Almanac Footy and Music: McLennan and Riewoldt: Stars or Role Players?



‘Jack Riewoldt: After Rousseau’ by Jim Pavlidis. More from Jim Pavlidis HERE



I am writing this with a short playlist on repeat.  It is Grant McLennan’s strongest songs from each of the nine Go-Betweens albums, starting with Hold your Horses and ending with Finding You.  I am writing this with no illusions as to the pressure that this task brings to bear on me as the brother of someone who forged a career on the back of a biography of the band. I am also writing this as a mature male (50s) who is somewhat emotionally hamstrung, someone who has acknowledged a vulnerability to tears at just three things:  watching Storm Boy (and any film as I increasingly age), Grant McLennan’s death and the on-field deeds of Dustin Martin.  And, yes, I am writing this as a Richmond fan.


I still can’t accept Grant’s death.  It’s strange.  When he died I wasn’t thinking much about the Go-Betweens, although I had seen them play a great show at Hepburn Springs shortly beforehand.  For the preceding 10 years, if I ever thought about them, I defaulted to the view that Robert was the talented one and Grant was an arrogant try-hard.  Now when I think of him I remember the time my mum took my sister and me to Sydney in the early 80s and we were looking down from our hotel into the back garden of some dudes and fantasising that it was Grant and Robert luxuriating in the subtropical balm of Kings Cross.  It’s likely they were in London at precisely that point, but that’s how long I’ve been looking to Grant.


Anyway, specifically now when I think of him, as I am writing this, I think about the pressure that is applied to the leader of a band, any band, especially one in the 80s when the rigid recording schedule obliged them to write a new album each year like it was a new season.  Front up to pre-season training (the demo session) and then craft a response to the outside competitors to impress friends and rivals and deliver another hit to the fans.  The Go-Betweens had two leaders of course, maybe more.  Lindy Morrison was more than a role player for her forceful personality and strident public projection, maybe the Alex Rance of the mid-80s.  But the other overt leader was Robert, an internal competitor, not quite Richo but certainly not Ty Vickery, yet at this level of specificity the comparison breaks down.  He penned hits as much as Grant, but the pop sensibilities and the aching expectation of the band’s fans I have no doubt rested on Grant’s shoulders with each coming season.


Bear with me.


Grant delivered.  Hold your Horses is no match winner, but nor do I equate it to the shot after the siren to beat St Kilda that Jack Riewoldt missed in his second season; the song’s better than Jack’s performance in that game.  But let me use this metaphor only once:  it’s in that ball park.  In this song he first details the particular weather conditions in his head that would continue to befuddle his international audience and vex the band’s pursuit of that solid gold hit.  And there is the sense of hollow vastness and yearning – et cetera, et cetera – that would permeate most of everything else he did that was any good.  It was a role player’s song, part of the necessary support cast for a band, no pressure, a free hit in sporting terms though in musical terms a mere obscurity.


So that is the game to start with in regard to Jack.  He was formally under the tutelage of Richo in 2008.  Figures at the club recognised more than I did about his prodigious talent.  In my mind it wasn’t until the fantastic come-from-behind win against Sydney in 2012 (he kept us in it in the first half with goals and was creating things everywhere in the breathless finish) where Riewoldt was suddenly in contention.  We had the first inkling of success.  And it had been building, but looking at it now it stands out as if it dropped from the sky, like Cattle and Cane being performed on ‘Countdown’ with no chorus and extraordinary over-reach from the ABC’s art department.  In our minds it was a hit.


And then the pressure dials up.  Amidst the patchy brilliance of Spring Hill Fair, which Robert fairly dominated with the raw drama of his break-up with Lindy, Grant delivered Bachelor Kisses.  Ten goals against West Coast in 2012 on the way to claiming his first Coleman Medal?  This was a bravura follow-up performance to Cattle and Cane, flexing its muscles through nine parts perspiration to Robert’s nine parts inspiration of Part Company.  Jack had bagged the first 10-goal haul in a Richmond jumper since his old boss did it in 2004.  It was the lead story on the back pages and, in an era of obscene mediocrity, it was not just a salve to Tigers but something to look forward to with delight.  We won the game but lost the season; however, success now seemed if not inevitable then rightful.


