David McComb – Sharing the Love

December 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Rhythms, December 2009.

A new live album aims to help expound the legacy of the late, great David McComb. By Dan Rule.

When Jonathan Alley and Danielle Karalus set out to organise a concert tracing the songbook of legendary Triffids frontman David McComb, the intention was never to make a live record. It was to raise funds for their documentary on the great man Love in Bright Landscapes, to celebrate McComb’s life, to bring those who cared about the man and his work together at the same place, at the same time.

The rest, explains Alley, was a lovely piece of serendipity. “Our priority was to just get the gig to happen,” he says. “But it really just became one of those nights.”

“There was quite a sort of emotional atmosphere to the evening,” he recalls. “The Triffids had done their reunion shows in Sydney and that had been an unexpectedly emotional thing for both the band and the audience. But in Melbourne, apart from a concert that Paul Kelly played and a bunch of stuff in the immediate aftermath of Dave’s death in 1999, there sort of hadn’t been an event to remember him in quite some time.”

The Blackeyed Susans, Charles Jenkins, Shackleton, Diving Bell and The Mime Set all played sets that night at the Corner Hotel, recasting vintage Triffids material and unearthing some of McComb’s rarer works. It was only when Alley – a long-serving broadcaster with Melbourne’s Triple R and editor of music monthly Music Australia Guide – listened back to the unmixed recordings of the evening that he realised their potential.

“I have never been a fan of those really sterile, static live albums,” he says. “But the thing about this recording was that there was a great sense of atmosphere that came over and that’s why we ended up calling it Deep in a Dream: An Evening With the Songs of David McComb.”

“It has a nice flowing atmosphere where we’ve opened the doors, we’ve let you in, we’ve played the songs and off you go.”

Interestingly, Alley’s fascination with McComb didn’t grow via usual channels. “Most people who resonate with his work grew up with his music,” he says. “I didn’t – I discovered him completely backwards. I used to go and see him with The Blackeyed Susans; he issued a solo record and I got into that, and I met him when he released that.”

“I then went back to the Stockholm record – the live Triffids record – and then went backwards through all the material.”

“When Dave died, obviously I thought that was tragic, but it didn’t strike me as the death of an icon or anything.”

It was after reading an article centred on the reissue of Born Sandy Devotional that he began to realise the sheer scope of McComb’s oeuvre.

“It was just like, ‘God, what a story’, what an incredible journey to have gone on and for it to have petered out in such tragic circumstances, ‘Someone should make a film!’.”

“The further I explored David’s work, the more I realised just how timeless it is. It’s timeless because you can have an ever-evolving relationship with it. One song will make you feel one way one day and you will hear and feel things in that song one day which are not there at another time, and there’s another completely different set of emotional reactions and images that spring up.”

“Whether he was conscious of that gift or not, he applied in such a matter-of-fact way and I think the songs are incredibly Australian in their matter-of-factness. It’s almost kind of evocative reportage. There are things in there that you could recognise as being immediately Australian that could be clichés, but aren’t because of that ability.”

Tracked by Peter Frawley of Salt Studios and produced by Alley and Sam Lowe (also of Salt), the live record sees The Blackeyed Susans provide stirring renditions of classics like In the Pines and Ocean of You, as well what by all accounts is the debut live performance of Blackeyed Susan, while Charles Jenkins’ take on Raining Pleasure and Diving Bell’s version of Tender is the Night prove highlights among many.

“It still gets me that song,” says Alley. “Because it almost could be about David. When you read the lyric back and you listen to the way the Claudio Schneider sings that, the lyrics are by Dave but they could almost be about Dave, and he wrote them when he was only twenty-four or something.”

One of the record’s most engaging moments is its final track, a Blackeyed Susans rendition of The Good Life Never Ends, a song that McComb wrote shortly before his passing.

“That song was never released in any form,” muses Alley. “It was one of Dave’s last songs, so I’m really proud to have that on the record.”

Deep in a Dream: An Evening with the Songs of David McComb is out through Tornado Alley/Stomp

Proceeds from the sale of the record will contribute to the making of David McComb documentary Love in Bright Landscapes

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