A musical love letter to Sydney in the early 90s

Just in case you’re not already feeling old today, allow me to share the news that the Lemonheads’ 1992 album It’s a shame for Ray turns 30 this year. It’s celebrated with an anniversary edition featuring additional tracks, demo versions, never-before-seen photos and new liner notes.

The record isn’t just an iconic soundtrack to slacker culture, Gen X and alternative rock – it’s a love letter to Sydney in the early 90s.

You can’t talk about It’s a shame for Ray not to mention Sydney, especially the mid-west. And even more particularly, a shop called Half A Cow. At the time, I was living in Glebe, a few blocks from where the store was located on Glebe Point Road.

Nic Dalton inside the legendary Half A Cow in 1991.Credit:

I visited regularly, lugging around and spending most of my grocery money on import records, comics and books. But the shop was more than that. It was a hub for like-minded people and a place to connect. Bands and fans mingled as they leafed through the shelves. The suburb still had cheap rents, cheap restaurants and cafes where you could sit all day over a few cups of coffee, read a book or try to write the great Aussie novel.

Evan Dando had come to Australia for a tour in 1991 and met Nic Dalton, who ran Half A Cow as both a store and a record label, and played in indie rock trio The Plunderers, along with around 500 other bands. His shop was a gateway to much of the Sydney scene at the time and soon enough Dando met Tom Morgan, Dalton’s pal and Smudge singer and songwriter.

Morgan effortlessly wrote catchy tunes such as I don’t wanna be Grant McLennan, which poked fun at his struggle to differentiate himself from his heroes, at the same time turning it into a statement of intent to go his own way. Or Couch, on the surface a song about giving someone a place to crash, but underneath a song about needing company – instead of getting all soft about it, Morgan tells his friend to watch the television for as long as he wants and hang on for as long as necessary. I remember I was obsessed with Douglas Coupland Generation X at the time and those songs perfectly complemented that generational signifier of pretending not to care, but really caring.

Evan Dando, Tom Morgan and Nic Dalton at the Annandale Hotel in 1991.

Evan Dando, Tom Morgan and Nic Dalton at the Annandale Hotel in 1991. Credit:Robyn Murphy

When Dando met Morgan, something happened. They were kindred spirits. They bounced off each other. They hung out at Half A Cow, exchanging lyrics and tossing tunes at each other. Dando fell in love with Sydney and the people of the downtown rock scene. Everything said and everything he experienced was fodder. Soon he was scribbling song after song in his notebooks about the people he got to know. Many of them ended up on It’s a shame for Ray. Nic Dalton ended up joining the band as bassist.

The opening title of the album, rock walk, was written from the perspective of a toddler – specifically Milo Holmes, son of two members of pioneering Sydney band The Hummingbirds – bassist Robyn St Clare and singer-guitarist Simon Holmes. Dando saw St Clare pushing Milo in a buggy down Glebe Point Road and wondered how it was from the child’s perspective, seeing “people’s knees and tree trunks smiling at me.”