My first glimpse of Deborah Conway was on Countdown in the Man Overboard film clip and I was sold. Her voice was unlike anything I had heard before; strong, loud, angry and took no prisoners, but also beautiful and haunting. Do Re Mi was the name of her band, and they were rock/pop with an angsty grunge overtone, before angsty and grunge were used as musical terms! Then the band split and that was that.
During this time Deborah also performed/dubbed the lead vocals for The Takeaways, a fictional band on the television show, Sweet and Sour. Tracey Mann's character sang with Deborah's voice!!! Great show and music though. It was also during this time, that Deborah was with Paul Hester of Split Enz, (then Crowded House), and what a pair they made.
Basically, I wanted to be her when I grew up, I must have been 13 or 14.
In the early 90s she released her stunning solo debut album, String of Pearls, one of my all time favourite albums. Its songs of falling in and out of love were the backdrop to a romance of my own at the time, enhancing my love of the album. Her follow up Bitch Epic, with an amazing shot on the front with a nude Deborah covered in chocolate, was also excellent.
She continued to release solo albums during the 90s all of which were great but did not live up to the giddy heights of the first two. She drifted out of the radar of charts and commerical radio in the 2000s, but had continued to release thoughtful albums independently with her husband, Willy Zygier. Willy is an astonishing guitar player and whilst having no real commercial success, I feel they are delivering some of their best work.
I saw her live twice in the early 90s and was blown away at her amazing stage presence and that voice, she sounded far better live than she ever did on recordings...which were brilliant! And whilst a band certainly added to the impact of her songs and voice, really all she needed was a guitar and she had you in the palm of her hand.
The second time I saw her my friends' band, The Hipslingers, supported her. This was very exciting, even though the venue was The Castle. I'm sure Novocastrians of refined and real taste would never have had the horror of entering through the front doors of The Castle! Hardly a rock venue and not a venue I would consider attending normally, it was not the right choice for these individuals. I was mortified, but not at all surprised, at how rude the 'audience' were, talking loudly through both performances. That aside, it was an awesome night of superb entertainment.
And so the years turn and whilst never forgotten, she hasn't been at the forefront of my musical turntable. Occasionally I would hear a tune, of see her mentioned, and even see her tour, but somehow the stars never aligned.
Then finally, A & I got tickets to see her at Lizotte's last week, and it was sublime. Just Deborah and Willy and amped up guitars. Their latest album, Stories of Ghosts, is a tribute to their Jewish heritage! So deep subject matter, but beautiful songs.
Lizotte's is like heaven for me. I can take or leave clubs and pubs unless a good band is playing. The first time I went there I knew I had come home. It's quirky musical and scrabble tribute stylings, laid back and uncrowded positioning of tables, black and burgundy furnishings. A harp in the old Go Go dancer cage and vinyl records stapled to the walls...even in the bathrooms. If I owned a club, this is pretty much what it would look like.
There was no support act this night, A & I had a drink and a meal and were waiting on dessert when Deborah and Willy took to the stage.
Deborah looked gorgeous in a deep red frock, hair short, and an old acoustic guitar. Willy resplendent in a suit and tie, and a range of guitars and a mandolin.
Deborah was loud yet shy, whereas Willy was quiet and restrained yet confident. A complementary couple, comfortable performing together, 22 years Deborah said at one point...making us all feel a little old. Her voice was as stunning as ever, possibly better than I ever heard it, her range gobsmacking, hitting a few operatic notes at times. Willy's guitar playing had me transfixed, he was gentle but a maestro.
They played the new album in order, in its entirety, bar the last song. Deep, philosophical songs, but beautiful and pounding rhythms and melodies, I was impressed. Deborah told little stories along the way, it was a lovely experience, sipping my wine, partaking my dessert, being swept away by their music and their heart and souls.
The 'second' part of the show - there was no intermission - featured older songs, a selection that covered over 20 years. They played String of Pearls, the title track from the most popular album, and she was a little reluctant to play it, almost unsure, and Willy had to coax her along. She said she stuffed it up a few shows ago, but maybe the heady heights of the past are hard to live up to. She shouldn't worry, it was beautifully played and well received. She followed it up with Today I am a Daisy, a fun song that I had totally forgotten existed...these are moments I love in a concert. You know an artist so well, but forget the little gems and they surprise you when they appear.
They did an encore that featured a Jewish ditty, and a 20s/30s blues song, the name escapes me, but was a perfect showcase for Deborah's deep, amazing voice.
And then it was over, we all wanted more. I really wished she had sung my favourite song, Buried treasure, a song that has been resonating more and more with me in recent times, but as the Stones sang, You can't always get what you want!
And then came the moment, and this is the reason I most adore Lizotte's, where the musicians come out to the front foyer to sell their CDs. I didn't have the new album, had been holding off purchasing it for this very reason, nor the one before. At 2 for $50, you know you money is going straight to the people who deserve it, I love that!!!
So, I lined up, nervous, as much as I adore Deborah, she is a little bit intimidating, those big dark eyes and strong features, I imagine she doesn't suffer fools gladly and neither do I! What do you say, I hate those gushy, vacuous exchanges. The chick before me, got Deborah to sign her gold jacket (yes, gold jacket!), I do not think Deborah was impressed.
I selected my discs, and gingerly approached and of course was a total dope, A reckons I was cool and she was impressed, but she's my friend, she has to say that!
I vaguely remember handing over my money and saying great concert or something like that, looked into Deborah's eyes, freaked out and turned my attention to Willy! I told him I thought he was an excellent guitar player, then realised that sounded a bit odd, so I said I knew that from your records, but seeing you made me realise how very good you were. He took it in his stride, as did Deborah. And then in a style, known only to me, I continued (rather than stepping away) and asked him about the transition from guitar to mandolin...something I genuinely was interested in, as have been wanting to do it myself for some time. he gave me some advice and we chatted a bit, Deborah also added he was a great sax player. Again, I couldn't help myself and before I knew it I had uttered the words, I play the flute...WTF!?!?! I then added, oh god, that's so daggy and Deborah replied she thought I'd be a groovy flute player, unsure whether she was genuine or taking the piss, I took the CDs they had so generously signed and disappeared out the front door, mortified but still on that gig high.
Funny story nonetheless, and really, so awkwardly me, I am hardly surprised by the exchange at all.
I'll include some videos now, for your listening pleasure:
I sooo wanted that jacket of hers!
Release Me, first track from String of Pearls, great vocals and lyrics.
It's Only The Beginning, the big hit off String of Pearls, fun film clip!
Today I Am A Daisy, from Bitch Epic. Video not great, but sounds good!
A favourite duet from Rockwiz, with Tex Perkins, on Love Hurts (one of my favourite songs)
God, from the new album, with God played by Deborah...of course.
The Writing's on the Wall, also the new album, beautiful.