Charismatic and outspoken singer/songwriter Deborah Conway (b. 1959) first came to prominence during the mid-1980s as frontperson for agit-funk band Do Ré Mi. Conway had previously sung in Melbourne punk band The Benders and taken the part of Julie in John Clark's 1982 feature film Running on Empty with Terry Serio. Do Ré Mi scored a hit with the provocative `Man Overboard' single before splitting up at the end of 1988. Conway was also named Best Australian Female Singer by Rolling Stone magazine that year.
After Do Ré Mi split, Conway initially spent time in the UK and sang on Peter Townsend's Iron Man album. In 1990 she took a small role (as a goddess) in the Peter Greenaway film Prospero's Books, which opened in December 1991. She also sang on Michael Nyman's soundtrack to the film. In the meantime, Conway had returned to Australia and worked with pub band Rose Amongst Thorns and semi-acoustic performance collective The Drawcards. Her solo career took a long time to get off the ground. Her acclaimed 1991 album String of Pearls finally came together after two years, six producers, four false starts, three continents and two record companies.
Producer Richard Pleasance (ex-Boom Crash Opera) was the catalyst in completing the album. He produced six of the album's 12 tracks in Melbourne, including the singles `It's Only the Beginning' (#19 in August 1991) and `Release Me' (#58 in February 1992). Michael Den Elzen (from Schnell Fenster) contributed guitar to the Melbourne-recorded tracks. Another single `Under My Skin' (#34 in December 1991) had been produced by Joe Hardy at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. String of Pearls peaked at #15 on the national album chart in November 1991, and went on to attain platinum status (70000 copies sold). The fourth single from the album `White Roses' (July 1992) was not successful. Nevertheless, Conway won Best Female Artist at the 1991 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Awards.
During May 1992 Conway joined The Black Sorrows, Beatfish, The Angels, The Poor, Club Hoy and Kate Ceberano in the Wizards of Oz showcase gigs in Los Angeles. Bitch Epic (with its eye-catching cover featuring a naked Conway covered in chocolate Nutella and cream) and the single `Alive and Brilliant' came out in November 1993. The CD EP `Today I am a Daisy' (April 1994) and the live album Epic Theatre followed. The Deborah Conway Band at that stage comprised Willy Zygier (guitar; ex-Tootiville), Al Harding (keyboards), Bill McDonald (bass; ex-Hot Half Hour) and Hughie Benjamin (drums; ex-Lifesavers, Big Storm, Yothu Yindi).
Conway then formed studio outfit Ultrasound with ex-Crowded House drummer Paul Hester, Bill McDonald and Willy Zygier, which resulted in the self-titled Ultrasound album. Conway and Zygier relocated to London at the end of 1995 in order to establish the singer's solo career in the UK. She returned to Australia in mid-1997 after completing her fourth solo album, My Third Husband (issued in October). The album yielded the singles `Only the Bones (Will Show)' (September) and `Ultrasound 2001' (November).
With the album My Third Husband out, Conway began touring again. As part of the 25th anniversary celebrations, Mushroom reissued ‘It’s Only the Beginning’ as a CD single (June 1998). Conway also made an appearance at the Telstra Concert of the Century/Mushroom 25th anniversary, held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 14 November 1998.
Conway recorded a new single, ‘Happy New Year’, which came out on the Pulp Entertainment label in December 1999. Produced by Richard Pleasance, that warm, nostalgic ballad was a taster for her upcoming fifth solo album, although it was not intended to be included on the album. Having left the Mushroom label, Conway signed a new deal with Shock in late 1999. Her new album, Exquisite Stereo, arrived in May 2000.
It included the new single, ‘Radio Loves This’ (March). Backing Conway in the studio was her new band, City of Women, comprising Willie Zygier, Edmond Ammendola (bass) and Dave Williams (drums), plus Cameron Reynolds (samples). Exquisite Stereo was a mature album featuring a wide variety of styles, from acoustic love song (‘You Come to Earth’) and Radiohead-styled epics (‘Interzone’) to full tilt rockers (‘I Lay Down on My Pillow and Cried All Night’).