The Triffids

TrackAlbum / EP
The SeabirdsBorn Sandy Devotional
Hell Of A SummerTreeless Plain
Raining PleasureRaining Pleasure EP
Too Hot To MoveThe Black Swan
My Baby Thinks She’s A TrainTreeless Plain
Red PonyTreeless Plain
Estuary BedBorn Sandy Devotional
Wide Open RoadBorn Sandy Devotional
Bury Me Deep In LoveCalenture
Trick Of The LightCalenture

the triffids photo 1
(l-r) Alsy MacDonald, Jill Birt, David McComb, Martyn P. Casey, Graham Lee, Robert McComb – Island Records press photo Andrew Catlin 1987



Triffids playlist


Contributors: Glenn Smith & Andrew Shields

Strange place Western Australia, they do things different there. Space and lots of it, the yard goes on forever. There are wide open roads, estuary beds, trains a rollin, treeless plains and backwoods girls, children walking back from the beach, a heat so hot dogs and cats are dropping down in the street. You think you are in the desert, but then no you are in the beach side dunes, the water is so close and yet something’s wrong, so where were you? The Triffids are not just an Australian band, but a Western Australian band, and it’s an important distinction. They are a long way away from anyone and everyone. To get where you are going to you need to literally and metaphorically cross those treeless plains. From the early 80s onwards the various early lineup iterations settled down into a five-piece based around David McComb, his brother Robert, Alsy MacDonald, Jill Birt, Martyn Casey and Graham Lee. They were a terrific band, brilliant live and in the studio. To see them in Sydney in the 80s was a joy. They played everywhere and always including shitty gigs in sad places like the Miranda Inn on a Thursday night, made sublime by them asking for requests and playing everything asked of them.

And they had the enigmatic, thoughtful singer songwriter guitarist we all want in our favourite pop combos. David McComb is the ultimate (West) Australian song writer; his tunes are imbued and embedded with an Australian character. His lyrics take us to the personal and the parochial, his hell of a summer is an Australian summer as it’s too hot to think or move, his seabirds gather ominously over a beachside motel and there’s trails through dusty dry emotional wildernesses. As nightmarish as these looming landscapes can seem, McComb invests them with an uplifting spiritualism. Plagued by ill health and requiring a heart transplant, accidents and a continuing drug habit led to his untimely demise at the age of 36. And those physical and emotional struggles are evident throughout his work with the band and in his later solo work. But it is not all darkness and gloom, far from it. McComb wrote of love and joy, salty lips and skin to touch, he wanted to be buried deep in love.

In The Seabirds we are confronted by a protagonist shielding themselves with foreign sunglasses as they plunge towards taking their life. This is a song rooted in the short stories of Helen Garner and Elizabeth Jolley, small insignificant lives given the importance they deserve. While the sea beckons, seedy motels and a one-night stand feed the despair, the music shifting in tempo and feel to reflect his journey towards oblivion, gulls shrieking their delight at his impending demise. A soaring guitar and strings take us to the swooping seabirds, the shifting samba like tempo moving us towards this person walking straight into the sea. I’d argue McComb’s finest, and darkest, lyric.


The Triffids had a hell of rhythm section and Casey and MacDonald lay down a fantastic beat with a superb early eighties bassline leading the way on Hell Of A Summer. It’s hot and it’s hellish here as every word of kindness tastes like bile, as they confront the sad reality that this summer of hell is about them not being together, it’s been hell.


But with the end of summer comes the rain and Raining Pleasure takes us to the next place in the heart, coming out of the dryest season known to them. Beautifully sung by the keyboardist Jill Birt, her phrasing and quiet passion speaks to the pain of missing a loved one, and the desire to be in their arms. An eerie Richard McComb violin and heavy piano set the discordant tone as Birt states her case, simple, low key and extraordinary, nothing matters very much, in your arms it’s a raining pleasure.


With Too Hot To Move, Too Hot To Think, McComb takes us back to the heat and heart of the city, the sounds that float up tell of the squalor of his circumstances and his heart, literally and metaphorically. Again, it’s been a hell of a summer, the seasons are too dry, and now it is too hot to move (move on) and to hot to think (about it …). But he can hear the hit parade, the songs of joy that beckon him to get up and get out. The music evokes Paris Texas in its sad isolation. There’s a Ry Cooderish slide languidly floating outside the window, a dead thousand-yard stare stretching beyond the mess of the kitchen and the mess of his life.


My Baby Thinks She’s A Train kicks in with another superb bassline from Casey who sets out a deadbeat groove as McComb calls out her drinking in his kisses from the rain, the backwoods girl who wants his raining pleasure. A country blues, he sees that she’ll put on a dollar, but only a dollar on his heart but she wont commit to the dollar a day he desperately desires; bass heavy and heartfelt, this train is going to keep a rolling but over him and through him rather than past him.

