Today I received my Member of The Order of Australia (AM) from Governor Linda Dessau in a formal ceremony at Government House along with eleven other citizens being honoured and all our guests. The insignia is a heavy medallion of gold, beautiful & serious. The Investiture was originally scheduled for March but like everything else this year the ceremony too became another casualty of the strange melting of days into one another where nothing happens that isn’t essential and every day is like the one before. But today all that was history, the sun shone, the gardens were lush and we all greeted each other in our dressed up best, blinking into the glory of a Melbourne early summer morning. Ushered into the blue ballroom in Government House where our photos were taken and then because of COVID, we each (with our families) had a private audience to receive our honour. Willy placed the medal on my lapel, we all had a chat with our warm and personable Governor, who wished us Mazel Tov for our wedding anniversary today; and then it was done. I haven’t been able to stop smiling all day, I had no idea it would make me this happy! (With unending gratitude to LJ Young) All the pomp is fun but beyond that, it is just so remarkable to be out celebrating with family, fizz and no masks to hide our broad smiles.
This is the speech I made accepting the National Live Music Awards – NLMAs for 2019’s Living Legend. It was pretty amazing to come out on that stage to a standing ovation before I had even opened my mouth. Thank you all so much, you made an old lady very happy.
Thank you NLMA for this honour which in 2019 marks 40 years since I became a musician. I think my first gig was at an RMIT Archi Review night, attended by then young architecture student Ted Baillieu – he went on to become Premier of Victoria & I went on to do a shit load more gigs! In early 1980 I joined Melbourne prog rock band The Benders & played for 8 months in a lot of venues though not to a lot of people, I perfected the onstage bosom flash at the drummer to see if he would skip a beat, he never did. We both got jack of it & within the year had run away to Sydney to form a band. In response to the excessive playing we did with The Benders Do-Re-Mi’s first shows avoided the beer barns and grungier clubs & instead opted for Art spaces. After we were signed by management & record companies & the first single from our debut album became a surprising chart topper, we hit the road big time, around 300 gigs in that year. Wonderful memories of bellowing out Bring The Hammer Down at The Trade Union Club; playing Standing On Wires at the ANU with frenzied crowds hurling toilet rolls at the stage as stand-ins for streamers; playing Man Overboard to 100,000 people at The Milk Festival in The Hague, Amsterdam in 1986 and the Oz for Africa concert at Sydney Entertainment Centre that was televised around the world was unforgettable. We supported Culture Club, UB40, Simple Minds, too many to remember over 8 years. And then we went our separate ways.
I launched my solo career in 1989, after a few false starts & eventually recorded what become String of Pearls. It came out in 1991 and me and my band, The Mothers Of Pearl – featuring the late great Peter Jones on drums – cranked up for a year long tour. Bitch Epic came out in 1993 & me & the Mothers (who I should have renamed Sons of Bitches) hit the road again. Ultrasound was a band project with the much missed Paul Hester & there was more touring to accompany it – but the show I remember most from that year was a duo with Willy (or was it a trio) performance at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre on the 10th of February 1995, memorable for the gasp that went up from the audience as me & my 8 and1/2 month pregnant belly bounced up & down on the stage – our first daughter was born 3 days later, probably due to the aforementioned aerobics & maybe not curiously now she also treads the boards. Touring & pregnancy became inextricably linked after that, projectile vomiting is not unknown in both circles & there were a couple of shows in 1997 memorable for all the wrong reasons. Still the red sequinned dress with the gold mesh cutout heart edged with rhinestones & stretched over my belly was a crowd favourite & the ensuing progeny – 2nd daughter – has become a gifted singer in her own right. I have so much to be grateful for playing with so many extraordinary musicians that I’ve toured with over 4 decades of live music performance, – from lush Symphony orchestras, to spiky avant garde jazzers, from incredible chamber ensembles to darkly energised rock n rollers, the gorgeously talented participants of the 4 iterations of Broad concerts, the all female revue; the cast of Always Patsy Cline, the concerts in celebration of David Bowie and the countless completely acoustic Summerware parties or home concerts Willy & I pioneered in 2004 for thousands of lounge-room listeners. There are so many people to thank over the course of a 40 year career & I haven’t time to mention everyone’s name – to all the wonderful men & women who I have ever been in a band with, some gone to G-d, though most still with us; you guys are the best of the best, to all the wonderful artists who have ever said yes to one of my hair-brained schemes; to Dorland Bray, Stephen Phillip, Helen Carter & Keith Welsh, to Michael Gudinski, Amanda Pelman, Frank Stivala, Richard Pleasance, Peter Farnan, Andrée Greenwell, Jon Nichols, Mark O’Meara, Pierre Baroni, Roger Grierson, James Black, Gerry Hale, Dave Williams, Vika & Linda Bull,Jack Spira, Paulie Higgison, Miranda Brown, Deborah Murphy, Erica Hart, Kate Ceberano, Paul Grabowsky & Paul Mason; to my long suffering parents who sent me to a shrink when I joined my first band but who eventually became my biggest fans, to my sister Shellie who has been there through the thick & the thin, to our glorious grown up daughters who have provided songwriting inspiration & lent their vocal talents to shows & records, and to our stalwart fans the Bitch Listers (LJ, Pez, Groubes, you all know who you are) who support our shows & work so hard to spread the word beyond our coterie of followers – to all of you who have believed in our varied endeavours & unconventional methods – huge gratitude.
