Monday, August 11, 2008

Great Australian Albums - Born Sandy Devotional

I knew him as a gentle young man,
I cannot say the reasons for his decline
We watched him fade before our very eyes
And years before his time, and years before his time.

With these sadly prophetic lines from Tender Is The Night, the moving Great Australian Albums - Born Sandy Devotional concluded with a dedication to David McComb (17/2/62 - 2/2/99). The film, which tells the story of The Triffids, in particular focusing on their classic album Born Sandy Devotional, is part of the Sounds on Screen strand of the Sydney Film Festival, and screened to a nearly full Metro Theatre, more traditionally a music concert venue.

It will also be the last episode in the Great Australian Albums series to be screened on SBS (Australian television channel) from late July. The series features one classic Australian album per decade, the other albums to be featured being:

Silverchair - Diorama
Crowded House - Woodface (not the most obvious choice of album, IMO)
The Saints - I'M Stranded

After the screening tonight, there was a Q&A featuring filmmakers Martin Fabinyi, Toby Creswell, Danielle Kelly, and Larry Meltzer, hosted by SMH music critic Bernard Zuel. Hopefully a sufficiently enthusiastic reaction to the series (and DVD - good news for overseas fans) will encourage SBS or others to document more of Australia's music heritage.

The film itself has a low-budget, home movie feel, which tied in with the home made aesthetic of the Triffid's album (if not reflecting the production values, which are excellent, especially obvious in last year's re-mastered release). As well as some great archival footage, it features interviews with remaining band members Robert McComb (David's older brother), 'Evil' Graham Lee (described as the keeper of the The Triffid's flame), keyboardist Jill Birt, and finally drummer Alsy Macdonald, who got the laugh of the night describing his isolation stuck with his drum kit in the attic at the Mark Angelo studios in Farringdon as the band recorded the album (and had all the fun) downstairs.

Also featured are Australian musicians such as Paul Kelly, Steve Kilbey from The Church, and former The Go-Betweens Amanda Brown and Robert Forster. Paul Kelly describes how he has tried and failed to cover Wide Open Road, unable to find a new angle on the song, considering it perfect as it is. Steve Kilbey, a passionate fan, described it as Australia's PlayBorn to Run, but I guess he doesn't share Paul Kelly's opinion on covering the track, given there's a version on the Church's latest album, El Momento Siguente.

As well as focusing on the music and making of BSD, the documentary delivers a brief history of the band and its position in Aussie rock history. Much is made of the sense of light and space in the Triffids music, and many of the fans and friends of the band recalled how evocative of an Australian childhood the music is.

In that sense, much is made of how Born Sandy Devotional is not just a great rock album, but a Great Australian Album; but this tribute (really the best term for the documentary) is for all fans of great song-writing and great music, whatever nationality.

Originally published 13th June, 2007 on
The DVD has now been released; and all 4 documentaries can now be purchased as a box-set. At the 2008 Festival, the first instalment of Great Australian Albums Series 2 screened, featuring
Nick Cave's Murder Ballads. Other albums in series 2 are:

Powderfinger - Odyssey Number 5
The Go-Betweens - 16 Lover's Lane
Hunters & Collectors - Human Frailty

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