Can I introduce my theory now about the role player and the star?  Jack Riewoldt is currently undergoing an uneasy ride in the football world as his kicking weakens, his spring goes missing for weeks on end and team-mates no longer lace it out to him.  It’s also due to his media saturation, which is always a danger for a likeable player, and as well people are sick of Richmond full stop.  I think the example of Cameron Mooney’s career is illuminating.  Without caring about him particularly, I looked at him in that good Geelong team and wondered how he ever got a game, especially after miskicking the 2008 premiership cup into Hawthorn’s hands.  What had he ever done?  It angered me that such an anonymous and ineffectual player won these coveted team awards, and the plaudits of his fans, and my anger was irrational.  I suppose anger is always irrational.  Did I mention my emotional difficulties?  It was just borne of pure resentment I guess.


In today’s parlance Mooney was a role player.  Mind you, how many chumps sit atop the charts as stars?  In a way they’re just role players anyway, aren’t they?  Sometimes the definitions are blurred.


They say Jack is now a role player.  He used to be our star.  Beneath Dusty but above Alex, he was our star.  In another era he would have kicked 100 goals a season at least three times.  As it is, he won the Coleman in those years anyway and was a lock for the Michael Roach Award for a decade.  And while I’m on the subject, he formed the final limb of our almost constant Tasmanian power forward presence since the arrival of Royce Hart in 1967.  (We have missed just three seasons, the years between Roach’s retirement and Richo’s arrival.)


It’s not like Tom Lynch is a better player, but when we got him Jack was relegated to a support role.  He joined the role players, your Lamberts and McIntoshes.  His goals weren’t the sealers at the end of the match.  He didn’t clunk the pack mark at centre-half forward to lead the come-back after half time.  In musical terms, that pressure was lifted from his shoulders.  His songs no longer ended in the fade-out that belied the conceit of the radio hit, the message to the producer being, ‘Don’t cut me off, I know what I’m doing.  Kick it to me and I’ll take the shot.’  (I will itemise the fade-outs here:  Cattle and Cane, Bachelor Kisses, Right Here, Streets of your Town.)


So Apology Accepted is on my playlist, despite the absence of a fade-out; it wasn’t a single.  It’s the exception that proves the rule.  It’s a side track.  I don’t have a game in mind, maybe something in the 2014 season, the two point loss to the Bulldogs or perhaps that Elimination Final debacle.  Jack kicked five and was our only winner.  Liberty Belle though is a great album and hardly an elimination debacle.  It was infused this time with Robert’s melodrama, the dresses and overt weirdness, not to mention great songs, and Grant lent very apt support (even dressing as the woman from Prince’s band in the film clip for Head Full of Steam).  It wasn’t about you, Grant.  His fade-out was reserved this time for the decidedly album track number The Ghost and the Black Hat.


But by 1985 the audience was clamouring for deliverance.  Right Here ages possibly worse than any Go-Betweens song, but to me its arrival was explosive.  It not only promised to upend the charts but introduced viola and the romance of Grant’s liaison with Amanda Brown.  It was an effortless 11 goal bag against GWS in 2014.  I think about both events as little as each other.


And then Streets of your Town.  The band in its final throes but none of us knew, Grant and Amanda were playing shows in weird warehouses in North Melbourne or packing out the Harold Park in Sydney.  They were like Othello and Desdemona on their honeymoon.  Audiences could only look forward, the tune preceding the album with an effortlessness like it blew in across Black Wattle Bay.  (It definitely didn’t blow in across Melbourne’s docklands, not in 1988, not now, not ever.  Jesus, have you ever been there?)  With each new season Grant’s opening salvo seemed more sublime, more chart-bound, more certain to lead us to the promised land.  (2018, 10 goals against the Suns in an era where 10 goals had become more improbable than ever, leap-frogs Ben Brown for the Coleman, we collapse in a heap against not only Collingwood but apparently the USA.)  The band breaks up.


