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Robert Forster returns to the stage to celebrate summer in Brisbane

Culture

Robert Forster has forged a well-earned reputation as one of Australia’s most talented songwriters, and the co-founder of iconic Brisbane The Go-Betweens will perform his first full-band show in the city in more than 18 months at Brisbane Powerhouse later this month.

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Like most musicians, Forster – who had been scheduled to spend five months playing shows throughout Europe and the UK – had his 2020 touring plans scuppered by the global COVID-19 pandemic but rather than dwell on what could have been, he’s counting his good fortune.

“I’m really, really excited and I just think I’m very lucky that the opportunity is there,” he told InQueensland. “I think I’m just going to walk on stage, and just go ‘this is unbelievable, we’re so so lucky’, because I’ve got no other shows booked – like everyone else, I’m just riding the unpredictability of all of this.”

Forster’s most recent album, 2019’s Inferno, featured a paean to his birth city in the form of lead single ‘Inferno (Summer in Brisbane)’, so it’s somewhat fitting he’ll be making his return to the stage at Brisbane Powerhouse on January 23.

“Everything is really valuable and every show you can do and every rehearsal you can do is just a win and it’s never been like this, so you can’t be blasé about anything. The fact that I can get up in Brisbane in January and do a show at the Powerhouse and people can come along is so more special than it was in the past.”

Despite having released nine albums with The Go-Betweens – the group he co-fronted with Grant McLennan, who passed away in 2006 – and seven as a solo artist, Forster is by no means a prolific songwriter but 2020 proved to be a fruitful year creatively by his standards.

“The actual process for me, in terms of writing songs, has not changed, since when I began,” he said. “To me, it’s just about playing often, and a couple of times a year – if I’m lucky – a melody will come to me, and I can develop it so that it feels fresh and original. Writing lyrics is no problem to me, so I’ll put a lyric to that.

“I can do that at home, and I’ve been doing that here – I’ve written about three songs over the last year, which is a really good year for me – and I’ll be performing one of them at the Powerhouse.”

Inferno was met with near-universal acclaim upon its release in 2019 and charted in Scotland, Germany and Portugal, and Forster attributes his enduring popularity in Europe to the foundations he and McLennan laid early on in the Go-Betweens’ career.

“I’ve lived and worked over there quite a bit and I’m very fortunate that I can tour and release records there,” he said.

“I think it’s like with all things, you’ve got to get over there and build a start so people know what you’re doing and Grant and I did that right back in late 1979 – when we’d had the band going here in Brisbane for almost two years we went over.

“The fact that we ended up on [Scottish independent record label] Postcard in Glasgow in 1980 still resonates. No matter what everything else, what the Go-Betweens did or what I’ve done over there, the fact that we were there in 1980 still means so much to people in Scotland and actually, as I get older, the tours are getting longer, which is a really beautiful thing.”

Some of the shows Forster was originally scheduled to play in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland last May have now been rescheduled for October and although he’s keeping his fingers crossed, he’s not certain.

“If the vaccine gets here and the vaccine does its work over the next seven or eight months, there’s a possibility that I could be doing those tours but everything’s just so unpredictable that I certainly don’t count on that happening.”

In the meantime, he’s practising with his band – comprised of his wife, Karin Bãumler, on violin, and multi-instrumentalists and former John Steel Singers members Scott Bromily and Luke McDonald – ahead of the only confirmed show in his calendar for 2021.

“I’m really happy with the music I’ve made for my life, and I still think I’m on fire, I still think I’m writing songs that are as good as I’ve ever written and I still think that I have something to prove and that’s what keeps me going, that’s my motivation.

“Besides that, there’s always the hometown show in Brisbane – it ramps everything up 50 per cent. There’s just a special crackle in the air when you’re playing in your hometown.”

Robert Forster and his band perform at the Powerhouse Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse on January 23

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