Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Pk Towers, floor 55, probably Apartment number 9

Jan 17 2008
And onto the second Blackeyed Susan of the day , Mr Phil Kakulas ; possibly the coolest double bassist ever. Today though, we're starting with Phil's role as a first and last Triffid – he was in a very early lineup of the band, and then played on a few tracks of their final studio album. Phil was part of the original triumvirate of trouble: comprising himself, Alsy and Dave; Phil brings this sense of history into perspective by casually dropping into conversation that he had photos of David at his 7th birthday party – in 1968. The year of The White Album, Beggars Banquet, the Paris Riots, the Tet Offensive ...sorry, I have no idea who won the premiership that year. Four decades ago. The band went for ten years and Dave's music career 15 or thereabouts. His life ; though far shorter than it should have been, spans so much frantic , energised sheer... TIME. Phil remains a great interview: he's always been very considered, slyly funny, and rather astute. Take 1 is abandoned due to noise in the venue, so we decamp, at Phil's suggestion, to PK Towers, floor 55 just around the corner; overcast Sydney stretches around us. Phil – a music teacher – relates a wonderful thought when considering his reaction to hearing the Dalsy tapes for the first time in 30 years , the previous evening, wondering aloud if "anyone should ever have music lessons" because the tapes are so 'free". We get more on the story of Dave's involvement with The Susans and particularly the superb and highly under-rated All Souls Alive (get it if you don't already own it) ; and some discussion on co-writing takes us only into the fundamentals before time is called and Phil has to report for soundcheck duties. We decide a second interview is in order to delve further into this specific subject. On the way down in the lift I remember my fave Dave show with BES, outside Flowers Vasette in Fitzroy; Dave sort of mooched around during songs he didn't play on snapping pics of the band. He seemed so breezy and laconic that day. But that's just a memory. And they are always selective.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Recollections from the Show... part 4

Today is dress rehearsal day for the Triffids and friends. Sydney is itself. Indifferent, busy and still captivating to look at the odd moment you have spare to raise your head. I've been here so often now over the last decade it's just like .... urban furniture. Sydney is a place people come to I suppose; they move here from other places to try and reach its people, penetrate their strange superficial ether. The Triffids did – somewhat inevitably – before they decamped to London. It's wonderful watching this band feel one another out a little bit musically again, hitting their straps as they do it... ; its rehearsal; some notes aren't hit, some notes are fluffed  – ironing these things out are is what rehearsals are FOR. The moments come when a song is tired again a while later and those notes are hit, the solos are nailed, the melodies sing. For all the absence of Dave hanging over the band – that they must surely be feeling somewhat – the brilliance of his songs is driven home run through after run through. In this way, Dave will live longer than a lot of us. Cold comfort to those who'd just rather have him back around no doubt.

So.... to today's interviews. Rob Snarski. Someone I've interviewed a lot over the years. A truly, wonderful singer; it is no exaggeration at all to say that Rob is geuinely gifted; the guy just sings like an angel. Rob knew David in Perth when was in a band called Chad's Tree and Dave was in The Triffids, and eventually they made records together in The Blackeyed Susans. Rob has forewarned me that he is prepared to speak to us about Dave, but is not keen to answer questions connected specifically to music. This will make this one a little harder, but not impossible. My feeling as we roll is that Rob wants to do a good interview for the film, to perhaps play his part in ensuring an accurate and fair account is given of Dave to the audience. We're not long in and we break for Rob to have a minute – one we're perfectly prepared to give him. 9 years on from David's passing and the emotions float to the surface like that. We must be ever mindful of this with our subjects. I am thankfuk to Rob for his honesty; it's helping the film already; and it's a good reality check for us; these people are here because Dave's not, playing his music. A celebration of him and songs? Certainly; but absence tinges it all with an inevitable sadness. So all we can do now is create a captivating hour and a half that depicts why he was special, unique, timeless and brilliant. And that, is what Danielle and I are going to do.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