You cannot find a single in the last three Go-Betweens albums.  The record industry changed, 15 years had passed between albums 6 and 7, and Grant had hammered away at hooks and choruses and middle-eights relentlessly as a solo artist and I am ignoring these endeavours entirely for the purposes of this piece.  Instead he stood over Robert’s shoulder, while Robert stood over Grant’s, and delivered thoughtful, compact and modest compositions detailing his battle scars, perhaps his recalibrated ambitions.  They just sounded like Go-Betweens songs, although somehow distinct from Robert’s, with more production fills and choice melodic phrases in the gaps.  Perhaps the equivalent of a knock-on or blocking the path of a defender.  I’m not going to get too cute about it.


I nominate Going Blind, Crooked Lines and finally Finding You as my inclusions to Grant’s playlist from this period of Go-Betweens echoes.  The last song is no single (as with each of these three, there’s no fade-out), but there is a heap of production in it.  There’s hardly a second verse, but there’s a giant middle-eight.  And it haunts me, it seems to presage his death:  ‘What would you do if you turned around and saw me beside you not in a dream but in a song?’  I would request it for my own funeral but for the fact that I don’t have the gumption to posit the final clause in the bridge:  ‘Don’t know where it’s going, don’t know where it’s flowing, but I know it’s finding you.’  Like I say, I still find his passing unutterably sad.


The good news is Jack’s not dead.  He’s a Cameron Mooney-type role player, beloved by his fans, hated by the general community, he plays his part in winning things for the Tigers diaspora.  Grant’s demise doesn’t instruct us in any way about Jack’s future.  And having read this far you might just say what the hell is this half-baked cack-handedness all about.  The emotional trajectories of the sportsman and songwriter are possibly irreconcilable, but I will never really know.  I was a junior footballer of some small note and then I left the industry to become a songwriter of even smaller notes, so I achieved an understanding of neither occupation.  But I think I discern the existence of the relative pressures and I remember the joyous sense of purpose in belonging to a team and to a band.  At least I know it exists.


Of course this article would all make perfect sense if Grant concluded his career with three GRAMMYs or whatever is the musical equivalent of the AFL Premiership.  And it would all make sense if the hit I am talking about had an equivalent in our insular and esoteric sport of AFL.  Just like Jack’s never going to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, I suppose the Go-Betweens’ relative success (a posthumous ARIA and the generalised disingenuous conferral of legend status by everyone who wasn’t there) is about all we as Australians should expect.  It felt important to me and that’s what matters, right?


Apologies to non-Richmond people whose experience of a great band might be ruined by this piece, but I do have the immodest hope that Jack, who is a proper fan of music, might one day reflect on this playlist and see himself there:  Hold your Horses (Round 7 v St Kilda, 2008), Cattle and Cane (Round 14 v Sydney, 2012), Bachelor Kisses (Round 12 v West Coast, 2012), Apology Accepted (Elimination Final v Port Adelaide, 2014), Right Here (Round 10 v GWS, 2014), Streets of your Town (Round 21 v Gold Coast, 2018); Going Blind (2019 season), Crooked Lines (2020 season) and Finding You (to be announced).





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A Tigers fan still trying to make sense of everything.. Two kids in the EDFL, another Year of Living Vicariously. I've spent a long time weighing up social media platforms and have finally settled on the Almanac. I like loads of stuff.


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    This is very clever Mike.

    Who would you compare Vickers and Wilsteed to?

    Next up: Bailey v Kuepper ?

  2. Michael Nichols says

    Thanks, Swish. What do they say? Comparisons are invidious, which is why I wrote the piece anyway. Willsteed’s got to be either Prestia or Caddy and Vickers would be … Deledio? None of this survives close examination.

