AS TIME GOES BY

It’s taken Robert Forster nine years to move on, mu­si­cally speak­ing, from the shock death of his col­lab­o­ra­tor Grant McLen­nan. That feels about right, he tells

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music - Iain Shed­den

Six weeks ago at the Splen­dour in the Grass Fes­ti­val in By­ron Bay, Robert Forster took to the stage — not to sing pri­mar­ily, although he did do a cou­ple of songs, but to re­flect on his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer. As he rem­i­nisced in con­ver­sa­tion with broad­caster Rob­bie Buck about his early years in Bris­bane and about the suc­cesses and fail­ures of his band the Go-Be­tweens, the spirit of his long-time friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor Grant McLen­nan was never far away. Even the mu­sic spilling across the muddy pad­dock to the in­ter­view mar­quee was com­ing from the GW McLen­nan stage, which com­mem­o­rates the life and ca­reer of Forster’s friend, who died in 2006.

Forster hasn’t been ter­ri­bly pro­lific in mu­si­cal terms in the nine years since that tragedy, re­leas­ing only one solo al­bum, but there are a num­ber of rea­sons for that and McLen­nan is cen­tral to one of them. “I wanted some time to pass,” says Forster.

Forster’s cur­ricu­lum vi­tae has ex­tended be­yond his mu­sic brief since the fi­nal Go-Be­tweens al­bum, Oceans Apart, in 2005. The singer has writ­ten award-win­ning mu­sic jour­nal­ism for The Monthly and con­trib­uted to The Satur­day Pa­per and other publi­ca­tions. He has done shows only oc­ca­sion­ally, most of­ten one­off ap­pear­ances at fes­ti­vals here and over­seas.

As a pro­ducer he has worked with Bris­bane’s the John Steel Singers and Half­way. He helped pro­mote the Go-Be­tweens an­thol­ogy box set, G is for Go-Be­tweens, last year and has just com­pleted the sec­ond draft of his mem­oirs. All that has been miss­ing is new mu­sic — un­til now.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter the shock death of his mu­sic part­ner from a heart at­tack at the age of 48, Forster an­nounced that the Go-Be­tweens, which had en­joyed a noughties re­nais­sance af­ter split­ting up in 1989, could no longer ex­ist. In­stead Forster re­sumed the solo ca­reer he had be­gun in 1990. His next al­bum, The Evan­ge­list in 2008, in­cluded De­mon Days, the last song he and McLen­nan wrote to­gether. McLen­nan re­mained a pow­er­ful in­flu­ence on that col­lec­tion of songs. That al­bum, says Forster, was a piv­otal and cathar­tic mo­ment in his life.

“It closed a chap­ter on a whole range of lev- els,” says the 58-year-old mu­si­cian. “I knew I’d never make an al­bum like that again.”

Step for­ward seven years and Forster is glad he al­lowed such a long pe­riod to pass be­fore re­leas­ing another batch of songs. The new chap­ter in Forster’s solo ca­reer is Songs to Play, his sixth solo al­bum, which is re­leased on Septem­ber 18. It’s fa­mil­iar in its quirky pop, the singer’s man­nered de­liv­ery and the sharp lyrics that have marked his band and solo oeu­vres over the past 30 years, but its cre­ator came at it from a dif­fer­ent an­gle than the work that pre­ceded it. While The Evan­ge­list had its roots in Oceans Apart, Songs to Play is a fresh start, from a sin­gle vi­sion.

“The Evan­ge­list was very much a re­ac­tion to the last Go-Be­tweens al­bum,” Forster says. “Grant passed away af­ter we did Oceans Apart and then a year and a half later I went into another al­bum that had some songs he had writ­ten and it was recorded in the same stu­dio.”

When asked if McLen­nan is a pres­ence on the new al­bum, Forster’s an­swer is an em­phatic “no”, although adding that “it was recorded in Bris­bane so there’s al­ways a bit of Grant float­ing around there”.

In­deed the al­bum was recorded just out­side Bris­bane, in a tiny stu­dio, Wild Moun­tain Sound, at Mount Nebo. Forster wanted to use old ana­log equip­ment to record the al­bum and en­listed engi­neer Jamie Trevaskis to as­sist in the pro­ject, along­side the John Steel Singers’ Scott McDon­ald and Luke Brom­ley, drum­mer Matt Piele and Forster’s wife, Karin Baum­ler, on vo­cals and vi­o­lin.

The songs on it, such as Let Me Imag­ine You, A Poet Walks and I Love My­self and I Al­ways Have, creak with Forster’s sense of fun and irony, matched with his gift for floaty pop melodies. Some of the songs have been fer­ment­ing for sev­eral years. He planned orig­i­nally to make an al­bum two years ago, but his writ­ing and the an­thol­ogy got in the way.

“It took a lot longer than I thought it would,” he says. “Sud­denly it was seven years had gone by in­stead of five.”

What has taken up a lot of his time in the past few years is his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, which he is hop­ing will be pub­lished next year. Forster has warmed to the pro­ject more than he did to jour- nal­ism. He stopped writ­ing for The Monthly in 2013 “be­cause I thought I’d done enough”.

“Be­cause I don’t have any for­mal jour­nal­is­tic train­ing I’m a slow writer,” he says. “It would take me 10 days to write a 1500-word ar­ti­cle and get it edited. I’ll do some­thing again if it comes up. And I think I can do a de­cent job.”

The Robert Forster story be­gins in Bris­bane, where he was born and raised, and takes in his school­ing at Bris­bane Gram­mar School and his stu­dent days at the Univer­sity of Queens­land, which is where he met McLen­nan. The history of the Go-Be­tweens, from those for­ma­tive days as a duo, writ­ing songs in their share house, through to that fi­nal al­bum and McLen­nan’s death, is a com­plex one. Af­ter re­cruit­ing drum­mer Lindy Mor­ri­son, the Go-Be­tweens forged a

WE WEREN’T FIVE GUYS. WE WEREN’T THE STONES. WE WEREN’T ANY­WHERE NEAR A TYP­I­CAL BAND

ROBERT FORSTER

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