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McComb, David Richard (1962–1999)

by Toby Burrows

This article was published online in 2022

David Richard McComb (1962–1999), musician and songwriter, was born on 17 February 1962 in Perth, Western Australia, youngest of four sons of Queensland-born Harold Keith McComb, plastic surgeon, and his wife, New South Wales-born Kathleen Athel, née Hockey, geneticist. Growing up in the wealthy riverside suburb of Peppermint Grove, in a historic home known as The Cliffe, David attended Christ Church Grammar School (1967–78), where he won prizes in literature and divinity, before studying journalism and literature at Curtin University of Technology (BA, 1981).

As a teenager McComb began making music with Allan (Alsy) Macdonald, initially as Dalsy (1976–77) and later Blok Musik (1978). They formed the Triffids in 1978. In 1980 the group won a Band of the Year competition organised by radio station 6NR, enabling them to record a single, which they sold at live performances. After performing around Perth, the band moved to Melbourne in 1982 and subsequently settled in Sydney. It released several singles and extended-play (EP) records before recording an album, Treeless Plain, for Hot Records in 1983, followed by an EP, Raining Pleasure, the following year. McComb was the constant element in the band’s often changing line-up, composing and singing most of the songs, as well as playing guitar. His tall, darkly handsome, and intense stage presence was the focus of live performances.

In August 1984 the Triffids moved to London and spent much of the next five years there recording and touring, interspersed with return visits to Australia. They achieved a significant following in Europe, especially in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Belgium, as well as favourable critical notice in Britain, where they appeared on John Peel’s British Broadcasting Corporation radio show three times. New Musical Express, the popular music magazine, proclaimed 1985 as ‘The Year of the Triffids.’ The album Born Sandy Devotional (1986) and the EP Wide Open Road were the first results of the move to England, and led to a three-record deal with Island Records in 1986. Calenture, released the following year, was critically acclaimed; it included the hit single ‘Bury Me Deep in Love.’ Reaction to its successor, The Black Swan, was mixed. Commercial success remained elusive, and the Triffids went into hiatus in 1989. In 1990 a live album recorded in Stockholm was released to complete the Island Records contract.

McComb lived in London from 1990 to 1992, when he moved to Melbourne and studied art history at the University of Melbourne. During 1994 he released a solo album, Love of Will, and three EPs on White Label, a subsidiary of Mushroom Records. He toured Europe with the Red Ponies, and later performed in Melbourne with Costar, as well as recording and appearing with the Blackeyed Susans, begun in 1989 as a side project. His health had deteriorated dramatically, however. Diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, he underwent a heart transplant operation in May 1996. He appeared to have recovered well, but after suffering minor injuries in a car accident, he died on 2 February 1999 at home at Northcote, Victoria. His ashes were scattered at his family’s farm at Jerdacuttup, Western Australia. His house was inherited by his long-term partner Joanne Louise Alach. The coroner found that his death had been caused by heroin toxicity and post-operative complications of cardiac transplant.

The Australian and international music communities were shocked by McComb’s sudden and premature death. A friend, Megan Simpson Huberman, remarked on his complex and intensely creative personality: ‘His nature was both shy and extroverted, generous and ruthless, dark with sudden flashes of extreme sweetness. These competing forces within him were refereed by a fierce intellect’ (Coughran and Lucy 2009, 326). Posthumous recognition included several music industry awards: ‘Wide Open Road’ was named as one of the thirty greatest Australian songs by the Australasian Performing Right Association (2001); the industry group Western Australian Music inducted him into its Hall of Fame (2006); and the Triffids were inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame (2008). Born Sandy Devotional was the subject of a Special Broadcasting Service Great Australian Albums documentary in 2007, and is widely considered to be a classic Australian album. ‘Wide Open Road’ was chosen for the National Film and Sound Archive’s The Sounds of Australia series in 2021, and McComb was the subject of a feature-length documentary film, Love in Bright Landscapes, released in the same year.

McComb’s songs draw together an eclectic fusion of pop, rock, blues, folk, and country, into what he called a ‘widescreen’ sound (The Triffids 1995). Memorable for their poetic evocations of Australian landscapes—the coast, the beach, and the wilderness—as settings and metaphors for universal experiences of loss, disappointment, and pain, they form a body of distinctive, moving, and dramatic vignettes of ‘love in bright landscapes.’

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Butcher, Bleddyn. Save What You Can: The Day of the Triffids. Marrickville, NSW: Treadwater Press, 2011
  • Coughran, Chris, and Niall Lucy, eds. Vagabond Holes: David McComb and the Triffids. Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2009
  • Love in Bright Landscapes. The Story of David McComb of the Triffids. Film. Directed by Jonathan Alley. Melbourne: Atticus Media, 2021
  • McComb, David. Beautiful Waste: Poems. Edited by Chris Coughran and Niall Lucy. Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2009
  • Perrone, Pierre. ‘David McComb.’ Independent, 13 February 1999. https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-david-mccomb-1070448.html. Copy held on ADB file
  • The Triffids. ‘Biography by David McComb.’ 1995. Accessed 20 June 2022. http://thetriffids.com/biography/. Copy held on ADB file

Citation details

Toby Burrows, 'McComb, David Richard (1962–1999)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mccomb-david-richard-32434/text40226, published online 2022, accessed online 3 December 2022.

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