The Triffids were one of the first Aussie bands to break into the UK, well before The Vines, Jet or The Sleepy Jackson. COLIN DELANEY chatted to guitarist Graham Lee about being rejected by his homeland, finding favour in Ol’ Blighty and being on the cover of NME in 1985.

For those who may have missed The Triffids’ heyday – how would you describe yourselves? In the early ’80s several bands of very good quality had to leave Australian shores to find success – Nick Cave and The Birthday Party, The Go-Betweens, The Triffids and The Moodists – producing music that was out of the mainstream at the time. And the mainstream in Australia at the time, it must be admitted, was pub rock. For anything outside of that, you needed to go elsewhere to make your mark and The Triffids went to London and found favour there. After success in England, we found favour here. The band existed from the late ’70s but the band’s heyday was ’84-’89. The last gig was played at Canberra’s ANU in August 1989. We made six albums and one of The Triffids’ songs, “Wide Open Road”, has been named in the top 20 Australian songs of all time. David McComb, the writer and singer of that song unfortunately died in February 1999.

Why did you feel you needed to leave Australia for England – was it a cultural thing? At the time, yes. It was really obvious that the ceiling in Australia in regards to live music and general acceptance was very low. And we didn’t stand a chance of anything but a hard slog. We definitely would not have gone anywhere near as far as we did had we not left. The Triffids first went to the UK in ’84 and had a very immediate impact. I think The Go-Betweens gave us our first show and somehow we managed to get on the bill with Echo And The Bunnymen as a support act for a tour. It was through that and other gigs around London that influential reviewers went to that we ended up on the front cover of NME for the first issue of 1985 and the caption was “The Year Of The Triffids”. That was the year we recorded the album Born Sandy Devotional and cemented our position in the UK and parts of Europe.

Yet songs like “Estuary Bed” and ‘Wide Open Road” feel extremely Australian. Why couldn’t you find an audience here? Maybe it was the wrong kind of Australiana. It wasn’t Men At Work’s “Down Under”. It was much more understated Australian references – dogs licking at dripping garage taps – details of the Australian landscape that we were writing about. I think perhaps we were just a bit too subtle; there were no anthems. There was a darkness that maybe people wanted to ignore. These days you still have the pub rock equivalent, bands like Jet, but then you’ve got the more interesting bands coming up like The Sleepy Jackson, The Devestations and The Drones, which I guess is the equivalent of what we were doing. And interestingly, the Australian bands that are making an impact in the UK are these.

Do you think that people in the UK have always preferred darker music? Possibly. There was pub rock in the UK as well, maybe it’s just that there is a larger audience so the segment of the audience The Triffids were able to impress was the same percentage, but a percentage of a larger number. Everything is much closer there. In Australia to tour…

Too many wide open roads? Yes. You’ve got to drive up many wide open roads. Most bands can only successfully play in the capital cities, with the amount of driving that you have to do. Whereas over there you drive for a couple of hours and you’re in a different country.

And in London the fans have paid for a plaque to be revealed where you recorded Born Sandy Devotional? It’s being erected as we speak. The studio is no longer there but the building is. It might sound a bit ridiculous and it probably is but it’s going to be there for hundreds of years. It’s fans from the forum who had the idea in the first place and have had the perseverance to carry it through and pay for it. I’m very touched by it and I’d like to think that Dave McComb would be too.

Born Sandy Devotional Remastered is out now on Liberation.