Robert Forster @ RNCM, Manchester, 21st September 2008

Robert Forster @ Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
Robert Forster was in fine form when we saw him last Sunday night at the Royal Northern College of Music in what was his first time back in Manchester since the tragic and untimely death of close friend and songwriting partner Grant McLennan put an end to The Go-Betweens as a going concern and robbed the world of one of its finest songwriting talents. Grant was never far from our or, I suspect, most of the audience’s minds for much of the evening, his absence heightened by the familiarity of Forster’s backing band – Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson were both Go-Betweens in the band’s noughties revival. I was expecting some kind of tribute from Forster but he didn’t mention Grant at all; what was left unspoken came pouring out in a spine-tingling, beautiful reading of “Quiet Heart”, one of Grant’s finest songs and the only one of his played on the night.

The evening began with Forster alone with acoustic guitar, strumming his way through “Something For Myself” from Bright Yellow, Bright Orange. Tall, besuited and with an impressive mop of silvery hair he looked every bit the elegant elder statesman of pop that he now is. Band members were introduced one by one with Adele Pickvance appearing first for “If It Rains” followed a couple of songs later by Glenn Thompson, who was on guitar and keyboard duties, rather than drums, this time around, and then 21-year-old Matthew Harrison on drums. This first section of the gig really set the tone for the evening: plenty from his new solo effort, The Evangelist, and from The Go-Betweens’ post-reformation albums with a couple of golden oldies thrown in for good measure. Surprisingly, for me, it was the songs from the first of those latter day Go-Betweens albums, The Friends Of Rachel Worth, that made the greatest impression. “Spirit” and “When She Sang About Angels” – which was preceded by a rather long-winded anecdote about gatecrashing a Patti Smith gig at the Serpentine Gallery that was about twice as long as the song itself – really shone and had me rummaging through the CD racks at home this week for a quick re-evaluation of what was previously my least favourite Go-B’s long player. Forster obviously likes it, though, and played all five of his compositions from it on the night.

The gorgeous “I’m Alright” brought us up to the 15 minute interval (are these unnecessary interruptions a contractual obligation in theatre venues or just a ploy to sell more beer?) with Thompson perfectly replicating Grant McLennan’s fluid, melodic guitar parts, as he did brilliantly throughout the evening. The second part of the set was like a beefed-up, lengthier version of the first with Forster switching from acoustic to electric, but what it lacked in real surprises it made up for in sheer quality. We got fantastic versions of Go-Betweens classics “Head Full Of Steam” and “Spring Rain” that had me wishing that we were all jumping up and down and singing along at the Night & Day rather than sitting passively in a theatre. However the venue’s excellent acoustics really brought out the lush, rich textures of the likes of “Clouds”, “Dive For Your Memory” and “Darlinghurst Nights”.

A thunderous “Here Comes A City” brought an end to the main set and the encore saw an outing for a couple of his solo tracks from albums other than The Evangelist. I was really hoping for a few songs off his first, and best, solo effort, Danger In The Past, but all we got was “Heart Out To Tender”, which isn’t exactly my favourite. Oh, what I’d have given to hear “Justice”. Similarly, “I Can Do” was the sole representative from Warm Nights and there was nothing at all from Calling From A Country Phone. The classic “People Say”, from way back in 1978, brought events to a rapturous close and from the vibrant quality of the performance and Forster’s obvious enjoyment of proceedings, I’d say that there is still plenty more to come.

The Go-Betweens – Quiet Heart

The Go-Betweens – Head Full Of Steam

The Go-Betweens – Spirit

Robert Forster – Demon Days

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