  3. This was an interesting read for me, Michael, given my love of the Go Betweens and dislike of Richmond.
    But it was most enjoyable. Thanks.

    No mention of “Bye Bye Pryde”, possibly Grant’s finest moment?

  4. Michael Nichols says

    Thanks, Smokie. Like I say, I hope I haven’t ruined the band for you. I definitely swapped Bye By Pride for Right Here on my mixed tape, it’s so much more enduring. It wasn’t until I visited Cairns last year that I saw the mangroves and Shields Street that I realised how particular all those references are. Every song feels like a Queensland Tourism Commission advert. In good way, of course.

  5. Well, I wasn’t expecting that association.

    More than happy to ‘bear with you’ though.

  6. Michael Nichols says

    Thanks, John. Sorry to throw Mooney under the bus, that was probably uncalled for. But it’s a boost for Queensland in its way, right? Hopefully no hard feelings.

  7. No worries here!

  8. Ben Fenton-Smith says

    Brilliant work Michael.

    The connection is not far fetched when you think about Jack getting on stage with The Killers.

    I am no Go Betweens expert but I do know one fact about them that almost no-one else knows. If you visit the Japanese city of Nagoya, then take the train to the suburb of Fujigaoka, there is a very small late night bar called ‘Jack’s Inn’ tucked down a side street. It only has one counter. It is run by two brothers, one of whom is Japan’s foremost Go Betweens fan. He has a very large collection of memorabilia and loves playing the tracks you mention while serving the 7 or 8 patrons that generally fill the seats. At least, he did when I lived round the corner, back in 2004!

  9. An era of obscene mediocrity. That’s all that ever needs to be said about those dark days, perfectly summed up Michael. I also enjoyed the Othello quip.

    Unlike Smokie, this is a double dose of goodness in my eyes – and like JTH, I wouldn’t have made the association immediately, but I’m glad it was made!

    As for Ben’s comment, we might have missed each other by mere months and a handful of kilometres…I was on exchange the year before in Nagoya/Toyota. Jack’s Inn wasn’t on my radar, but it will be now.

  10. Michael Nichols says

    thanks, Ben and Jarrod, for staying the distance. A bit of a stretch.
    Seven seats in that bar – with COVID regulations, Melbourne’s getting those sort of ratios, doesn’t seem quite so cool though. Sounds brilliant.
    Just for the completists I’ve thought a little more about Swish’s poser above and it’s definitely Josh Caddy for John Willsteed. I well remember his mean mouth in the early 90s in Sydney. Next in the summer series, Caddy and Willsteed: Trash Talker or Bass Player?

  11. david bridie says

    Interesting article and fun. I always had it in the reverse that Grant was the more talented songwriter with the voice and musicianship (though occasionally tried too hard to write a romantic pop song) and that Robert’s was the eccentric sidekick with a bit of edge, not lacking in self belief,little ability to self edit and much less musical talent in regards to his guitar playing and certainly less a voice . But hey its all subjective. “Dive for your memory(“Forster) is one of the GOBS finest moment.. I love John Willsteed as Josh Caddy. Willsteed would have been the guy in the privacy of the room telling Grant and Robert to stop being primadonnas.. Every band has a Willsteed , every one needs one. Calls a spade etc, Amanda Brown made the GOBs best pop songs way stronger with her vocals,arrangements and strings/oboe. Pretty much all of 16 Lovers Lane. Touch of class. Cant win the big games without her. Traded due to internal relationship breakdown, but has gone on to play 450 games and got better as she’s gone on- shes up for two AACTA film soundtrack awards this month. Her best work may be now.

  12. Michael Nichols says

    Very funny. I love that the Go-Betweens were probably the most indifferent to AFL of all bands, no Ballad of Jim Stynes here, but we can still imbue them with sporting qualities. Amanda Brown’s exit has a bit of the salary cap bungle about it, doesn’t it? She was probably on a back-ended contract. That’s rock’n’roll, I guess.

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