Glenn Smith


Glenn has sketched in the background so well above that I can concentrate – without further ado – on my song selections. These start with Red Pony which is arguably the Triffids’ first genuinely great song. It is also an early example of the group’s ability to use complex and layered arrangements (in this case involving the use of a string quartet) to heighten the atmosphere evoked by McComb’s lyrics.


As Glenn has pointed out, only a handful of lyricists have come close to matching McComb’s ability to describe the Australian landscape. In this regard, the opening lines of the next choice, Estuary Bed, ranks as one of the best descriptions of an Australian summer’s day spent by the sea ever written:

The children are walking back from the beach
Sun on the sidewalk is burning their feet
Washing the salt off under the shower
And just wasting away, wasting away
the hours and hours and hours

However, while this may seem an idyllic setting, as in many of McComb’s songs, there is also an unmistakeable air of foreboding and unease in both the music and later lyrics of the song. The narrator also carries a burden of guilt or remorse over the furtive romantic (or maybe not?) encounter which it describes. This is also one of those songs where the band achieves an almost seamless marriage between music and words.


Where to start with Wide Open Road? While sometimes described as an Australian classic, it also stands high among the best songs written anywhere in the 1980s. It is a ‘big’ song in a variety of ways, beginning with its magnificent, wide-screen cinematic lyric. When this is combined with the sublime architecture of its arrangement – which the Australian songwriter Paul Kelly has compared to the ‘buttresses’ and ‘struts’ on a cathedral – it is an overwhelming achievement by any standard. The song also manages to convey a sense of ‘space’, in a way which – at least to an outsider like me who was not born in the country – seems quintessentially Australian.


My final two choices are both late pop masterpieces by David McComb. Bury Me Deep In Love is another example of his ability to evoke a sense of place in his songs. In its case, however, the landscape evoked is not an Australian but a European one. It seems to be set somewhere in the Alps, with the references to “the chapel deep in the valley”, the “icy mountain crypt”, and the “east” and “west” face. McComb also linked the song to his love of gospel and in particular of Al Green’s music. The ‘wall of sound’ production adds to the air of drama which makes it one of the most effective of his pop songs.


The band recorded my final choice, Trick Of The Light, twice. Although I have chosen the more ‘produced’ version from their 1987 album Calenture, the stripped-back rendition on the group’s record In The Pines – made in the previous year – is also well worth checking out. As with several other McComb songs, there is a tension between the poppy, seemingly jaunty, melody (driven by Jill Birt’s brilliant keyboard part) and the darkness of the lyric, which describes a dysfunctional and doomed relationship.

Although his career was ultimately cut short, both in his work with the Triffids and in his brief stint as a solo artist (his 1994 album Love Of Will is a neglected gem), David McComb left behind a very rich musical legacy. As a lyricist, his brilliant depictions of the Australian landscape – and of the Western Australian way of life as he perceived it – also remain among the most insightful and very best ever written.

Andrew Shields



David McComb (1962–1999)


The official website for The Triffids

The Triffids Cassette Tape releases 1978-1981

Love In Bright Landscapes: The Story of David McComb of The Triffids – directed by Jonathan Alley (2021)

Truckload Of Sky – the lost songs of David McComb

Remembering David McComb (The Guardian, May 2022)

The Blackeyed Susans official website

The Triffids biography (AllMusic)

Glenn Smith lives in Sydney and teaches high school English, plays very bad guitar with his bass playing son and spends far too much time thinking about The Beatles…

Andrew Shields is a freelance historian, who grew up in the West of Ireland and currently lives in Sydney. Along with an interest in history, politics and literature, his other principal occupations are listening to and reading about the music of Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs.

TopperPost #1,105


  1. David Lewis
    Mar 4, 2024

    A magnificent Toppermost on a magnificent act. No one really captured living in the climate and environment of Australia quite like McComb. Slim Dusty did. And David Bridie from My Friend the Chocolate Cake did. But with McComb you can feel the tingle of the summer sun in your skin, and the oppression of the air, almost too hot to breathe in. The release of rain is only temporary. And winter is just a reprieve that is shorter and shorter each year. If you happen to get winter anyway.

  2. Declan
    Mar 5, 2024

    A truly magical band and in David McComb, a truly magical singer & songwriter. Born Sandy Devotional is one of my favourite albums and I have lovely memories of seeing them live at Birmingham Irish Centre, Digbeth in ‘89. Majestic band. Nice work.

  3. Dave Stephens
    Mar 5, 2024

    And there was me thinking that only people of a certain age were aware of the Triffids. Things are evidently different down under and particularly so in Western down under. Even more so if we are to believe half of what Glenn and Andrew and David McComb tell us. Would that David was still with us and that there were even more of those wonderful songs floating around from that “dusty dry emotional wilderness”. Thank you Glenn and Andrew for such a fine introduction to David and the guys and gals that constituted the Triffids. (I think it’s wonderful too that their first record label was “Hot Records”)

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