Sunday, May 14, 2006

Grant McLennan

Grant McLennan, one of Australia’s finest singer-songwriters, died in his sleep on Saturday, May 6 2006. He was 48 years old. McLennan was born and raised on a cattle station near the town of Rockhampton in Central Queensland. He formed a fruitful and long lasting musical partnership with Robert Forster when they met as students at Brisbane’s University of Queensland in 1977. They shared interests in poetry, movies and the music of Bob Dylan. Other musical influences were 1960s pop, folk-rock, and the bands Television and the Velvet Underground. They formed a band and called it the Go-Betweens.

McLennan had no musical training and Forster encouraged him to learn the bass guitar. They released their first single in 1978, the Forster composed “Lee Remick.” Initially Robert performed most of the songwriting, vocals and guitar work. But McLennan would soon develop his own style so that a pattern emerged where they shared equally in songwriting and vocals. McLennan was often considered to be the more pop-oriented half of the Go-Betweens' songwriting team, but as Pitchfork stated his work was also tinged with sadness and melancholy. McLennan's 1983 song, Cattle and Cane, a nostalgic reverie about his childhood in rural tropical Queensland, was recently voted by the Australasian Performing Rights Association as one of the 10 greatest Australian songs of all time.

The Go-Betweens became hugely influential media darlings. Their albums attracted much critical acclaim which never translated into large sales. Among the bands that claim the Go-Betweens as an influence are U2, REM, Belle and Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand and Coldplay.

The Go-Betweens moved to London in the early 80s where they produced independent hits as the aforementioned "Cattle and Cane" and "Streets of Your Town" (1988). McLennon shared a flat in Fulham with the singer of another Australian band that had also recently moved to London. He was the Birthday Party’s Nick Cave. After recording six acclaimed albums, Forster and McLennan disbanded The Go-Betweens in December 1989.

Grant and Robert then went their own ways to further their solo careers. During the next ten years McLennan recorded four solo albums as well as forming subprojects such as Jack Frost (with The Church’s Steve Kilbey) and The Far Out Corporation (with Powderfinger’s Ian Haug.)

With both McLennon and Forster back living in Brisbane in 2000, the Go-Betweens reunited for the album "The Friends of Rachel Worth," which featured backing from members of Sleater-Kinney. They made two more albums since then, again to much favourable reviews from critics and fans alike.

Saturday, May 6 should have been a very happy date for McLennon. The Go-Betweens last album Oceans Apart (2005) was their biggest selling album ever and won them their first Australian Grammy. He was having a housewarming party that night where he was planning to propose to his girlfriend Emma Pursey. At 4:30pm, he went for a nap. Early arrivers to his party found him dead in his bedroom a few hours later. The autopsy revealed a massive heart attack.

The funeral revealed his artistic legacy with a bevy of Australian musical talent in attendance. Forster paid tribute to his partner, "the last six months was the happiest I had ever known him." He added, "he was very happy in his private life and had just written an amazing bunch of songs. He was especially pleased with how well the last album had done. That had put a real spring in his step."

The Go-Betweens web page stated briefly but eloquently "his singular contribution to music and his commitment to his craft simply cannot be understated. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him."

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