Perth, Western Australia band The Triffids remain one of Australia's best-loved, post-punk groups. Frontman David McComb was an authoritative singer and accomplished songwriter and, while his influences were mostly American, he infused his melancholy songs with stark yet beautiful and uniquely Australian imagery. Few songwriters managed to capture the feeling of isolation and fatalistic sense of despair of the Australian countryside as did McComb with songs like `Hell of a Summer', `Raining Pleasure' and the evocative `Wide Open Road'. Like The Saints, The Birthday Party, The Go-Betweens, Laughing Clowns, The Moodists and Scientists before them, The Triffids left Australia in 1984 to reside in the UK where they garnered considerable acclaim.
David McComb and Alsy MacDonald formed Dalsy in 1976 while still at high school. The Triffids emerged from Blok Musik in May 1978. McComb had started out on bass so, when Byron Sinclair took over bass during September, he moved to rhythm guitar. Within two years of formation, and armed with over 100 McComb originals, The Triffids had issued six independent cassette albums and become Perth's most popular non-covers band. Fired by such disparate sources as Bob Dylan, Talking Heads, Television, folk, country and blues, McComb was even then a prolific songwriter. Phillip Kakulas and Sinclair left in 1979 to be replaced by Robert McComb (violin, guitar) and Will Akers (bass). Margaret Gillard also joined on keyboards in 1980. Kakulas later went to join Martha's Vineyard and The Blackeyed Susans.
At the end of 1980, The Triffids won first prize in a song competition held by Perth radio station 6NR. The prize resulted in the recording of the band's debut single, `Stand Up'/`Farmers Never Visit Nightclubs', which came out on the Shake Some Action label in July 1981. Mark Peters played drums on the single as MacDonald left for two months in early 1981. In August 1981, the band recorded the delightful four-track EP `Reverie', `Place in the Sun'/`Joan of Arc', `This Boy' which appeared on the Resonant label in April 1982. By that stage, The Triffids were resident in Sydney. Gillard and Akers left in February 1982 to be replaced by Jill Yates (keyboards; ex-Teeny Weenies) and the returning Sinclair. By mid-year, Martyn Casey had replaced Sinclair on bass.
The four-piece line-up of David and Robert McComb, MacDonald and Casey moved to Melbourne where they signed to Mushroom's White label. The Triffids issued their second single, `Spanish Blue'/`Twisted Brain', initially on the No label (through EMI Custom), before White reissued it in October 1982. The acclaimed `Bad Timing' and Other Stories EP (`Bad Timing', `Left to Rot'/`Being Driven', `Snake Pit') came out on White in April 1983, by which time The Triffids were back in Sydney. Jill Burt had also joined on organ and vocals. With the EP out, The Triffids began to build up a large and enthusiastic following on the inner-city circuit.
The self-produced album Treeless Plain appeared on the Hot label in November 1983. Although the brilliant and justly acclaimed album yielded no singles, it contained a number of live favourites like `Red Pony', `My Baby Thinks She's a Train' and `Hell of a Summer'. Hot issued the single `Beautiful Waste'/`Property is Condemned' (February 1984), after which the band entered the studio with producer Nick Mainsbridge (who had engineered Treeless Plain) to record the mini-album Raining Pleasure. Issued in July 1984, it was another superb release highlighted by the shimmering title track `Raining Pleasure' (sung by Burt), the atmospheric country-blues of `Jesus Calling' and a mournful rendering of the traditional blues tune `St James Infirmary'. The last two may have been the inspiration behind the sideline project Lawson Square Infirmary, a one-off aggregation comprising David, Robert, MacDonald, Rob Snarski (bass), James Peterson (piano) and Graham Lee (dobro, pedal steel). The group came together through a mutual love of country music. Hot issued the Lawson Square Infirmary mini-album in October 1984.
By that stage, The Triffids had returned to Perth from where they flew to London. The Triffids had already built up a cult following in the UK via a distribution deal with the Rough Trade label. Treeless Plain and Raining Pleasure garnered positive reviews from the usually fickle British rock press. The band's first UK recording session in November 1984 resulted in the three-track, 12-inch EP `Field of Glass' (February 1985). `Bright Lights Big City' and `Monkey on My Back' furthered McComb's more reflective songwriting processes, while the epic `Field of Glass' was nine minutes of rumbling rhythms, eerie organ flows, crashing guitars and sheer lyrical invective.