recollections from the show part 3

Thursday January 17
Yesterday we had a bright idea. We know we're going to get several Australia voices and perspectives on Dave in our film. It's a given. But given Europe's apparent infatuation with the Triffids/Dave we're going to need plenty of those persectives too. We're asking Fergus Linehan from Sydney Fest, but the guy's just opened his event; he's going to be just a tad busy. Then I remember a name: Lynden Barber. I knew Lynden for several years because I used to plug DVDs for a living, and he reviewed them in The Australian newspaper. I kept him well stocked in Hong Kong cinema among other things. Lynden was the director of the Sydney Film Festival for a time, but in a previous life, was a journalist on the Melody Maker and the N.M.E.
Yes: he was agent for the scurrilious agents of villiainy that fuel the UK MUSIC PRESS. But, we forgive him this ; he was one of the first scribes to recognise the sheer greatness of Dave's songs, and as he put it, the 'vim' of the The Triffids. Out of the blue we rang Lynden, and asked if we could pop around and chat to him about his recollections of speaking to the band at their dilapdated London flat in about 1984. I was rather delighted when he said yes.
So, here I am in a back st of Paddington, one of my favourite parts of Sydney. But, they grow VERY big mosquitoes here. Mutant ones. They've been to the Lucas Heights reactor for drinks and bloated to the size of winged tennis balls , and now they're biting me. Anymore of this and I'll be in what Dave used to call Club Sickup. I hate these bastards. Don't react well to them. After a minor heart attack caused by a non existent cab Ms Dan arrives camera on back to capture the thoughts of Barber on Dave. LB invites us in ; he''s got his Born Sandy Devotional vinyl out. I tell him the re-master is well worth his time. (get it if you haven't already). Outside in Lynden's back garden we mike him up. And suddenly a little moment arrives. The very first shots of our film on Dave McComb. Oooh. This is... a time to take a wee breath and get on with it. Important people are waiting! Lynden does have some genuinely riveting insights into Dave's manner; and particularly the advancement of the band's stagecraft between their 1982 selves and their brocked up 1984 UK press darling rock star selves. Well, they moved a bit more and had better shirts. Lynden also unwittingly provides a superb DVD extra/outtake by telling us about being on a plane with a journalist who was flying back from Elizabeth Taylor's funeral. I momentarily considered pedantically telling him Liz is still with us (at least in body), but knew it would ruin a moment; this proved correct as he twigged a minute later, realising the funeral must have been for one of Elizabeth's numerous husbands. Lynden had some quite unique comparisons to make: Echo and the Bunnymen I was expecting. But Julian Cope and the Teardrop explodes? Interesting one... He also made it clear; in no uncertain terms, that the Triffs, Gobies and Cave and his Birthday Circus truly DID create a real wave of interest and inspiration to the moribund UK music scene in the early '80s. All I had to do by way of thanks was help Lynden move his ancient old telly out into the street. And with that, the first interview for Love and Bright Landscapes, is in the can.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Recollections from the Show , Part 2

Jan 16 2008
Soundcheck rolls on. On and on, into the night. This band – who have played together once in 19 years and haven't played to a home audience since 1989  – are so determined to make this all work. This reminds me of theatre: going and going to all hours , until you're buggered, until it's RIGHT; working until you can reasonably demand payment from an audience by their means of money and time. Tonight Jill (Birt: Keys) and Alsy (McDonald: drums) filled me a little more on in the threat to The Cliffe, the McComb family home at Peppermint Grove where Dave often brought the band to practice (in fact the pic on the back of their final studio album The Black Swan was taken there). Dave's parents moved out in 1995. The new owner apparently refuses to entertain its preservation on the original site , although he's supposedly (?) offering to pay for the removal of the house to another location. A fascinating titbit from Alsy: the house was one of the first made of Jarrah, as opposed to brickwork, in an effort to prove that dwellings in Perth could indeed be built of wood; all apparently in the name of the people that started Bunnings, of all things. So, think of that next time YOU buy a useless father's day gift ok? The McComb family home helped create that combine...powerdrill... beer brewing, rat killing...implement of destruction you hold in your hand! However .... in all seriousness, we must shoot there before they ruin it all. Mick Harvey is singing The Seabirds. It suits his voice to a T. It is a a song written for storytellers.

