This weekend I’ve been invited to play at the Grant McLennon tribute night as part of the Valley Fiesta in Brisbane. I’m honored to have been asked in the first place, being a huge fan and still in a state of disbelief when I listen to his songs and think that he’s in the sky now. His songs gave me a sense of place growing up in rural Queensland, being sung by another Queenslander. Although it’s set in another town Cattle and Cane will always remind me of childhood, wide verandas and humidity. A re-listen to Streets of Your Town and it’s a school kids visit to Brisbane, the big smoke. I see old men in shorts and long socks drinking longnecks on the front steps.
So yeah, I didn’t know Grant McLennon but I count my blessings that I got to meet him a few weeks before his death. I just wanted to tell you about it. In hindsight it seems like fate.
I’d just landed in Sydney.
By the time the cab had sped off I realised he’d dropped me 4 city blocks from my destination and charged me extra for his troubles. I cursed him and tried to balance all my worldly belongings on parts of my body to make the trek across town. It had been a fairly average week and I’d got back to Sydney early to move into a new house only to find that the real estate had put us back by 3 days so I was homeless. Had offers of a few couches but needed privacy to get some work done so I booked into a cheap hotel near Hyde Park.
I sweated my way up Goulburn St carrying 2 backpacks, a guitar, amp, and 3 bags of vinyl records. Every few 100ms I’d have to drop everything and just kick a bin or something. When I got level with the Civic Hotel I was ready to collapse and decided to go in and ask if I could leave half of my load there and come back later to retrieve it. They kindly agreed and when I came back I noticed someone waving at me from the bar. It was an old friend from Brisbane, Adele who had been playing bass for the Go-Betweens for the last few years. She asked if I wanted to join her and her company for a drink. I sure needed one and was happy to find that her friend was Grant McLennan. My day was brightened considerably although I was embarrassed to know they”d both watched me from their table struggle along with my gear like an ‘angry turtle’.
The Go-Betweens were in town for an awards ceremony and they were in good spirits. After a while Adele left to get ready and I convinced Grant to hang round for a few more beers. It’s always a bit of a worry meeting your heroes but I was pleasantly surprised by our conversation that afternoon.
Of course our common ground was music and I was surprised to learn he was a voracious music listener. He seemed honestly excited by a lot of new things that were happening. He mentioned Holly Throsby, New Buffalo, the Shins, Calexico and I must have blushed when he told me he had my records too.
Here was a guy who’d spent his whole life in the music industry and seemed to be completely free of bitterness. I didn’t think it possible.
We talked about songwriting and he said he was just going through a purple patch. He had enough songs for nearly 2 new records and he felt he was in a good place creatively. I on the other hand was stuck on a song and was staring down the deadline of recording dates for a new album so we compared our different processes for getting things done.
When it swung back to the awards he was attending later I expressed my confusion over the genre labelling we have in this country (and maybe everywhere else). I told him I thought it great the Go-Betweens finally got an Aria last year but why did it have to be in the ‘Adult Contemporary’ section (along with his friends Architecture in Helsinki) when the ‘Independent Artists’ category sounds more easy listening MOR than anything to my ears.
Grant agreed but replied graciously with “I don’t think I’m adult contemporary, but I do think I’m a contemporary adult, Darren”
Soon enough after we’d exhausted the topics of Queensland and our favourite actresses he had to go get ready too. We hugged and he said, now go write a good song Darren
And hopefully I did