TRACEY Thorn first met Lindy Morrison backstage at the Lyceum Theatre in London on March 31, 1983. Thorn was only 20 then, still a student. The Marine Girls, the band she was in at the time, were supporting Orange Juice that night. “I was terrified and out of my depth,” Thorn recalls in the opening pages of her new book My Rock ’n’ Roll Friend.

Also on the bill that night was the Australian band The Go-Betweens, one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the decade, but one that would find success frustratingly elusive. As Thorn sat in the dressing room, the door opened and the Go-Betweens drummer Lindy Morrison walked in asking to borrow some lipstick at the top of her voice. Older, noisier, more self-assured, Thorn was enthralled. “You looked like confidence ran in your veins,” she writes of that first encounter.

“She just seemed other, you know,” Thorn says of Morrison now in March 2021, nearly 40 years later. “She was older than me, 11 years older. I think that is important. I was only 20. I was still at that stage of being right at the beginning of everything, not really knowing who I was, who I wanted to be. Embarking on this career of being in the music business, but not at all sure whether I wanted to or how I was going to do it.

“And there she is. She seems on the face of it to be my opposite, in that she seems supremely self-confident, supremely self-defined, to know exactly who she is, to not take any shit from anyone. When you’re young and looking around for role models and examples of how to be, you seize upon people like that.”

It was to be the start of a friendship that would long outlast the bands the two women were members of back then. Some four decades later it has led Thorn to write a book about her friend, the reason she is talking to me on Zoom from her home in London this afternoon.

Thorn would go on to see huge success as part of Everything But the Girl. Morrison would stay with The Go-Betweens until 1989 when the band broke up after their last-chance album 16 Lovers Lane still didn’t make them stars. Although their paths diverged in the intervening years, Thorn and Morrison, through ups and downs and though a world apart, remained in touch.

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Lindy-Morrison and Tracey Thorn on Hampstead-Heath,1987. Photograph Ben Watt

My Rock ’n’ Roll Friend, then, is a story about friendship. But it’s more than that. It’s also a vehicle for Thorn to write Morrison back into the story of The Go-Betweens, a band whose narrative has been continuously refined and reduced to that of the two songwriters, Robert Forster and the late Grant McLennan. In doing so, Thorn also tackles the wider subject of female erasure in music; how men literally write women out of the story.

The result is funny, candid and, as the pages pass, increasingly indignant. By the end you can feel the anger rising off the pages.

It is also, for those of us who grew up worshipping at the altar of Forster and McLennan, something of a challenge. Have we as fans been just as guilty of that act of erasure?

It may also be the best book Thorn has written. It certainly feels the most open, the most candid in a way, as if some of Morrison’s energy and outspokenness has rubbed off on her friend on the page.

“I think that’s true,” Thorn acknowledges. “I almost wanted to allow that to happen a bit, let the spirit of Lindy animate the book.”

And so here is Thorn talking about desire and distress, about recent relationship struggles with Watt, about swimming naked in a spa in Covent Garden. In writing as in life, Thorn has been emboldened through her friendship with Morrison.

Morrison’s own story goes like this. In Brisbane in the late 1970s she was in her mid-twenties and in a female punk band called Zero when she met Robert Forster. He is some six years younger than her. His band The Go-Betweens are the antithesis of punk. But Morrison saw something in them, something in Forster certainly. Soon they became a couple and when Morrison joined The Go-Betweens as their drummer the band became worthy of notice.

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Tracey Thorn. Photograph: Edward Bishop

“She made them a band,” Thorn suggests. “They were fumbling along, two boys being a duo with these other members who came and went. They didn’t have a band identity. And then suddenly they’ve got Lindy Morrison who was already semi-famous in the relatively small music scene of Brisbane. That was an audacious act to get her to join them. It was a great thing to do. That was a strength that they should always have played up really.”

As the years went by the opposite happened. The band became defined by Forster and McLennan’s wordplay. They were a band who were loved for their lyrics. But would either have managed to get anywhere without Morrison’s drive, Thorn asks?

Morrison adapted her playing to their songs. “She didn’t straighten them out,” Thorn points out. “They did have that sort of angularity about them. They didn’t know how many bars they were writing. They just wrote how many bars it needed to get to the end of that line of lyric.