But let’s get back to 1991. I was putting a band together to embark on an extensive touring schedule to promote my debut album. One guitarist came highly recommended. Willy Zygier was a gifted player with an unusual pedigree having worked as a sideman jazzer for Vince Jones & other luminaries but had also led a number of his own alternative art bands. He turned down my first offer saying his band had a gig. Not to be deterred & frankly intrigued to meet a musician who would turn down a year’s worth of touring for a single show, I pushed back my tour start date and tried again. We met for tea at my East St Kilda flat next to the Sandringham line & thus began a partnership that has produced more than 10 albums, 4 concert series of Broad, 3 children, 2 Jewish Music Festivals, countless live shows & concert tours and that has inspired me for the best part of the last 30 years. I believe the last three albums we have made constitute our best work so far and I think we have more to say! So tonight while I am absolutely thrilled to accept this wonderful accolade, it must be shared equally with my insanely talented husband, co-songwriter, collaborator, toughest critic, father of my 3 daughters & best friend Willy Zygier. Homo sapiens have been participating in the creation of live music in some form or other for millennia for sacred & secular reasons. On the other hand the history of recorded music is a minuscule brief 130 years old though it’s had an incredible impact on how we think music should sound now. Ironically with the advent of increasingly sophisticated methods of both documenting and distributing recorded music we have come to an interesting historical moment in our industry, once again recorded music is secondary to live music, it is merely the calling card for the real deal which happens in venues from vast to intimate everywhere. Who could have predicted that, and what a wonderfully surprising outcome. While I have heard some despairing about the decline of record sales signalling the end of music, I prefer to believe it’s only the beginning…. Thank you everyone
Playing songs live and unedited
This is the school holiday 1st episode of The Willy and Deborah Home Show. 25 minutes from what would normally be devoted quality child time has been ripped away from innocent children to provide listeners with a brief insight into the studio sanctum of Conway and Zygier.
Stay On Track
Accidents Happen In The Home
Find it at http://www.roocast.com/showdetail,conmap,406
The availability of the new Oxfam double compilation (containing one of our
tracks) for Tsunami rehabilitation has been announced.
The CD features hand-picked tracks from the cream of Australia’s music
scene, including George, The Black Sorrows, Stephen Cummings, Women in Docs,
Abbie Cardwell, Mark Seymour, Colin Hay, Jess McAvoy, Vika and Linda,
Deborah Conway, Fruit, Monique Brumby, Jimmy Little, My Friend the Chocolate
Cake, David Bridie, Dom Mariani, Honey, Fogg, Car Stereo Wars, Majestic
Kelp, Petronella, Mick Hart, Bakelite Radio, Mick Thomas, Miles from
Nowhere, The Re-Mains, Marcia Howard, Marcel Borrack and Nick Barker.
All artists are waiving their royalties and the CD has been completely
organised by volunteers, meaning that the vast bulk of the retail price will
go directly to Oxfam Tsunami Aid.
The Double CD is available for $35 and can be ordered now from Oxfam’s
online shop at www.oxfamtrading.org.au. You can also purchase the CD or
pick up an order form from participating Video Ezy stores (who are
completely waiving their normal retail margin) from Mon April 25.