Cattle And Cane (G McLennan/R Forster) – The Go-Betweens 1983
Brisbanites Grant McLennan (bass/vocals) and Robert Forster (guitar/vocals) were a dynamic and creative duo (McLennan passed away in 2006), who met at university and it was their bromance that shaped the creative core of the band, they were highly regarded in Europe and their albums were critically praised but generally commercially unsuccessful. Cattle and Cane was lifted from their Before Hollywood album and despite poor initial sales it has become a genuine Australian classic.
The song is full of evocative imagery from McLennan’s youth, there is a dreamlike atmosphere about the journey he takes home from school in northern Queensland, as the song reveals itself to be an autobiographical postcard to McLennan’s mother who had raised him after his father passed away.
“A schoolboy coming home through fields of cane/To a house of tin and timber/ And in the sky a rain of falling cinders.” There is a languid, hypnotic, nostalgic feel to the lyrics but the song never becomes sentimental nor overwrought, the wistful lyrics are often spoken rather than sung and recall the work of the Velvet Underground and the Stranglers.
Composed on a borrowed guitar in Nick Cave’s London flat, it was recorded in the UK and features the unusual chord structure for which the band were renowned, beautifully elegant acoustic/electric guitar arrangements and drummer Lindy Morrison’s pivotal time signature.
Grant McLennan provides lead vocals on the first three verses of the song which chart his rites-of-passage from childhood to an adult while the fourth and final spoken word verse, when McLennan and Forster meet at university, is sung by Robert Forster.
Since its release the song has become a revered classic and was rated one of the best Australian songs of the period 1926-2001 by APRA.
When Edwyn Collins reviewed the song for Melody Maker in London he said of Cattle and Cane “There’s a line there that’s so evocative of childhood,” he wrote, “about leaving his father’s watch in the shower – I can’t explain what that line is about, but it’s just haunting.” McLennan’s father had passed away and the watch was a cherished memento of his dad, which Grant had inadvertently left in a public shower and never recovered.
In a Hitchcockian-style quirk, the Go-Betweens have included a double L in the title of all their albums before the group disbanded and then reformed – Send Me a Lullaby, Before Hollywood, Spring Hall Fair, Liberty Bell and the Black Diamond Express, Talullah, and 16 Lover’s Lane.
The promo clip features Robert Vickers on bass and McLennan and Forster on guitars, Lindy Morrisson on drums, it was shot on a set comprising an artfully ramshackle shed with slatted boards through which shafts of light penetrate, partly illuminating the performance and depicting the musicians in shadow throughout – moody, beguiling and melancholy – an evocation of the “striped sunlight sound” that Forster has used to describe the music of the Go-Betweens