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Did Robert Forster and Grant McLennan ever think that anthologists would be pouring over their archive recordings thirty years later? When the two of them were playing fledgling gigs as the Go-Betweens in Brisbane with randomly borrowed drummers, or when they arrived in London a few years later without any contacts in the music business and nearly had to do a sheepish about-turn back to Australia, they couldn't have imagined the reputation they would leave behind.

In the intervening years they split up once, in 1989, disillusioned by a lack of mainstream success, only to reconvene eleven years later to make three more albums, until the sudden death of Grant McLennan in 2006 put an ultimately end to the band. Their legacy continued to grow though. Their song 'Cattle And Cane' was formally recognised as one of the greatest Australian songs ever and in 2010 they even had a bridge named after them in their home city of Brisbane. It is no surprise then, that this lovingly produced box set has already sold out of its initial run on pre-orders alone, despite having a hefty price tag of £130.

You get a lot for your money however, and G Stands for Go-Betweens Volume 1 is an exhaustive and authoritative exploration of the bands early years, between 1978 and 1984. Their first three albums Send Me A Lullaby, Before Hollywood and Spring Hill Fair have been remastered and are back on vinyl for the first time in many years, and there is a whole new vinyl album as well, the self explanatory First Five Singles, which has collected and remastered the A and B Sides of those joyous early 7”s. Add to that four new CDs which gather together demos, radio sessions, alternate versions, and a full concert from 1982. Robert Forster has been closely involved with the project and has contributed words and photographs to a 112 page hardback book which is also part of this box.

If you've read this far you're probably already familiar with the band's music, so let's just say that those albums you already know and love have been given a new lease of life, and the lost or rare tracks are a fascinating glimpse at the blueprint for the music which they ended up releasing.

The First Five Singles is as good a place to start as any, as there isn't a weak track here. The first two A-sides, 'Lee Remick' and 'People Say', originally released on the Brisbane based Able Label, still rank amongst their very best pop songs, and their Postcard Records debut, 'I Need Two Heads' is a wonderfully original piece of post-punk-pop – by turns enigmatic, exciting and unpredictable. The fact that the anthemic yet awkward 'Karen' and 'Don't Let Him Come Back' (covered not too long ago by Jay Reatard) were just B-sides, underlines how good this material is.

One of the great things about this box is that you can now hear what tracks didn't make the cut, and the first CD of Rarities – Life As Sweet As Lemonade – collects 22 songs from the period of the early singles. It is no surprise that not everything here is essential, but the evocative 'The Sound of Rain' and the brash abandon of 'I Want to Be Today' with its twangy guitars and urgent drumming, certainly are. Rough lo-fi recording of rare songs such as 'Long Lonely Day', 'Summer's Melting My Mind' (how out of place this band must have seemed in Australia) and 'I Am An Architect' make you yearn for properly recorded versions.

One of those singles that did make it, 'Your Turn, My Turn', with its shifting time signatures and icy piano parts, also became the fitting, brooding opening track for their eventual debut album Send Me A Lullaby, here remastered with the original UK Rough Trade tracklisting and artwork. At this stage the band were a solid three piece with drumming powerhouse Lindy Morrison given equal billing on the cover painting.

There is a sort of awkward funkiness to this album, especially with plucked bass and choppy guitars on tracks like 'The Girls Have Moved' and 'Ride', but they try to blend it in with some yearning melodies, which they do well on 'Careless'. The two stand-out tracks are also the most unconventional. 'People Know' has a surprising saxophone used throughout, and also has a lyric that can stop you in your tracks - "a town without trains has brought you home again." 'Eight Pictures' is both menacing and odd, a tale of jealousy and voyeurism with the suitably unusual arrangement. It has only guitar and bass until halfway through when the drums enter with a kind of free form solo then disappear again. It illustrates their complex and almost unique use of percussion and again underlines the fact that at this stage they are definitely a three piece group and not just a songwriting duo.

The compilation of rare material relating to this album, Skeletons that Cry, is the most difficult of the four CDs as the best songs already here in better fidelity and some of the versions are too rough to call finished. It does contain 'Hope' though, which is the nearest the Go-Betweens have ever come to writing a Christmas song.

The Live 82 CD is better and shows how their material transferred to the live setting. It's basically a cleaned up mixing desk recording of a gig in a hotel in April '82 and it's fascinating how tight and spiky they sound, like an Australian equivalent of their UK counterparts such as Orange Juice and Echo and the Bunnymen.

All their ideas and influences joined together for 1983's Before Hollywood, arguably the high point of this collection. Recorded in Eastbourne and reaching number two in the UK Indie Charts, this honed the quirky elements of the debut into something more subtle and showcased the emerging songwriting talents of both Forster and McLennan. On the title track McLennan's bass is a lead instrument and their two voices take turns, and by now they're sounding effortless, interchangeable. 'Cattle and Cane' is a timeless classic, an evocative portrait of schooldays in the outback and a dreamy melody over a time signature which is hard to pin down. 'Ask' shows a great understanding of light and shade in its arrangement, and 'Dusty In Here' is so stripped back and downbeat that it could almost be a Leonard Cohen song. Closing track 'That Way' points towards the catchy yet understated songs that would come to define their later output.

Most of the outtakes from this album and the follow-up are collected on Rarities 4: A Suicide Note to Satan, which is better quality than the others as it is mostly leftover songs and radio sessions. Again it is incredible to hear songs like 'Just A King In Mirrors' or the light wordplay of 'Five Words' and realise that there was no room on the albums for them. This set shows the development of the band towards the Spring Hill Fair album. The tracks are punchier and more confident, and the band had undergone a line-up change that would alter them for good – Robert Vickers had taken over Grant's bass duties and Grant was now free to play lead guitar.

Spring Hill Fair is another great piece of work and runs Before Hollywood close. It opens with another masterpiece, 'Bachelor Kisses', an utterly beautiful song with McLennan's vocal perfectly complemented by Ana De Silva (the Raincoats) on the yearning chorus. 'Part Company' is the other absolute classic here, but the overall level of songwriting and the sound of the expanded band make this album another essential listen.

Over the course of these eight albums, we are presented with the Go Betweens early work in extreme close-up. It would be surprising if there was any other material left to unearth from this period. The rarities show how the band was developing and how moved away from the shadow of their influences towards something that was unique to them. Their mix of post-punk with conventional songwriting meant that they never quite fitted in, but it has also meant that their body of work has not dated in the same way as some of their contemporaries. Their music has stood the test of time and actually gained more of an audience as the years passed by.

This is an exhaustive, but not exhausting collection. It will be fascinating to hear what surprises lie ahead on Volume 2.

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