Kriv Stenders, the director of the music documentary The Go Betweens: Right Here is a mate of band going back to its beginnings recording out of a Toowong music shop in the late 1970s. This gives him privileged access to all its members, some of whom have not spoken since its bitterly misjudged breakup in 1990.
Robert Forster (guitars, vocals) is the surviving band founder and the keeper of its flame. He published his version of events last year (reviewed here), but aside from some interviews for the Great Australian Albums TV series, we’ve not heard much from the others.
Stenders has wrangled all the survivors, (co-founder Grant McLennan – guitars, vocals and bass – died in 2006), and filed them one by one into a farmhouse in Beaudesert to spill their stories. Even minor players such as Temuchin Mustapha, a drummer for a few months in 1978-79, has his say.
The interviews with Forster apparently took a gruelling six solid days. (Stenders told the audience at a post-screening Q and A at the Melbourne International Film Festival on Sunday that he was interviewing in his sleep for weeks afterwards).
The resulting film is fair to all of them and appears as objective as possible. It’s helped by interviews with long time friends and colleagues, including Mick Harvey (The Birthday Party/Bad Seeds) and The Church’s Steve Kilbey (who claims that McLennan introduced him to heroin which kicked off a 10 year addiction cycle) to various managers and biographers.
One of the documentary’s pleasures is the comments by documenter and habitué of the Australian post-punk scene, Clinton Walker. He’s another Brissie boy who has known the band since its beginnings and doesn’t pull his punches. His direct, no BS comments, bring levity to what is mostly an earnest exercise replete with sadness and regret.
Stenders is a filmmaker first and a fan second which ensures The Go Betweens: Right Here is not simply a bundle of interviews tied together with archival footage. He has inserted reenactments of the early days,and these mostly work well in animating the talking head material. The soundtrack includes the band’s most evocative songs – closing out with the haunting Dive for Your Memory from 16 Lovers Lane.
The band’s albums and singles form chapter ends to sections of the film with McLennan’s death the final chapter. There’s much focus on the members disbelief (except Lindy Morrison – their drummer and Forster’s lover) that their near perfect, folky pop masterpieces continually failed to chart (except Lindy Morrison – drummer and Forster’s lover). None of their famous singles: Cattle and Cane, Spring Rain, Bachelor Kisses, Bye Bye Pride and even the sublime Streets of Your Town ever bothered the charts despite most being released here, the US and the UK.
As an elegy to what was, and what could’ve been, Right Here is a reflective and melancholy piece of art. Stenders’ focus on interviewees’ faces at critical moments is telling; Forster pulling faces while talking of the mess he made in telling Morrison of their break up; John Wilsteed (bassist 1989) coming to near tears as he reflects on his own part in the band and how he sowed the seeds of his own ejection; Morrison and Amanda Brown (vocals, violin, oboe 1987-90) jointly working through their personal and professional hurts 27 years on.
Right Here is a loving document of one of the great coulda-beens-but-not-quites of Australian music. It sheds light on the deep love between Forster and McLennan which held the two together through trials of fire and starvation, I’m looking forward to watching it again.
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