Queensland Music Festival: Australian icon Deborah Conway says "I am always heartened at how many women there are making successful careers for themselves in the Australian music industry."
If you were to list Australian women in music, there is no doubt Deborah Conway would be top of mind. Deborah is woven into the fabric of the Australian music scene in a glorious way. Coming into national consciousness with her band Do-Re-Mi, Deborah eventually moved on to find her own voice and write her own songs, releasing instant classics like Release Me and It's Only The Beginning. Deborah would go on to win an ARIA for Best Female Artist in 1992. Since then, Deborah hasn't stopped making music, and in recent years, mentoring women in music. During this year's Queensland Music Festival - of which she was the Artistic Director from 2009-2011 - Deborah has been a key part of great events such as Immersion where she played an intimate gig at Brisbane's Art Series Hotel The Johnson to a handful of fans, and spending weeks mentoring women from regional Australia as part of the Songs That Made Me series. A long time champion of women in music, from 2005 to 2008, Deborah was part of a yearly tour called Broad where toured with Australian women from Katie Noonan, Clare Bowditch, Liz Stringer, Ella Hooper, Kate Miller-Heidke, Sara and more. Deborah picked up a guitar at 18 - just under four decades ago - and hasn't put it down, releasing new music with her long-time collaborator and husband Willy Zygier just last September. A beautiful force with an iconic smile, Deborah has worked in film and as a model, but nothing is more familiar and iconic (it's really hard to write about Deborah without repeating the word "iconic") than her powerful voice. Deborah took some time to talk about women in music and her time at this year's Queensland Music Festival.
What does music mean to you?
I love writing, recording and performing music. It’s what motivates my working life and I feel so happy that I am able to do something that I feel passionately about that also happens to be my chosen career. I find that with being a music maker, I don’t spend so much time just listening to music - but when I do get to see a concert that inspires me, I get great joy from it.
You have been busy mentoring young women in music as part of Songs That Made Me for Queensland Music Festival - how did it all go? What did you enjoy most about the program?
We have just returned from an intense week of mentoring emerging female singer songwriters in Mount Isa, Mackay and Gladstone - there are some great talented women living outside of the metropolis in Queensland and I have every confidence that if they choose to pursue the craft and work hard they will get great satisfaction from doing so. My favourite part of this week has been listening to their songs and offering helpful criticism to improve their work. All of them took this on board with great spirit and enthusiasm.
It’s not the first time you have mentored young women. What has been your most surprising discovery with young Australian women in music?
I don’t know if it’s surprising but I am always heartened at how many women there are making successful careers for themselves in the Australian music industry. I think it gives a lie to to the APRA statistic when I look around and can reel off so many names of really talented women making great work and being feted for it.
When you were an emerging artist, which women mentored and inspired you? How has their support shaped the performer and artist you are today?
I suppose the most significant female mentor for me would have been my mother. She always told me if I set my mind to it there was nothing I couldn’t do, and crazily enough I believed her.
Who are your favourite women in music?
My favourite female performers and writers are too numerous to mention, but a short list would have to include Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Judy Garland, Gillian Welsh, Carol King, Dolly Parton, Bjork, Patti Smith, Clare Bowditch and Hannah Macklin.
What is your favourite place in Australia?
Right now, I’m dreaming of home.
What next for Deborah Conway?
I am the festival director for The Shir Madness Melbourne Jewish Music Festival, which is on this year on 3 September. It will be one massive day, 30 musical acts on four stages, and with less than eight weeks to go I have still a lot to do. We are excited to be presenting The Klezmatics & David Krakauer’s Ancestral Groove, both from New York, Renee Geyer, Tinpan Orange, The Stiletto Sisters, The Grigoryan Brothers and the list goes on. Check out here for program details.
After that I will be settling down to write and record a new album, which I hope to have out in 2019, in time to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the release of our 1994 release Bitch Epic.
Check out the final weeks and events of Queensland Music Festival here
The Shir Madness Melbourne Jewish Music Festival, is on 3 September. Info here
Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier perform at Camelot Lounge, Sydney Sunday, 27 August 2017 at 7pm. Tickets here