Monday, May 08, 2006

INDIEOBIT: Grant McLennan

It's with great sadness we hear of the death of Grant McLennan, singer-songwriter with The Go-Betweens.

Grant was born in 1958. Raised on a cattle ranch in Rockhampton, Queensland, McClennan's childhood fed into perhaps his best song, Cattle an Cane, which was voted one of the ten best Australian songs of all time in a recent ARIA poll.

McLennan met Robert Forster during his time at Brisbane University in the 1970s. The pair bonded over a love of punk and folk, obsessions which found an outlet in a band. Borrowing a name from LP Hartley and an initial template from The Saints, the band released a string of singles before pulling in Lindy Morrison, relocating to London and putting together 1982's debut album, Send Me A Lullaby.

As too often the way, critical acclaim (although that underestates the love expressed for them by Record Mirror and Snipe fanzine) failed to turn into a sales breakthrough. Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express and Tallulah, though packed with classic songs, didn't make much movement in the charts; when the next collection 16 Lovers Lane failed to prpvide a hit, the band decided that five star reviews and guest slots on cover-mounted eps couldn't provide a living, and went their separate ways.

For McLennan, this meant a short period in a duo, Jack Frost, with The Church's Steve Kilbey, before embarking on a solo career with 1991's Watershed. There would be a couple more solo albums, but a brief Go-Betweens reunion in 1995 led to a more permanent regrouping at the turn of the century - a deal sealed with The Friends of Rachel Worth. This album featured not just Forster and McClennan, but also Sleater-Kinney in their entirety, an indication of how deeply the band had managed to influence left-field music and their status as elder statesmen of off-chain music.

The reactivated band continued to work together - and continued to see disappointing sales returns. 2005 saw the release of Oceans Apart (ARIA's Best Contemporary Album for the year) and this year brought That Striped Sunlight Sound, a live CD/DVD package.

McClennan was sometimes - perhaps unfairly - characterised as the more workmanlike of the twin songwriters of the band, most amusingly on Smudge's single I Don't Want To Be Grant McClennan ("I want to be Robert Forster/ in rock and roll seventh heaven/ but the songs that I write/ in the middle of the night/ all sound like Grant McClennan), but it would be fairer to say that he wrote in a style more directly connected to his emotions - less showy than Forster, perhaps, but equally able to find the words to bring a choke to the throat.

Apparently, he complained of feeling ill yesterday and went to bed; he died in his sleep, at home in Brisbane. Grant McClennan was 48 years old.

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