THE GO-BETWEENS – A LOVE LETTER

We are delighted to post this wonderful love letter to the Go-Betweens from Breda Corish. Breda lives in north London and works in the scientific & healthcare information sector. While London has been her much loved home for over 30 years since emigrating in 1987, she stays connected to Ireland as “home home” through volunteering with the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign and the Irish in Britain charity – and music of course.

It’s June 2008 and we’ve joined the crowds streaming into The Roundhouse in Camden, eager to see My Bloody Valentine, back on stage for the first time in 16 years.

On the way in, your tickets are checked: so far, so normal. But in return, you’re handed a small cellophane bag containing a pair of red earplugs that look like mini traffic bollards. Who’s up for the challenge of sitting through the aural soundblast without protection? The husband is – he’s intent on hearing the MBV sound unimpeded. He’s adamant the damage is already done to his hearing from years of gig-going.

2008 The husband’s set of MBV earplugs – still pristine

I’m not up for it myself. The earplugs go in but unusually for me, both of them. Because at at every other gig I’ve gone to in the last two decades, I’ve worn just one earplug, in my left ear.


And who’s to blame for that? Unlikely noise merchants, The Go-Betweens a.k.a. Australia’s criminally underrated indie tunesmiths.


Flashback to July 1987. A few days after graduating from UCD, I’ve escaped to London. I’m running away from Ireland and the never-ending rounds of political-ecumenical contortions about condoms, people being trapped in loveless marriages, women getting the boat to England, and a man being killed in Fairview Park because he’s gay.

1987 Working as a Waitress

Within a few weeks, I’m working as a waitress in a pizza restaurant in Covent Garden and living in a flat share in Crouch End. I’ve never even heard of the place before moving in. I later feel like I share a secret connection with Cathal Coughlan when The Fatima Mansions release Viva Dead Ponies in 1990:

Do you know how old Jesus feels?
For he walks the Earth again
but not in Mecca or in Jerusalem
No, he sells papers and beer in a shop in Crouch End”

  • Viva Dead Ponies

Within a few months, I’ve also acquired a boyfriend, one of my co-workers in the pizza restaurant. He’s English, a few years older than me, with an impressive flat top and an equally impressive record collection. I’m painfully aware of the cliché of boys dispensing a musical education to their girlfriends. But when we exchange live music anecdotes, Auto Da Fe at The Baggot Inn can’t really compete with his 15 years of gig-going in Southampton, Brighton and London.

So I embraced both the record collection and the boyfriend, and yes, reader, eventually I married him.

I very quickly realised the benefits of the boyfriend’s impeccable music taste, even though it included a faint sense of mortification that he knew of more and better Irish bands than I did. Within days of getting together in September 1987, he had bought an extra ticket so I could join him seeing That Petrol Emotion at The National Club in Kilburn. And did the same thing again a few weeks later, to see Microdisney at The Fridge in Brixton.


The Go-Betweens had unwittingly played a part in building these connections.

A couple of years earlier, the boyfriend had got a job at the pizza restaurant in Covent Garden through a friend. One night, he went to see a gig at The Boston Arms by an Irish band that the same friend had joined as lead singer. The friend was Steve Mack and the band was That Petrol Emotion.

After the gig, the boyfriend was waiting for a night bus when a distinctive Australian couple walked up to the stop and asked for advice about which bus they should take to get home. They all got on the number 4 going north. By the end of the bus journey, Robert Forster had convinced him that he really needed to listen to the other Irish band that had played with the Petrols that evening. That band was Microdisney.


The Go-Betweens had released their fifth album Tallulah in June 1987, but it was the first of their records for me. The jangly guitar and string-laden sounds of Right Here became the soundtrack to our new head-over-heels-in-love relationship.


“I’m keepin’ you right here
Right here, right here
Right here, right here
Whatever I have is yours
And it’s right here”

  • Right Here

Life in London was everything I hoped for. Compared with Ireland, the sense of anonymity and freedom to be who you want, to dress as you want, to live as you want was liberating. But there were also times I was very self-conscious about being the freckle-faced Irish girl from the sticks, when I desperately want to be self-confident on the dancefloor of the Electric Ballroom in Camden. I heard a coded message in another track on Tallulah.

