Jill Birt & Alsy MacDonald – Pic: Bill Ragan
RTRFM continues its 40th anniversary with a return to the 6UVSFM days of yore, with the free Neon Picnic at Hyde Park on Saturday, April 1, from 9am-5pm. Jill Birt, Alsy MacDonald and Martyn P. Casey of The Triffids will be there to celebrate.
Back in the ‘80s when 6UVS-FM’s Neon Picnic was the station’s major annual event, it was a different kind of music business. In pre-RTRFM mode the station was a pioneer in building a popular culture around local music and the arts, at a time when The Triffids were consistently doing something strangely similar, albeit often at the other side of the world.
“The relationship between 6UVS and The Triffids was pretty good,” recalls drummer, Alsy MacDonald, “but I recall print media, including posters, etc, being regarded as the priority for promoting independent bands. FM radio was still in its infancy and there wasn’t a big culture around independent radio like there is now. And AM radio was moving away from music.”
This was always a challenge for the station, especially in a city where commercial radio had the population’s ears by the balls. The station, not without some difficulty, evolved into RTRFM (Arts Radio) in 1991 and continued at the 92.1 mark on the FM band. The final Neon Picnic was held at the Fremantle Arts Centre in 1993, and the major annual fundraiser was reimagined as In The Pines in April, 1994, at UWA’s Somerville Auditorium. It was a tip of the that to The Triffids’ 1987 album and to the band itself, not to mention the folklore behind the original song.
“When In The Pines started that was around the time when Jill, myself and Marty returned to live in WA,” MacDonald recalls. “It’s great to think that it was in reference to The Triffids.
“I think it’s because a lot of people in the local music scene liked that album, and it was still on their minds when that event started. Just as well, because Nirvana hadn’t yet done their version,” he says of the band’s infamous version of. Lead Belly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night? on their MTV Unplugged album.
2017 is 30 years since The Triffids released In The Pines, as well as when the band stepped out with the big mainstream Aussie acts such as INXS, Jimmy Barnes, The Divinyls and more on the Australian Made footy stadium run. Memories are made of such things.
“The Australian Made tour was good exposure but it was still Oz Rock,” MacDonald says. “In the ‘80s, festivals were big in the UK and Europe but virtually unknown here. Australian Made was a good start, I suppose, but it would have been good to have smaller festivals around at that time, like some of the folk festivals that are still going. Jill and I liked Chrissy Amphlett – she was a nice person and a true star.
“1987 was definitely the year the Triffids went more mainstream, or tried to. With mixed results, I have to say. But In The Pines was released at the beginning of that year, so that was a high point.”
In recent years, The Triffids & Friends shows have been beautifully curated events celebrating the legacy of David McComb, who passed away in 1999, and indeed, continuing it.
“The Triffids show, Secret In A Shape Of A Song, was first performed at the Sydney Festival in 2008, and it was a thrilling, joyous and sad experience all at once,” MacDonald says. “It really kick-started our return to playing live again after 18 years, and nearly 10 years after Dave’s death.
“Graham Lee got those shows off the ground, bringing all those great singers and musicians together. But there’s a limit to how many three-hour shows you can do. Now they’re only two hours.
As for what’s coming up for Jill Birt and Alsy MacDonald’s musical pursuits, he’s happy to leave it open-ended.
“Nothing definite on the Jill & Alsy front after Neon Picnic, maybe a few new songs,” MacDonald says. “It’s good to be able to play a show every couple of months. We did a house party on NYE. It reminded me of when The Triffids started.”
10:30am – Pete Jeavons and Gabriel Fatin
11:30am- The Bank Holidays
12:30 pm- Simone and Girlfunkle
1:30pm – Turnstyle Lite
2:30pm – Mathas and Mates
3:10pm – Jill, Alsy and Marty (The Triffids)
4:00pm – Errol H Tout
4:30pm – Verge Collection
Full details at www.rtrfm.com.au.