The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO [10.34 p.m.]: During this year's Sydney Festival I had the privilege of seeing Danger in the Past: the Story of The Go-Betweens at the Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay. It was a great concert, sold out of course and enthusiastically and warmly received by the audience. I have been a fan of The Go-Betweens since I first heard their single Lee Remick played on the radio in 1978. Like all their fans, I was very saddened to hear that Grant McLennan, one of the group's founders, had passed away in his sleep at his home in Brisbane on Saturday 6 May 2006. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him, whether personally or through his music.
Many people may not have heard of Grant McLennan or The Go-Betweens, which is a great pity. They are so highly regarded internationally that obituaries have appeared in the Independent, the Times, on the BBC, the NME and Billboard as well as in all major Australian newspapers. As well, a book was written on the band in 1997—The Go-Betweens by David Nichols. Grant McLennan was one of Australia's greatest songwriters who created an outstanding musical legacy as a founding member of The Go-Betweens and as a solo artist. He was enjoying enormous acclaim for the band's most recent album, Oceans Apart, which has received five-star reviews around the world and won a prestigious ARIA award. In 1999, Australia had lost the greatly talented David McComb of The Triffids, who will be remembered for his song Wide Open Road.
Grant McLennan was born in Rockhampton, Queensland, on 12 February 1958 and grew up in rural Queensland, where an early interest in poetry, music and cinema marked him out from his peers. He first met kindred spirit Robert Forster while the two were at university in Brisbane during the mid-1970s, and by late 1977 they had begun to realise their mutual dream of forming a band together. Robert was already writing songs. Grant had wanted to become a film critic. The first time Grant saw Robert on stage was with two friends at a talent show. Everybody else was doing cover versions. Robert was singing original songs about Brisbane and movie stars. He was realising his friends were not on the same wavelength, and all he wanted was someone he could consider a friend and teach him to play bass—anyone could play the drums. Grant was prepared to become that bass-playing friend.
As well as the fact that Grant sang about Brisbane, he was fascinated by Robert's courage playing good songs so badly. He wanted to do it too. They thought they would release two or three singles and then go and do other things with their lives. As The Go-Betweens they recorded two of Robert's songs for the first single, an unashamedly poppy ode to actress Lee Remick, and Karen. They pressed 500 copies and distributed it themselves. Like The Saints before them, the greatest interest came from London. In November 1979 they finally departed for England, where they recorded a third single I Need Two Heads for an independent label in Glasgow—the legendary Postcard records. They were mixing with and playing to people who had heard of Velvet Underground and Jonathan Richman, But, after a year, out of money and needing a new drummer, they returned to Australia.
After releasing a string of singles, the band recorded their debut album, Send Me A Lullaby, in 1981. The Go-Betweens recorded a series of exceptional albums that achieved widespread critical acclaim and were fundamental in bringing Australian music to a global audience. Their song Streets of our Town is used as the theme for Prime Television. Grant McLennan was an unparalleled lyricist and a prolific and meticulous composer. His autobiographical masterpiece, Cattle and Cane, was recently voted by the Australian Performing Rights Association as one of the 10 greatest Australian songs of all time. In 1989 The Go-Betweens took a 10-year sabbatical and Grant recorded four powerful solo albums including the vivacious debut Watershed and the epic Horsebreaker Star, as well as forming satellite groups like Jack Frost with Steve Kilbey of The Church and The Far Out Corporation with Ian Haug of Powderfinger.
When Robert Forster and Grant McLennan reformed The Go-Betweens in 2000, the band was greeted with adulation by a new generation of musicians for whom their songs had been an inspirational teenage soundtrack. The three albums that the band subsequently released were universally acknowledged as containing some of Grant McLennan's greatest compositions. His song-writing partner, Robert Forster, has stated:
Grant had been really well, in the past six months he was as happy and as well as I've ever seen him. And he was in Brisbane which is where he wanted to be.
He was in his prime and cracking songs were pouring out of him. I think it was the best set of tunes he'd ever had and I told him so. I'm very glad that I did now.
His greatness was in his lyrics and in his melodies, too. He really was a master melody writer, and he was searching for that magic combination, the magic pop song.
Grant McLennan was a passionate supporter of the arts, extremely well read, and he maintained a keen interest in all contemporary music, cinema and visual art. He was an exceptionally charming and polite man who endeared himself to everyone who met him and was one of the rare individuals worthy of the epithet "larger than life". His singular contribution to music and his commitment to his craft simply cannot be overstated. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him.
Grant is survived by his mother, his sister, his brother, his son, his girlfriend, Emma, his band mates, Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson, and lifetime musical colleague and friend, Robert Forster. Every time I drove through the cane-growing areas near Woodburn when the cane was being burnt I would think of his lyrics:
I recall a schoolboy coming home
Through fields of cane
To a house of tin and timber
And in the sky a rain of falling cinders.
Vale Grant McLennan.