Shake off your despondency, and your country girl act.
You’re reading me poetry, that’s Irish, and so black.
I know you’re warm, the warmest person alive,
But are you warm, deep down inside?
I want us to be lovers
I want us to be friends

”The House Jack Kerouac Built”

The penny started to drop that being Irish actually had a certain cachet for the lefty, post-punk/alternative/indie music enthusiasts of north London. While anti-Irish sentiment was still in the air, it very rarely touched me. It would be another couple of years before the IRA bombing campaign seriously shifted its focus to London.

I made the pilgrimage to Holts in Camden and bought my first pair of Doc Martens. They were 12-hole Blackburns, high-shine with no yellow stitching, and I strode down the street feeling ten feet tall. I hijacked the boyfriend’s old black leather jacket for a while and when the waitressing wages started to build up, bought a biker jacket of my own.

The Boyfriend’s old black jacket

1987 rolled over into 1988. One of the best things about being a late arrival fan is that you get to binge on a feast of records in one go. The Go-Betweens’ debut Send Me a Lullaby made no real impact on me but I was bowled over by a series of standout tracks on the other albums, most of them the obvious singles candidates.

“Cattle and Cane”, Grant McLennan’s autobiographical vignette of going back to rural Australia on Before Hollywood. Followed by Spring Hill Fair with the gorgeous melody and aching lyrics of “Bachelor Kisses”. Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express was bookended by the urge to dance around the room to “Spring Rain” and to indulge in the melancholy of “Apology Accepted”.

I had my first opportunity to see the band live when they played the London Astoria on 28 July 1988. This is the point where I should be able to give a blow by blow account of The Go-Betweens’ performance that night. But the truth is my memory 30 years on is just one big mashup of recollections from different gigs at the Astoria that summer….

Queuing for a pint while waiting for The Three Johns to come on stage, and breaking into spontaneous dancing when Teenage Kicks blasted out from the PA. Pogoing at Voice of the Beehive, wearing a ballet tutu with those Doc Marten boots and four-inch dangly earrings. And the always sticky floor helping to keep your feet connected to the ground in the middle of the moshpit. (When the Astoria was demolished for the London Crossrail project in 2011, 13,000 Victorian jam jars were found in an old vault from the Crosse & Blackwell warehouse that originally occupied the site).

This was the Voice of the Beehive DMs + tutu + leather jkt look

What I do clearly remember from that first Go-Betweens gig are my impressions of the individual band members on stage. Grant McLellan was the regular guy. Amanda Brown was gorgeous. You’d enjoy a drink with them down the pub. Robert Forster was tall, angular and aloof, and wildly attractive. Lindy Morrison was impressive and intimidating. Having a drink down the pub with them would be a bit nerve-wracking.

Danny Kelly’s review in the NME highlighted simmering tensions within the band members, but I was oblivious to all of that. Instead when Robert Forster intoned “The Clarke Sisters”, it felt revolutionary and transgressive to hear someone on stage singing about women who are feminists and having periods. This was only 1988 after all and advertising for tampons and sanitary towels was still banned on British TV.

They had problems with their father’s law.
They sleep in the back of a feminist bookstore.
The Clarke Sisters
The eldest sister keeps a midnight vigil.
The youngest sister she’s not spiritual.
The Clarke Sisters.
Their steel grey hair, their lovely steel grey hair.
The Clarke Sisters.
Why don’t I introduce you
I’m sure they won’t mind.
But don’t you dare, laugh at their collections
Handed down, handed down for love.
The middle sister gets her period blood.
The flood of love. The flood of love.
The Clarke Sisters.
Their steel grey hair, their lovely steel grey hair.

