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flag Australia - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 29 - 03/02/99

David McComb
1962-1999 obituary

One soul less on your fiery list...

"On Saturday 30th, January David was involved in a car accident. He was not badly injured but spent the night in St. Vincents Hospital. He was released on Sunday and went home to recuperate. On Tuesday (2nd February) at about 6 PM he died suddenly. Everyone who knew Dave either personally or through his music will always remember him. He is sadly missed." (Graham Lee, former member of The Triffids)

The news of the sudden death of David McComb made me go through The Triffids' back catalogue once more. The Triffids was a band of the 80s: formed in 1980, dissolved in the end of 1989. David McComb (vocals, guitars plus miscellaneous instruments) formed The Triffids in Perth on the western coast of Australia, accompanied by his brother Robert McComb (guitar, violin, vocals, keyboards) and Alsy MacDonald (drums, percussion, vocals). Their influences were the Velvet Underground and country and folk music of the darker side, and they were inspired by the huge and waste desert areas of Western Australia. During the first years there were some changes in the line-up, but when Martyn Casey (bass, vocals) and Jill Birt (organ, vocals) joined in, the quintet was permanent. Their debut album Treeless Plain (Hot Records, 1983) was recorded in twelve nights, and showed a confident band with song-writing talents (10 songs by David, one by drummer Alsy, plus a cover of Bob Dylan's I am a Lonesome Hobo). Just check out the excellent violin-driven pop song Rosevel. Raining Pleasure (Hot, 1984) - an extended mini album - followed, presenting a band in progress, and gave us songs such as the raw and fascinating Property is Condemned on one side, and the beautiful title track sung by Jill on the other. All songs by David, except for a couple of contributions by one James Patterson (credit for musical co-writing) plus one traditional song. They took one big step further with the London, England recorded Born Sandy Devotional (Hot, 1986), polishing and evolving their very personal expression. The Triffids had now become a sextet, with 'Evil' Graham Lee on slide, pedal and lap steel guitars, adding some more dry plain twang to the music. It's a great album, indeed a masterpiece, showing the magic and the melancholy - the "trademarks" of the musical tales sprung from the hand of David McComb. Take The Seabirds, or Lonely Stretch, or Wide Open Road, or Stolen Property. The list of instant classics is long. Epic melodramas in clouds of dust under a steaming hot sun. The music and the lyrics are clearly colored by the desolate, wide-stretched geographical landscape, and by traveling through these surroundings. The songs breed the feeling of longing and loneliness, of restlessness and drifting towards personal freedom, but are also about love. For both people and nature. Many of the stories told on The Triffids' records are about outsiders, drifters (vagabonds, hobos), and I often imagine wide- screened road-movies when hearing the lyrics, since they often describe people moving.

Then came In The Pines (Hot, 1986), a low budget album recorded way off in the Australian outback, in a woolshed. A quite fascinating and most charming record that keeps growing on you, with its unpretentious approach and loose style, presenting some fine and personal songs (all by David, except one from Alsy, and a cover of the gospel-country song Once a Day by Bill Anderson). Like Suntrapper, the Bad Seed-ish Just Might Fade Away and One Soul Less on Your Fiery List, which appeared on the next album, the brilliant Calenture (Island, 1987), reworked and re-titled as Hometown Farewell Kiss, one of many favorites from the David McComb songbook. Calenture (which also was recorded in England, all songs by David except for Jill Birt's first contribution) is maybe even better than Born Sandy Devotional, presenting another new associate (or second lieutenant as stated on the cover): Adam Peters (guitar). The album presented The Triffids from their most poppy side, and was the closest they got to the really big break, on sales and hit list-wise. The emotional Bury Me Deep in Love opens the album, while Save What You Can closes this box of jewelry. But when everything seemed to run smoothly and everyone awaited massive success for the group, they were only to make one more album. The Black Swan (Island, 1989) was recorded in England, assisted by 'hot' producer (The Smiths and Morrissey) Stephen Street, who added a more 'modern' sound to the triffid rock. Despite being well received, the success wasn't overwhelming, which disappointed David and the rest of the band to the point where they decided to dissolve the band. The Black Swan is solid enough, but maybe a bit to "strange" musically to reach a bigger audience (one song by Jill and Alsy, the rest by David, assisted by Adam Peters and another associate, Phil Kakulas). Too Hot to Move, Too Hot to Think is full of daze and steam, while the bouncy Goodbye Little Boy is The Triffids' most poppy moment ever. All in all it's a majestic album. Majestic in the way of a swan. The lines from Fairytale Love prove a fitting description for the album, and for the music of David McComb and The Triffids in general:

We thought that our pleasure would always remain,
Soft fairytale kisses again and again
The last moment we touched, by the river you shone
The black swan spread its wings and hissed
lo! the night came on...

The final document from The Triffids was a live recording Stockholm (MNW, 1990) which came out after the band broke up, plus a compilation, "post-script" released by Mushroom in 1994 with the fitting title Australian Melodrama. David McComb was part of the "holiday project band" The Black-Eyed Susans (Black-eyed Susan is a song on The Black Swan), and he and his songs can be heard on their first two LPs, Welcome Stranger (a compilation album, including a live version of In The Pines) and All Souls Alive. David then started a solo career. He toured with his backing band The Red Ponies, and released the acclaimed solo album Love Of Will (Mushroom, 1994), after which he more and more retired from music. And now he's retired for good. Gone but not forgotten.

Copyright © 1999 Håvard Oppøyen e-mail address

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