Recollections from the shows. Part One

Recollections from The Shows Part 1 - Jan 16 2008

Today I walked into the Metro Theatre in George St Sydney, and there playing onstage, were The Triffids. Or more accurately, the remaining Triffids, but it was a moment; of course intellectually I had known – and been very excited – by the prospect of hearing those mighty songs in their natural, fully heated and explosive life. Equally I had known that David had died in 1999. But knowing something in your mind is nothing to feeling something intangible and unexpected. Walking in , hearing the bassline for Hell of a Summer, lyrics in the care of Australia's finest vocalist Rob Snarski (if you think I'm exaggerating, listen to a Blackeyed Susans album, then tell me your argument) , caught me at an unguarded moment. I've been listening to Dave sing in my head for two years every day as I ran over his life and this film in my mind ;and I felt his absence very keenly. Not as his fellow musicians would have done, of course; but I had just had to sit for a minute and take it in, and to be quite honest it more difficult than I expected. Oh well poor me; ha – I'm just the guy trying to make the film , Dave wasn't in MY band for over a decade, it's these fellas (of both genders) who'll really be feeling it. If things were different he'd still have stone classic songs falling out of his head and writing his superbly entertaining tour diaries, keeping his bandmates up at night watching late night movies on their hotel rooms' 'brocked up colour viewers' . and all manner of other things. But I feel we must tread carefully.

Two things occur to me at odd moments. 1) Dave might have enjoyed blogging; he was nut for lists, diaries, and screeds of correspondence. 2) He would have loved the tv show Black Books.

Soundcheck continues. They're all rolling out of the speakers. Red Pony, Save What You Can, Bury Me Deep in Love ... it's all moderately surreal. Rob McComb – Dave's brother and the Triffids' guitarist – has begun to express a cautious interest. After politely and gently drilling me on why I was interested and who Danielle and I have spoken to, he's being very supportive, introducing us to people to whom he thinks we should speak. G Lee is as enigmatic as ever, directing operations behind his pedal steel , he's solely focused on the show, as you'd expect. I think if you look up the word 'inscrutable' in the dictionary you see a picture of Graham. David used to call him Ted, as in Teddy Bear. His other more widely known nickname is 'evil', because he's not. Evil Teddy Bear. I feel a DVD extra coming on already.

My old radio friends The Blackeyed Susans arrive. Not we've ever done radio shows together, more that I've had them on to talk about their records and shows more than any other band over 14 years with Triple R (Melbourne's independent broadcaster - http://www.rrr.org.au) ; Phil Kakulas and Rob Snarski formed the BES with Dave as a kind of holiday band in the late '80s and despite Dave leaving in 1994 , the band have powered on with a series of acclaimed records. One of my fave Australian acts of all time (s!)

The Secret in the Shape of a Song

Tornado Alley Productions (that's me, your correspondent, Jonathan Alley –  and my very intrepid co-producer Danielle Karulas) have just completed our first phase of interviews and collection of initial footage , collected over three days in Sydney Australia. The remaining Triffids have just completed their tribute shows to David McComb (1962-1999) in a triumphant series of gigs entitled 'The Secret in the Shape of a Song' (taken from the song Suntrapper on the album In the Pines (1986). ))

This series of remarkable concerts, with guests The Blackeyed Susans, Chris Abrahams, Melanie Oxley. Toby Martin and Steve Kilbey among others, have done a great deal to cement David's body of work as one of the world's great 'canons of song'. Dare we say the greatest? Within Australia; assuredly. The Triffids rehearsed 44 songs (including Blackeyed Susans and solo work) and they aren't any duds. The flowers adorning the stage and the images of Dave from his childhood only accentuated his absence.

The shows , whilst partially the brainchild of Fergus Lineham of the Sydney Festival who's an admirer of David's work, were largely produced, curated and organised by The Triffids' Graham Lee, whose choice of songs and guest artists to interpret them reflected his thorough and intuitive knowledge of David's musical legacy. Graham, whose work is also reflected in the quality of the Triffids' reissues series, maintains The Triffids' website at www.thetriffids.com