  • The Clarke Sisters

The following month, August 1988, The Go-Betweens released 16 Lovers Lane. It was a collection of glorious songs, underpinned by spiky, questioning lyrics. Even the most chart-friendly single “Streets of Your Town” had a nod to the dark underbelly of small town life.


Round and round up and down
Through the streets of your town
Everyday I make my way
Through the streets of your town
Don’t the sun look good today?
But the rain on its way
Watch the butcher shine his knives
And this town is full of battered wives.

  • Streets of Your Town

And if the lyrics are read as autobiographical, then the simmering tensions referenced in Danny Kelly’s gig review were in the spotlight now. Something had clearly gone awry between “Love Goes On” and “Was There Anything I Could Do?”


There’s a cat in the alleyway
Dreaming of birds that are blue
Sometimes girl when I’m lonely
This is how I think about you
There are times that I want you
I want you so much I could bust
I know a thing about lovers
Lovers lie down in trust
Love goes on anyway
Love goes on anyway

  • Love Goes On!

 

She comes home and she’s happy
She comes home and she’s blue
She comes home and she tells him
Listen baby we’re through
I don’t know what happened next
All I know is she moved
Packed up her bags and her curtains
Left him in his room
Was there anything I could do?

  • Was There Anything I Could Do?

1988 rolled over into 1989. I had hung up my waitressing uniform by then and got my first “real job” working as a scientific editor in an office building on High Holborn. Running up the stairs after lunch one day, I ran into The Fields of the Nephilim walking down in their dusty coats and belatedly realised that The Melody Maker was our unlikely work neighbour.

The boyfriend and I had said our goodbyes to Crouch End and were now living at the top of Camden Road. Looking back, it feels like we went to a non-stop round of gigs. The Town & Country Club, The Boston Arms, The Dome and The Hawley Arms were all within walking distance. Forays further afield took us all the way out to the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden.

The Go-Betweens were on tour again in the UK and played The Town & Country Club on 6 June 1989. We didn’t know then that the band would decide to break up by the end of the year. My overwhelming memory of that night is being a woman on a mission to get as close as possible to the stage.

The venue was heaving with fans. I ploughed through the moshpit, leaving the boyfriend somewhere in my wake and ended up right at the front of the crowd. I was vaguely aware of a speaker stack immediately to my left, but spent the gig immersed in the music while worshipping literally at the feet of the aloof and arrogant god that was Robert Forster.

We walked home afterwards, sweaty and exhilarated and woke up with a remnant of the traditional post-gig ringing in the ears which dissipated over the next day.

I can’t remember who was playing at our next gig that summer, but the first thudding bass lines were accompanied by the unpleasant sensation that something was jabbing my left eardrum with a pointy stick. The left eardrum jabbing recurred at the next gig, and the next one and the next…..

That was the beginning of a new pre-gig ritual which continues 30 years on. Patting down my pockets to check for money, keys, lipstick, travelcard while the husband asks “Do you have your earplug?”. To this day, if you see a middle-aged woman at a gig in London improvising with a wodge of toilet paper stuffed in her left ear, that will be me.

And was it worth it? Yes it was.
I don’t want to change a thing when there’s magic
I don’t want to change a thing when there’s magic
In here, now the coast is clear
I got no time for fear

  • Magic in Here, The Friends of Rachel Worth

11 Feb 2019
Breda Corish, London N16
Twitter: @N16Breda

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6 comments

  1. I was having a great musical time in 1988 too. The Petrols, Stump & Yargo when they came to town. I’m just discovering Robert Forster’s covers album “I Had A New York Girlfriend”, Dylan, Keith Richards, Grant Hart, er…Martha & the Muffins, um…Heart. Great Fun.

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  2. That’s my musical growth in different clothes. The Go Betweens lit up my leaving cert and brought me to a new appreciation of guitar pop… when I heard “spring rain” on capital radio for the first time…dressed in an old white shirt….

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  3. Cheers all & thank you for the kind words. It’s been a pleasure to do this trip down memory lane & a big thank you to The Blackpool Sentinel team for encouraging me to put pen to paper. X

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