Read More: Remembering the Go-Betweens with Robert Forster

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“A more prosaic drummer might have said, ‘OK, you need to edit this a bit. We need to square it off.’ She said, ‘Well, let’s go with it. Let the songs have this curious length and if you’ve written it like that, I’ll play it like that.’ That gives the band a lot of character.”

There were constant tensions in the band, it should be said. Forster and Morrison eventually fell out yet continued to play together. McLennan, meanwhile, never seemed to like Morrison. When Amanda Brown joined the band she was McLennan’s girlfriend, but she was also an ally for Morrison.

What is very clear from the book is that when Morrison joined the band she was the one with the life experience. It’s also quickly clear that even sensitive young men with an interest in art and literature can be painfully conventional in their attitude towards women.

“That’s often one of the most frustrating things, I think, for women in the music scene or probably other worlds of art,” Thorn suggests. “You’re drawn to those scenes for the same reasons as men are, because you’re looking for freedom and liberation from the straight world and you’re looking for expression and to shake off the conventions.

“And then, within that world of music, when you encounter the same narrow thinking, the same conventions, the same prejudices, the same stereotypes, its intensely frustrating. And when you encounter that in the men you are working with, who you have been drawn to because you admire their creativity and artistry, it’s a really frustrating thing.”

That played out in Morrison’s encounters with male music journalists. She was too loud for them, too outspoken. She didn’t fit with their idea of the band. Frankly, some of them were scared of her.

After years of never quite making it, Forster and McLennan decided to go solo in 1989. Forster arranged to tell Morrison at exactly the same time as McLennan told Brown, a move that was both theatrical and spectacularly foolish as it turned out. “The brutal display of where the power lies,” is how Thorn describes it in My Rock ’n’ Roll Friend. Both women understandably saw it as an act of betrayal. How could the two men have thought they would see it as anything else?

“It is extraordinary and naïve,” Thorn agrees. “They try to excuse themselves. ‘We were just bumbling boys.’ They were men in their thirties. It is very easy for men to play this card: ‘Oh well, we didn’t know what we were doing.’ At some point you have to take responsibility.”

In the years after the band split up and particularly after the tragically early death of McLennan at just 48 of a heart attack, the story of The Go-Betweens has been increasingly retold as the story of the two men. That’s certainly how Forster framed it in the title of his memoir Grant & I.

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And so, one of the reasons Thorn wanted to write My Rock ’n’ Roll Friend, she says, was the fear that Morrison was in danger of being left out of the story.

This is the crux of things. This idea of erasure. It repeats and repeats in the music industry. It’s why someone like Bjork has to time and again assert her own agency when she makes music, why she has to remind people that she is responsible for it, not her male collaborators.

“It’s endless,” Thorn agrees. “And it becomes exhausting, and so I think sometimes women fall by the wayside because they get defeated by it and also start to believe their own press. You start to believe, ‘Maybe I wasn’t that important.’

My Rock ’n’ Roll Friend is an act of reclamation, then.

“I think that it’s happening more and more now. More and more women are starting to write their books, from Viv Albertine to Chrissie Hynde. It does feels to me some of these stories that had slipped out of our attention … When you look back at punk it was always the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Yeah, but hang on. I was there. X-Ray Spex and The Slits were as important. But those stories are now being told.”

If nothing else, My Rock ’n’ Roll Friend serves as a reminder that without Morrison the story of the Go-Betweens would be a lot less interesting. Because for all her complexity and vulnerabilities what emerges from the pages of Thorn’s book is just how much fun Morrison was and is.

“As well as there being anger in there, I did want there to be joy,” Thorn admits. “As I say at one point, ‘the sheer f****** buzz of being in her company.’ I want that to come through the book as well. That you’re just thinking, ‘My God, she’s a hoot.’

“She is and she’s unpredictable and she’s contradictory and you don’t know what she’ll say next. All that about her is kind of brilliant. She’s not a neatly packaged entity.”

What does that make her? Human, I guess. And fun to be with. In person and on the page.

My Rock ’n’ Roll Friend by Tracey Thorn is published by Canongate, priced £16.99