Tracee Hutchison reflects on one of her favourite songs!
THE TRIFFIDS – FIELD OF GLASS (1985)
It was 1985. And London’s cultural masthead, the New Musical Express, had declared it ‘The Year of The Triffids’. An unassuming and slightly awkward Velvets-inspired folky pop band from Perth had morphed into the Next Big Thing. They were on top of the world. Rippling with possibility in London’s heady, musical zeitgeist.
Formed in Perth in 1978 by lead singer David McComb and his high school art-class friends Alsy McDonald and Phil Kakulas, The Triffids had emerged as Perth’s musical landscape was being shaped by band’s like The Scientists and the early incarnation of Le Hoodoo Gurus, The Victims, riding the first wave of grunge rock. Theirs was a slightly bubblegum but ferociously independent sensibility, fuelled by the dislocated sense of place born out of living in the world’s most isolated capital.
A string of cass-singles, 7-inches and a 12-inch EP, ‘Raining Pleasure’, made way for the band’s debut album ‘Treeless Plain’ in 1983. By then they’d made the Nullabor to Sydney relocation road trip. Seeing them live at that time was like grasping filigree. They were delicate, intricate, dramatic and powerful all at the same time. It was easy to be besotted. Out front the creatively driven McComb – now with a line-up of Alsy McDonald on drums, Jill Birt on keys and vocals, Martyn Casey on bass and Robert McComb on violin and guitar. They were eyeing another prize. By 1984 they were ready.
The Triffids’ path to the London squats they shared with fellow expats was well traveled by the likes of The Go Betweens, The Birthday Party, The Saints/Laughing Clowns, The Moodists and Perth’s swamp rock pioneers The Scientists – all of them united in dislocation and a shared disdain for the cultural backwater Australia was at the time.
Post-punk London was bleak but buzzing. And no-one was closer to the epicentre than legendary BBC broadcaster, John Peel – the self styled taste-maker who could make or break careers off the back of an invitation to record at the Broadcasters’ iconic Maida Vale studios.
When The Triffids were invited to record 3 songs for Peel – they were determined to make their mark. Dave McComb recalled that moment when I interviewed him at JJJ in 1989.
“When we got to London I think we sort of felt we had to make a kind of statement. We recorded the Field of Glass EP just when we got there, which is still I guess the most aggressive and violent record that we had done. It gave us heaps of confidence.”
The result is a breathtaking nine-minute masterpiece – ‘Field of Glass’ – an aggressively desolate triumph of longing and despair.
Thirty years on, this song is a beacon-like reminder of the velocity of McComb’s inspired brilliance as a songwriter. Such a strong Australian voice without a hint of jingo, McComb’s spirit of place is rooted in the treeless plains and wide-open roads of his home-state.
Paul Kelly is often and quite rightly cited as Australia’s quintessential musical laureate. But David McComb wrote of longing for home and the darkness of longing better than anyone… And he is missed.
Tracee Hutchison is a former JJJ/ABC broadcaster and former Program Manager at 3RRR, where contributes regularly to ‘Off The Record’. She interviewed Dave McComb for a JJJ radio series (and her subsequent book ‘Your Name’s on the Door’) in 1989 and again in 1994 for the SBS TV music program ‘nomad’.