Wednesday 20 April 2016

Pete Astor on Grant McLennan

The Go-Betweens and how they went about making music and being in a band were incredibly important to me. 

Post-punk was the music that I particularly loved, but artistically, for me, it ended up as a bit of a dead end; I remember (in 1979) playing a show with our group Damp Jungle (one release on Fuck Off tapes) with our DJ friend playing decks along with our lo-fi dub experiments: we were pushing boundaries but, apart from the fact that everybody hated us, in the end, the music wasn’t saying things that I wanted to say as a musician. 

What we were doing was all a bit too serious and rigid, like some kind of abstract Maoist tract, that ticked all the post-punk boxes but without enough life and soul. What I heard in The Go-Betweens was a melodic beauty and songwriting deftness that was totally cool and showed a way out of the post punk artistic cul-de-sac. 

I saw them first at the Rock Garden just after their first album, where I think they hadn’t quite got their sound, but just the feel of the show was lovely. I particularly remember Grant being very embarrassed and awkward about being up on stage but in the most charming and vulnerable way, like someone far younger than someone in their early twenties. I think this was because it really was very early days for them and they seemed a bit overwhelmed by being halfway across the world playing a show just down the road from the Roxy. 

In the 1980s there was a group of Australian musicians who relocated to London: most famously, The Birthday Party, also The Triffids, The Moodists and The Laughing Clowns and, most significantly, The Go-Betweens. 

Now, the 1980s was, in many ways, a dark time for music, and the Creation label, with its pure pop sensibility, stood in opposition to the prevailing, squeaky clean, shiny, pop wannabes. Think Johnny Hates Jazz, think Matt Bianco, etc - have a look on YouTube for further evidence of their crimes. 

The bands I was in – The Loft, The Weather Prophets - were on the Creation label, part of something like an opposition to this way of being and making music, and we all gravitated towards each other. So, this is how I got to know Grant, who was an immensely urbane, charming and cultured person. 

Indeed, along with all the expatriate Australian musicians we hung out with, they made sure that they showed us a version of being Australian that had nothing to do with the stereotypes that proliferated at the time.  It was Grant that I have to thank for innumerable recommendations, not least, poet C.K. Williams, whom I have remained a massive fan of since then.  

Grant’s politeness extended far beyond the call of duty – when playing in Paris together, he helped me with a somewhat unusual problem. After performing an instore outside Paris the day before, I had been gifted with a local cheese. It turned out that this cheese was of a famously evil-smelling variety. Clearly the fan who gave it me believed I would store it in the fridge in my tour bus! Needless to say, my rucksack on a hot train did not fulfil the same function. 

On telling Grant about this he very kindly offered to store it in the mini-fridge in his hotel room. When we met the following day, it transpired that the odour of the offending cheese had proved no match for any hotel room fridge and Grant had had to place it, wrapped in several plastic bags, on the balcony in an attempt to escape the smell. 

He then returned the cheese to me. Of course, I immediately went round the nearest corner, found a bin and dumped it. But, it was a measure of his kindness that it had never occurred to him to do the same. Not a very rock and roll story but somehow fitting, I feel. Good on you, Grant. 

Pete Astor and other brilliant artists including Teenage Fanclub's Gerry Love, The Wave Pictures, The Wolfhounds, Bill Botting, The Left Outsides and Stewart Lee are playing the Grant McLennan tribute gig on May 6.

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