When The Triffids returned to Australia in early 1985, `Evil' Graham Lee (ex-Lawson Square Infirmary, John Kennedy's Love Gone Wrong) joined on acoustic guitar and pedal steel. Hot issued a new Triffids single, William Bell's `You Don't Miss Your Water (Till Your Well Runs Dry)'/`Convent Walls', in August 1985. That same month, The Triffids entered the studios in London with producer Gil Norton and engineer Nick Mainsbridge to record their third album. Born Sandy Devotional (March 1986) appeared to almost universal praise, and produced the classic single `Wide Open Road'/`Time of Weakness' (February). Born Sandy Devotional was full of some of the most lonely, spacious songs ever written, and it remains one of the best Australian albums of the 1980s. It peaked at #26 on the UK mainstream charts.
With the local release of the album, The Triffids returned to Australia in order to tour. During April, the band set up an eight-track recording desk in an isolated shearing shed 600 kilometres south east of Perth on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain. The recording sessions resulted in the album In the Pines (January 1987) which evoked the spirit of The Band, Gram Parsons and the softer side of The Velvet Underground with a wonderfully relaxed, offbeat and uncontrived set of songs. The Triffids undertook a British tour in late 1986, after which they returned to Australia for the ambitious Australian Made tour (January 1987) alongside Mental as Anything, The Saints, I'm Talking, Models, Jimmy Barnes and INXS. Having signed to the prestigious Island label (home to the likes of Free, Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, Bob Marley and U2), The Triffids returned to the UK to record a new album with Craig Leon. The sessions were abandoned, and Gil Norton took over from Leon to complete the album.
Calenture (February 1988) was the band's most ambitious and expensive project to date. It produced two lush singles, `Bury me Deep in Love'/`Baby can I Walk You Home' (December 1987) and `A Trick of the Light'/`Love the Fever (March 1988). `A Trick of the Light' became The Triffids' only single to chart in the British mainstream listings when it peaked at #73 for one week. The 12-inch version of `Bury me Deep in Love' added the non-album track `Region Unknown', while the 12-inch of `A Trick of the Light' likewise added the non-album tracks `Bad News Always Reminds Me of You' and `Everything You Touch Turns to Time'. Island also issued the UK-only, 12-inch EP `Holy Water', `Raining Pleasure'/`Good Morning, Good Morning', `Red Pony'.
The album's release locally coincided with the band's fourth annual Australian tour. The second Island album, The Black Swan (June 1989), yielded the wistful pop single `Goodbye Little Boy'/`Go Home Eddie' (June) sung by Burt (the 12-inch added `Shell of the Man') and the rap-influenced single `Falling Over You'/`Can't Help Falling in Love' (September). In June, The Triffids were back in Australia for a tour, after which David McComb and MacDonald moonlighted with one-time Triffids member Phil Kakulas (bass; ex-Martha's Vineyard), plus Rob Snarski (guitar, vocals; ex-Chad's Tree) and Ross Bolleter (keyboards) as The Blackeyed Susans.
The Triffids returned to the UK once again, but by the end of 1989 had parted ways. The band's final album, Stockholm Live (February 1990), had been recorded for Swedish National Radio and concentrated on early material such as `Property is Condemned', `Hell of a Summer' and `Wide Open Road'. McComb recorded the single `I Don't Need You' with latter-day Triffids arranger Adam Peters, plus the solo single `The Message' before returning to Australia in 1991. He and Graham Lee joined The Blackeyed Susans on a permanent basis. McComb appeared on the albums Welcome Stranger (1992) and All Souls Alive (1993), after which he recorded his debut solo album Love of Will.
McComb's studio band The Red Ponies comprised one-time Triffids alumni Lee, Martyn Casey (by that stage a member of Nick Cave's band The Bad Seeds) and Will Akers, plus Bruce Haymes (keyboards; ex-Stephen Cummings Band, Bachelors from Prague), Peter Luscombe (drums; from Black Sorrows) and The Blackeyed Susans' Phil Kakulas and Rob Snarski on backing vocals. Warren Ellis from The Blackeyed Susans and Dirty Three joined on violin when the band toured. Love of Will (December 1993) produced the CD singles `Setting You Free' (November) and `Clear Out My Mind' (January 1994). McComb set out on tour with the Red Ponies in order to promote the album (including a trip to the UK). The compilation Australian Melodrama (November 1994) drew together 19 classic Triffids songs covering the period 1983 to 1989.
In recent years, David McComb suffered from poor health, undergoing heart transplant surgery in 1995. Following a lengthy recovery, he contributed a cover of Johnny Winter’s ‘Still Alive and Well’ to the 1997 compilation album, Where Joy Kills Sorrow on the W.Minc label. He formed a new band, costar, and returned to live performances in April 1998. The line-up featured ex-Triffids alumni Graham Lee (guitar) and Will Akers (bass), plus Kieran Box (keyboards) of The Blackeyed Susans and Stewart Solar (drums) of The Disappointments.
Tragically, McComb died on 2 February 1999 a few days after a minor car accident in Melbourne. It was a sad loss to the Australian music industry, with tributes pouring in from friends, colleagues and all sections of the media.