the big ledger, so this is probably the first time these photos have ever been seen.

The shot above is the only really printable frame of the single roll of a dozen portraits I shot, probably during soundcheck in a dressing room at the club. Two or three frames were ruined when the film buckled in the developing reel, and in several others drummer Lindy Morrison is having a hard time stifling a giggle.

All I remember is that the band were somewhat intimidating; a group of adults, bemused and a bit put out at having a photo shoot thrown at them unannounced, taking my measure and doubtless seeing a nervous kid struggling with his gear and failing to get five people to look at the camera at the same time. This is no masterpiece, but I like the faraway look on Robert Forster's face and especially Amanda Brown's wry smile. I wish I'd asked Grant McLennan to take off his sunglasses.

Shot with my Mamiya C330 and a flash on a light stand bounced into an umbrella placed close to the group. The Go-Betweens were touring their Tallulah record; bassist Robert Vickers would leave the band by the end of the year.

Grant McLennan, The Go-Betweens, Toronto, Sept. 1987

I stuck around and shot the show that night. I have very few memories of it, but I do know that it would take me years to really appreciate the band, whose very literate sensibility - Lindy Morrison remembers them all killing time on tours with books; Robert Forster recalled poet Anne Sexton being a big influence on his songs around this period - was veneered with increasingly slick production.

Amanda Brown, The Go-Betweens, Toronto, Sept. 1987

Over 25 years later I appreciate them a lot more; "Cattle and Cane" is one of the finest songs of the '80s, the sort of tune that fulfilled the promise I'd seen at the beginning of that decade, which seemed to get swamped by all that big hair, all those shoulder pads and gated drums.

Robert Forster, The Go-Betweens, Toronto, Sept. 1987

In a six-part history of Australian rock that aired in 2001, Lindy Morrison remembered with some bitterness the band's behaviour during their final years in Australia.

"When you're in a rock band for seven or eight years you become institutionalized," she said. "We all acted so badly, so atrociously. It was just three years where everybody was so mean...It was just a desperate time."

This was when I met the band, and I think that a bit of that tension - perhaps - is visible in my portrait, glimpsed accidentally by an interloper and his camera.

Grant McLennan died of a heart attack in 2006.


   

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