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Deborah Conway – Women In Song at The Tanks

Known as one of Australia’s most profound and influential contemporary female artists, Deborah Conway returns to Tanks Arts Centre on Fri 4th March as part of the 15th annual International Women’s Day music event, which recognises women for their achievements in the arts, and boasts some of the best local and national performers on the scene.

Conway is well known for her powerful voice and being a rare female agitator for the past 30 years in a male dominated music industry. Catching up with Deborah recently and hearing her thoughts on the industry and equality, it was a timely reminder of how ever changing the music business is.

“I’m not of the school of thinking that women are not doing that badly in terms of equality in music in this country, I haven’t  experienced it myself, but it doesn’t at all mean it doesn’t exist. What I see is a lot of talented women getting gigs, which is a good thing. International Women’s Day has become a focus point to bring all those things together but I think it’s become more of a celebration than a whinge”.

“I think by and large women do get a pretty good go in term of in the charts and clubs. There is not as many female record executives, but let’s face it, there’s not that many record companies and record executives anymore, it’s a business that’s going down the gurglers pretty fast. It’s a whole changing dynamic.  Anybody out there who’s got some good ideas is not going to be treated any different because of their gender, and I’ve always believed that.”

Known for her eloquent song writing, Conway founded iconic post punk band Do-Re-Mi in 1981 and had a top five hit with ‘Man Overboard’ in 1985. The song was memorable for its lyrical references to pubic hair and penis envy. The band followed up with ‘The Happiest Place In Town’ in 1988 but soon disbanded with Conway perusing a successful solo career which spawned hits such as ‘It’s Only The Beginning’, ‘Release Me’ and ‘String Of Pearls’. In the mid-2000s she took a stand, forging a proudly independent path with long-time collaborator / partner Willy Zygier. Comparing the obstacles Do-Re-Mi faced in the 80’s to today modern acts, she added:

“These are interesting times, technology has put into the hands anybody with a couple thousand dollars the ability to purchase a home studio and make a record that’s perfectly acceptable for radio. That itself has undermined the totality of power that record companies always had. When I was making records it cost at least a thousand a day to go into a studio and that was cheap. Then you had your engineer and producer on top of that. Thirty thousand dollars was nothing to pay for a video clip, and those things have greatly come down in cost. Because of that there’s greatly equality between musicians and you don’t have to get a record deal, you’re probably well advised not to. You can do those things yourself. You can be your own publicist; you’ve got Facebook which puts the world at your fingertips if you have a good enough idea. The only impediment to you being successful is your ability to be creative and to think outside the square and find something that people want to listen to. If you have that, people will find you. So these are very interesting times”.

“Having said all that I think we’re living through a time now where music doesn’t speak to young people like it used to. I don’t think it is any longer the currency of popular culture. I don’t think that music has the power that it once had to unite and activate a whole bunch of people to do things they once did. That’s not at all saying it’s over, it’s not by a long way. But I feel it’s lost the principal energy of being the currency of the times. There’s not a lot of money to be made in music but it’s still a privilege to do it, I also don’t believe anyone is owed a living to this, you choose to do it. It’s a privilege to choose to do it and if you can make some money from it that’s fantastic”.

‘It’s Only The Beginning’ was a massive hit for Conway in 1991 and it helped pave the way for her ARIA award win for Best Female Artist in 1992.

“People really responded to that song and I’m not entirely sure why. I don’t believe it’s the best thing that I’ve ever done. I understand that people love that kind of optimism and there’s a tongue in cheek quality too. It’s just sounds very joyous and its very optimistic song that people respond to”.

With a common trend in music nowadays for bands to reunite and reissue, I asked the question if Do-Re-Mi had any plans of returning in the near future.

“We’ve thought long and hard about it, but we haven’t done anything about it yet. We don’t have a consensus about reuniting for a tour, but we have thought about reissuing the first record that doesn’t exist in cyber space. It’s not front of line at the moment but it has come up.”

Conway will be performing alongside some of the best local and national performers on the scene on Friday 4th March at The Tanks including Sara Storer, Mojo Juju and Fleur McMenamin.

“It’s a terrific creative venue in a beautiful setting, I’ve played at Tanks numerous times over the years and I love it there, I’m really looking forward to it”.

Deborah Conway performs at Women In Song at The Tanks Art Centre on Fri 4th March alongside Sara Storer, Mojo Juju and Fluer McMenamin. Tickets from Ticketlink. Doors open 6pm, show starts 6.30pm.

Mitch Sullivan

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