ARIA BEST FEMALE ARTIST Deborah Conway – String of Pearls 1992

It’s Only the Beginning (D Conway/S Cutler) – Deborah Conway 1991

Deborah Conway had never been less than alluring, candid and free-spirited as a songwriter and performer with such bands as the Benders, Do-Re-Mi and Rose Amongst Thorns, her appearance at Fremantle’s Fly By Night Club in front of 700 fans was notable not only for her performance, but the fact that the she was eight months pregnant and had cut a hole in the front of her red dress through which her baby belly protruded, predictably the fans lapped it up.

She had added film roles (Running on Empty, Prospero’s Books), and overseas experience providing backing vocals on Pete Townshend’s album Iron Man to her CV before she returned to Australia in 1990, with a clutch of original songs and by 1991 she was focused on recording her first solo album, String of Pearls.

The album was recorded at the Metropolis Studios (Melb) and Ardent Studios (Memphis) with producers American Joe Hardy, former Broderick Smith guitarist Michael den Elzen and former Boom Crash Opera bassist Richard Pleasance (Paul Kelly, James Reyne, Suzanne Vega).

Sunny, uplifting, slightly bittersweet lyrics, bathed in sprightly melodic pop, had not been Conway’s stock-in trade to this time, angsty and ironic were more typical, with a stringent, funky, post-punk backbeat overlaid with assertive observations about sexual politics.

But Conway was looking for new inspiration and working with different people, co-composer Scott Cutler had been a member of Ednaswap and co-composer of Natalie Imbruglia’s mega-hit Torn, he had also crafted hits for Sinead O’Connor, Madonna and Beyonce, Richard Pleasance would produce the session and the title track would become the first single lifted off the album.

The song fairly rollicks along with a stream of verses that capture the blissful rapture of falling in love “But I’ve already gone and lost my mind/ I feel like making daisy chains/ And playing hide ‘n’ seek… “It’s like a movie, and your my leading man/ The way you woo me just like Cary Grant/ You wanna hold my hand…” you have to wonder if Deborah is being facetious and sending herself up here, with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek, as she barely suppresses a sly grin.

 

She has said that she thought the song was excessively “happy” but its lyrical simplicity and bonhomie works well with the jangly, ringing guitar pop of the melody. The promo video was a 1930’s period piece with Deborah and two others in appropriate costume making up a golfing threesome, autumnal colors, dappled sunlight, plaid skirts, tartan blanket, and plus fours, add to the retro feel and Conway is positively radiant and as giddy and infatuated as a young girl who is head-over-heels-in-love would be, it was her biggest solo hit at #19, the album was also successful charting at #21, and Deborah picked up the ARIA award for Best Female Artist in 1992 for String of Pearls.

She followed up in 1993 with the album Bitch Epic, the cover art featured a topless Conway smeared in Nutella and was a clue to the rich and musically complex songs within, exemplified by the 5/4 beat of Alive and Brilliant and the loping rhythm of Today I Am a Daisy, she also mesmerised audiences when she toured her stage production Always…Patsy Cline to great acclaim nationally.
Deborah continues to write and record in a mutually fulfilling collaborative partnership with her husband and fellow musician Willy Zygier, and plans to release her eleventh album in 2019 and celebrate the 25th anniversary of Bitch Epic, with a national tour.

 

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