Consider this a palate cleanser. Or a curative. Or at least an alternative to give you hope in a week where the astonishing (but not surprising) details of the conditions under which many employees had to work at Sony Music Australia were revealed by The Guardian, immediately after the sudden (but very surprising) departure of the man who had run the company for 35 years, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.
A record label operating on different principles as much as different scale, Half A Cow was – 15 years ago when marking its “sweet 16th” – and still is today, a remarkable success story. Wind Back Wednesday flips through the shelves in 2006 to examines its music fan-based history with chief Cow (the full Half?), Nic Dalton.
The young Nic Dalton was an obsessive music fan. The kind who as a pre-teen was always coming up with names and designing album covers for imagined bands. The kind who wondered what it would have been like to have played a part in the early days of his favourite bands, The Beatles, Velvet Underground, The Zombies. And then mimicked them in his own bands.
The grown-up Dalton is still an obsessive music fan. A tragic even. But for the past 16 years he's been the kind of obsessive who didn't just play music (with dozens of bands including The Lemonheads at the height of their international fame) but ran first a book/comic/music store in Glebe and then a record label dedicated to releasing nearly 150 albums and singles by 40 artists and bands for whom pop music mattered.
That label, Half A Cow, this year celebrates its 16th anniversary, an appropriate landmark as Dalton explains with typical pop nerd thoroughness for song titles and lyrical hooks: "I thought 15 sounds boring but 16 is pop: 'sweet 16', 'you're 16'."
The anniversary is being marked tomorrow by a giant concert featuring as many of the Half A Cow acts as can be mustered, including Dog Trumpet, the home of the Doherty brothers from Mental As Anything, and the man described by one broadcaster recently as "the jewel in the crown of the Sydney music scene", Bernie Hayes.
However, perhaps the most fitting marker is the newly released Half A Cow album She Loves You Too, a collection of great Australian female pop and rock singers from the ‘60s to the ‘90s.
Or at least, 11 fabulously imagined and recreated (by Dalton and friends) female pop and rock singers such as 1988's most played song on radio, June Jones' Don't Let The Sun Melt Into The Sea, '60s starlet Amy Livingstone, represented by a 1968 recording on the Beatles' original label, Parlophone, and controversial Starsign and her mid-90s hedonist's favourite I Want To Have An Affair.
Lovingly tended, with authentically reproduced covers, publicity photos and detailed liner notes explaining the history of each of the "stars", She Loves You Too is an alternative universe full of songs which should have been, and may yet be, hits.
"All I had to do was ask those Half A Cow people to write a song and then find the singers," a still excited Dalton says. ""I'm a fan of everything from the ‘60s onwards and it's all in there. When I was mixing it [a fellow musician] said there is no one in Sydney who could have done this except you."
The friend was right.
The attention to detail (right down to faded price stickers) is one of the hallmarks of a HAC release, particularly their re-issues which have included collections of original '60s garage punks The Missing Links and '80s semi legends The Eastern Dark.
And all this from an idea hatched in 1990 with little to no planning, when Dalton's parents' Glebe bookstore became available at the same time as his then group, Love Positions, had an album to put out. Having already had the idea for the half a cow logo and name (of course), Dalton just took his dreams one step further.
"I never sat down and thought I'm going to start the label because there's a gap. It just grew each year as I put out another few records," he explains. "There was no set plan; I just loved music."
Among the latest releases by Half A Cow are new records by The Finalists, Tom Ryder, Wilding and a compilation of early Nic Dalton solo recordings. Find them and more at halfacow.com.au