Great Lost Bands no.8: The Triffids

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"The Triffids remain one of Australia's best-loved, post-punk groups [...] McComb was an authoritative singer and accomplished songwriter [...] 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"
These are the words of the music historian Ian McFarlane, as the Triffids were inducted into the Australian Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
Hardly unknown, and thanks to a reissue campaign from Domino records a couple of years ago they aren't exactly forgotten, but the Triffids effectively ended their music making in 1989. Due to the early death of front man David McComb in 1994 at the age of 37, it is impossible for them to fully reform.
Once again, a remarkably detailed Wikipedia article on the band makes retro pieces such as this slightly unnecessary, so once again I will just offer up my personal account of what the Triffids mean to me.

The band called it a day the year I left school but I listened to them a lot during my sixth form years, largely due to late night radio plays from the likes of Dave Fanning on RTE Radio 2. I got even more interested when I found that the brothers David and Robert McComb were born near Ballynahinch in County Down, which is actually only about 10 miles from where I grew up. Their family emigrated in the early '70s and ended up in Western Australia.
No-one at school quite 'got' them though and I didn't meet another Triffids fan for years. The first place to start for Triffids novices is with their 1986 single Wide Open Road, which actually dented the lower reaches of the UK chart. Now officially recognised as one of the Top 30 Australian songs of all time, it is a song which perfectly evokes the great spaces in the Australian outback. The Triffids regularly drove from Perth to Sydney and Melbourne for gigs and recording, and that space must have been a constant fixture of that journey.
Wide Open Road

That song comes from an album called Born Sandy Devotional which is one of my favourite albums of all time. The band were big enough to warrant live performances on prime time Channel 4 such as this 'Stolen Property' from The Tube.

After many years of indie releases they signed a big deal with Island records and released 'Calenture', another great album, although it turned out to be a difficult one to make, due to label interference and swapping producers. It is an epic, almost OTT album, with songs coated with string arrangements, and intensely personal, passionate lyrics. It was a total contrast to their last indie release - 'In the Pines', which was more folk-based and recorded on a 4-track in a shed in the Australian countryside.

Compare and contrast different versions of Blinder by the Hour

The label also insisted that they record their next record in England and the result was 'the Black Swan'. David McComb intended this to be a double album but the 1989 release was a single album. It was a sprawling, flawed masterpiece which only really made sense when re-issued with tons of extra tracks by Domino in 2006. On 'The Black Swan' they flirt with traditional songs, country, catchy pop and hip-hop and you never quite know where it is going to go next. This song is one of the most Triffids-like on it.
One Mechanic Town

The band split up soon after and David McComb suffered substance abuse related health problems, which led to a heart transplant at the early age of 34. He made a solo record called Love of Will and shortly after a promotional tour to support it he had a car accident in Melbourne and died 3 days later, in February 1999. The coroner's report stated "McComb's mental and physical condition had deteriorated after his (car) accident but his death was due to heroin toxicity and mild acute rejection of his 1996 heart transplant."
The other Triffids have performed their music over recent years in Australia, usually for special events, and with guest vocalists such as Steve Kilbey of The Church taking lead vocal duties. Martyn Casey from the band became a permanent member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, a band who I'm sure would acknowledge the huge influence of the Triffids.
One of the best things about compiling features like this, is that I get to stumble upon some things I hadn't heard or seen before. This last video is something very special and I had never seen it before. It is for one of my favourite ever Triffids songs and has some lyrics to live your life by. Enjoy.
Save What You Can

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