There was a while when the capital of Australia – Canberra of course – punched way above its weight in terms of music – legendary bands like The Church, The Lighthouse Keepers, The Falling Joys, Youth Group and the Plunderers all made their way out of the remote sterile planned city to greater things in Melbourne, Sydney and in some cases, the world.
One of the main members of the Plunderers was Nic Dalton – later to become owner of iconic Half a Cow Records (and subject of an interview with me last year in celebration of its 30 year anniversary). With stints in The Lemonheads and Ratcat, Dalton has had a formidable history in some significant bands, but during this entire time he worked on solo material recorded alone at night mostly on a TASCAM 244 four-track: the essential tool for many bedrooms artists in the eighties.
For the first time, Dalton is releasing a collection of this material on vinyl. Named ‘Romolo’ after a terrace house in Victoria Street where the Plunderers lived in when they relocated from Canberra to Melbourne before ending up in Sydney, this is a piece of tangible musical history: an era of low-fi, self produced grunge/pop – a definable era in Australian indie music where the term ‘indie’ really meant what it said on the label. Dalton has called this the ‘Glebe’ sound after the inner west suburb of Sydney that was the centre of cool in the eighties.
The influences of this period are immeasurable – Dalton’s time in The Lemonheads was influential to their sound and this sound part of a movement that included bands like Dinosaur Jnr and Pavement. All seamlessly merging into grunge and the rise of Nirvana and later, bands like the Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Essentially gorgeous pop melodies with naive lyrics wrapped in a fuzzy, unfussy musical cloak.
The eleven songs on the LP ‘Romolo’ were recorded between 1986 and 1988 and appeared on various CDs.
The quality is crystal clear despite the limitations of the technology. ‘Good To Me #2’ opens with its gorgeously naive and direct lyrics and sixties style backing vocals. There is no denying how much it (and many of the other tracks) owes to Velvet Underground – the slamming percussion and the three chord simplicity with a cool laid back attitude. ‘Taking the Easy Way Out’ continues this vibe with its backing doo-wops and sense of vulnerability.
And when Dalton rocks out, you can wallow in the delightful fuzz and buzz – ‘Turn Around’ creates an immediate mental link through to bands like Rat Cat and later Jet – rollercoaster-paced dirty pop with anarchic unhinged solos. Quite exhilarating.
‘Believe Me’ has a fast paced helter skelter pace that recalls Radio Birdman era Australian rock – setting a blistering pace with a delicious mayhem.
‘Anniversary Song’ is a display of the variety in ‘Romolo’- a more complex and nuanced track that veers ever so slightly into a psychedelic swirl.
The common threads throughout ‘Romolo’ are the gorgeous melodies – verse and choruses that ingrain themselves in your head – and the youthful, almost innocent joie de vivre. It’s a vignette of another life.
This album, limited to 100 copies, is an absolutely invaluable piece of musical history: a veritable aural snapshot of (for me) the inner city music scene in Sydney in the eighties and nineties. You can order the album through the link below: