16 Lovers Lane for Sydney Festival

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the classic album, 16 Lovers Lane – the creation of one of Australia’s top indie-rock bands, The Go-Betweens. It was the group’s sixth and final release as the original band, before splitting in 1989 to pursue other projects until founding songwriting duo, Robert Forster and the late Grant McLennan, reformed again in 2000. They had just returned to Australia, following five years living in London, before eventually settling back into the sunnier city of Sydney. The album is rich in the poetic romanticism of the highs and lows of love, layered with optimistic, light-filled guitar melodies, which appropriately capture the essence of uplifting Australian summers, reminiscent of the period the album was recorded.

To celebrate the anniversary, original album band members Amanda Brown (violin, oboe, guitar), Lindy Morrison (drums) and John Willsteed (guitar and bass) reunited to play the record in full at Sydney’s State Theatre as part of the Sydney Festival with group founder Robert Forster’s blessing. The ensemble was completed with Dan Kelly, Danny Widdicombe (The Wilson Pickers) and Luke Daniel Peacock. Several special guests also rotated throughout the night on vocals – both long-time acquaintances of the band and some newer young talent – to put their own spin on the much-adored tracks brilliantly penned by Robert and Grant.

Stories of encounters with Grant and Robert were woven throughout as the band tuned their instruments in the background, keeping the show light-hearted and entertaining. Steve Kilbey (The Church) told a humourous tale of visiting Grant in Bondi Junction, where a lot of the album was written by Grant and Robert during the late 80s, and Peter Milton Walsh (The Apartments) spoke about his supportive conversations from Robert in Dublin after being asked to join the tribute show.

Enlivening the audience with the opening track of the show was garage rocker Shogun from Royal Headache (pictured, top) performing album opener, ‘Love Goes On!’. Instantly the room was washed with the warm energy this song entails complemented well by Shogun’s vocals as he paced across the stage. Rob Snarksi, from The Blackeyed Susans, followed with a well-suited performance of gentler track ‘Quiet Heart’, perfectly capturing the sensitivity of Grant’s lyrics.

Romy Vager, Melbourne post-punk front-woman of RVG (Romy Vager Group), added a pleasant addition to the mix with her deeper vocal tones on ‘Love Is a Sign’ and in a duet towards the end singing the beautiful ‘Apology Accepted’ with Rob Snarksi.

The most animated of the night, adding more of his own personality and liveliness to the show, was solo-artist Kirin J Callinan who sang ‘You Can’t Say No Forever’ while sporting a cowboy hat and classic Callinan dance moves, and again later, in a tribute to Robert Forster, wearing a green dress while singing ‘Twin Layers of Lightning’.

Amanda Brown gave an exquisite performance of ‘The Devil’s Eye’, followed by Steve Kilbey singing the hit track ‘Streets of Your Town’ as many of the audience sang along.

A highlight performance of the night was Jodi and Trish from The Clouds eloquently capturing ‘Clouds’ in their perfect calming harmonies before Izzi Manfredi (The Preatures) lifted the pace performing the rockier track of the album ‘Was There Anything I Could Do’.

Queensland vocalist, Dan Kelly, was up next with ‘I’m All Right’, followed by Peter Milton Walsh doing a passionate cover of ‘Dive for your Memory’ before Lindy came to the front with a copy of the LP eagerly announcing that the album had now been played in full with loud appraise from the audience.

The night moved on to b-sides and other classics. Steve did a brilliant cover of ‘Rock and Roll Friend’ before Izzi’s stunning rendition of ‘Apples In Bed’, which she introduced with a memory of how she and her best friend had idealised Grant’s romantic nature portrayed in his lyrics as a younger girl living in Darlinghurst.

With one encore, the band returned to play hit track ‘Cattle and Cane’ with some slight hiccups to begin with on capos and tuning, matched with the technical difficulty of the track. This was made light-hearted through the humour expressed by vocalist Dave Mason (The Reels) fronting the song and later Amanda Brown when she followed with a stellar performance of ‘Boundary Rider’ with The Clouds.

The show concluded on a mesmerising high as Shogun captured the crowd, unifying the band with his whirlwind energy singing ‘The House That Jack Kerouac Built’. A perfect act to finish on.

While it was hard not to feel the absence of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan on the night, it was still a magnificent experience to hear the album in full with the remaining members – who also played a vital part in the band’s successful history – along with the interpretation of a diverse mix of Australian musicians who also highly respect and love the music. It was a wonderful celebration of the poetic tales associated with the group’s history – stories of yearnings, romance, complex emotions, brightened with happier tales in between – while also encouraging their legacy to be much-appreciated in generations to come.

Find out more about Sydney Festival here: https://www.sydneyfestival.org.au/2018/



Review and photos by Heather Vousden