The recent Triffids books have set me off on a fairly intensive period of listening to my collection of Triffids records. I have been a fan since I was a 16 year old in 1985, but had not listened hard to my vinyl in quite a while. I stumbled across this site, and was inspired to write down these recollections before they drift further away.
I became aware of the band through music magazines (from Sandy’s Records, Dee Why), and was interested in them before I had even heard them – this was an Australian band getting great accolades, and they seem to have recorded an album at a studio just up the road on the northern beaches. I heard the odd song on JJJ, knew that they were from Perth, but I hadn’t seen their records.
I had some pocket money when BSD was released and I bought it. It sounded nothing like anything else I’d heard, and I didn’t know whether I liked it or not for a while. It wasn’t party music, it wasn’t punk. However the songs would stay with me and pop into my thoughts, and I got to the point where I’d listen to it really often – I grew to love the big expansive sound and the personal lyrics, what a contrast. I found side 2 heartbreaking, describing a grown-up world I hadn’t attained.
Finishing high school and starting university gave me plenty of time to listen to tapes on buses, and flick through record shops while I was waiting. The small “independent” section at a shop in Chatswood was rarely replenished, and week after week (between buses) I’d go through the same titles looking for something interesting. For quite a while I flicked past a record called “Lawson Square Infirmary”. One day I decided to take it out and read the back. I immediately realised it was basically the Triffids under another name, so I bought it on the spot. It’s much more joyful than BSD and a welcome addition to the collection. “Crucifixion Speech” – wow.
Very soon after, I got “In the Pines”, purchased on cassette, because the LP wasn’t there at the shop. From the very first 10 seconds on headphones I was hooked, and I reckon I have listened to it at least every month for 25 years. The tape eventually broke, but I have it on LP and CD so no worries there.
Kids these days don’t know that back then in the 80s it was hard for a teenager to find out about a band’s back catalogue, even general information about a band was hard to come by. The street press and music papers and magazines were so important. I didn’t really know about Field of Glass or the stuff earlier than Treeless Plain. I heard an epic sounding song intro on the car radio one day, and something about it made me keep listening once I had parked (the voice hadn’t started yet) – it turned out to be Field of Glass. The EP was no longer available, but soon after it must have been re-issued, and I bought it. The songs on the back were even better.
1988, now I’m 18 and the Triffids are coming to Sydney. My mate and I see them at the Tivoli, followed by a gig close to home at Dee Why. I’d seen a few live bands by now, but nothing like this. The Triffids were intense and so nonchalant with it. Their sound had light and shade, from a full-on assault through to softer (but no less intense) acoustic numbers. I loved the twang and sheen of the steel guitar singing out above the heavier stuff.
David McComb was captivating up front, and the band seemed so cool and sophisticated. It’s funny to realise now that they were only in their mid-20s - they seemed so mature and other-worldly. Then again I was perhaps a little naďve, and recall wearing boardshorts to the Dee Why show. I owned 1 pair of jeans, and no trousers. Audiences back then ranged from goth to surf, with everything in between. I guess Calenture songs were played, but I can’t remember the sets in much detail. I remember slides playing behind them. My mate bought “Son of Dungeon Tape” at that gig, off the sound guy I think.
I was disappointed with the Calenture album’s sound when I got it, a bit too lush maybe, but some good tracks.
Then there was a show at the Sydney Cove Tavern. I was at the very front against the stage and recall being dazzled by bright lights under the drum stand, during “Bright Lights Big City”. The following year they came back and I went to shows at the University of Sydney and then again to the Venue at Dee Why.
These rank as some of the most memorable gigs I have seen – for the last couple there was a small table on stage with a cloth and maybe a candelabra or tea set. “Fairytale Love” was a revelation, and bubbles came down off the PA stacks while they were playing it. I was fascinated by the cool guitars, the e-bow, the pedal steel & the bass sound, and the good grace of all the band members.
There was a girl near me at the front at most (all?) of these gigs, dressed in cool dark clothes with dark hair. She seemed as into the music as I was, and we were close in the crush up front. I was too awkward to ever say hi. I remember the encore at Dee Why (but didn’t know it was a Prince song). I loved the Black Swan album from the 1st listen (and I love the disc of demos in the re-release too).
The band split not long after, before or after the Stockholm record I don’t recall. I like that record too, but no live recording can emulate the loud thump you “heard” in your body when you saw them live. I’ve been to 100s of gigs since and been in and around bands. The clarity and volume of the Triffids’ live sound has never been equalled in my experience.
So there you are, the Triffids were finished when I was 20, but I’m still listening 25 years later.
The Books – Vagabond Holes – what a great collection of writing. A fascinating thing to me is the bands & songs Dave lists in his journals and letters etc. In the late 80s when I saw the Triffids I was into the Velvets but had never listened to Dylan, never heard of Big Star, disliked Springsteen, never heard of the Burrito Brothers or Gram, vaguely knew some Spector songs ..
Over time I have become a fan of all of them, but I arrived there independently at different times. What a revelation to see Dave was into all of these bands / artists.
I drove across the US a couple of times in 1990/91, with the Triffids as a major part of the soundtrack. They would have made it there I reckon, with a bit of luck. I heard Dylan properly for the first time that year, his 60s albums. Again I didn’t know immediately if I liked them or not, but kept on listening.
Save What You Can – what a fantastic book. Dave’s romantic life seemed so fraught & he is so torn in his lyrics. I suspect it’s that hard for many of us in our 20s… but he put it in powerful and original words. I feel I understand the songs a bit better now.