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(Photo by Bleddyn Butcher)


City Recital Hall, Sydney, February 25

More than 40 years since Robert Derwent Garth Forster and Peter Milton Walsh shared a stage – during Walsh’s brief tenure in an early version of The Go-Betweens when, he explains now, he was dazzled by the energy and glow and innocence of Forster and Lindy Morrison, the drummer, designated adult and the fortunate Forster’s lover – these dapper gents of a certain age, one might say two gentlemen of (the age of) Corona, offer a kind of romance of their own.

The romance here is manifold. It’s with the idea of a literate songwriter for whom vocal eccentricities or weaknesses are secondary to the depth and wit and range of the stories told and the melodies hooked. With the idea too of the boys from the provinces (1970s Brisbane) who ran away to the idealised big city (London for Forster, New York for Walsh) to become men of the world and fulcrums of their own bands, The Go-Betweens and The Apartments. And most certainly with the idea that a life can be relived, remade or reborn in song.

Best of all, these romances are fulfilled as much as that of W. Shakespeare’s telling. Think not I flatter, for I swear I do not – valiant, wise, remorseful, well accomplish'd, particularly Walsh whose cravat, pocket-square and boutonniere set off his black suit and tinted glasses as stylishly as his more classically-aligned writing set off his carefully contoured observations of very human failings and recoveries.

(Photo by Prudence Upton)

Forster, in more relaxed cords and what would have been called a sports jacket in ‘70s Brisbane, had the more committed audience and the more familiar material: from the early career angles and reaching imagery of People Say (“Your holy sailors with the harbour smells/Feed from your broken shells”) and You Tell Me, through wry solo career highlights such as the cinematic roman a clef, Remain (“I know what it’s like to be ignored, forgotten/When yours is the name that doesn’t come up too often”) even unto a song so new his main worry was that “I’ve just got to play it properly”, rather than would it be appreciated.

Understandably, as it immediately felt recognisably R. Forster.

As with the original gentlemen though, it was the man ostensibly starting from a position of disadvantage – as the more obscure, though also more sonic/technology-adventurous opening act – who charmed his way past all barriers to at least finish equal.

From the opening droll attribution of his Mr Somewhere to This Mortal Coil (who covered it in 1991 and probably tripled his then-audience), and the crushed romantic metaphors of a hypnotically compelling Black Ribbons, through rambling back stories and his appearance during Forster’s extended encore to sing The Saints’ Prisoner, Walsh confirmed what has long been known to a select few: he is a superb songwriter and an understatedly vital presence in Australian music.

Tis pity love, and fame, be so contrary, sure, but this time we all did win.

A version of this review was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

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