One of the most successful acts from the post-punk years of 1978-1984 Do Re Mi – known fo the tracks Man Overboard, Idiot Grin, Standing On Wires, The Waiting Room & more) return for their very first shows since 1988! Original members Deborah Conway and Helen Carter will be joined by an all female cast for shows in Newcastle, Wollongong, Coolangatta, Geelong and Adelaide with friends of the era Icehouse, Sunnyboys, Mental As Anything and special mystery guests. Tickets are on sale now.
In 1982, two Melbournites and two Sydneysiders – Deborah Conway/Dorland Bray, and Stephen Philip/Helen Carter respectively – released their first independent record, which appeared with no title except for the band’s name and little other information. It became known as the Green EP, partly because it was released on the label of the same name, and partly because the cover was, well, green.
Reviews of this early independent work were polarised, from Stuart Matchett’s glowing appreciation of the band’s first EP in 1982: Not only is this an impressive debut from an Australian band, but one of the best records released in recent months…
to Toby Creswell’s stinging assessment in Rolling Stone: [the group] smacks of the worst kind of rock indulgence…
Featuring the Alternative Radio hit Standing on Wires, a commentary on humankind’s perpetuation of war – ‘now, we’re standing on wires, motionless waiting to burn’ – the Green EP quickly went into a second pressing and gave the band impetus to release a second EP soon after. The Waiting Room’s intense, political songs featured prototype versions of both Man Overboard and Disneyland, the former being re-recorded for the band’s classic debut Domestic Harmony.
Do Re Mi started playing live at venues across Sydney, drawing increasingly bigger crowds and developing a tight, confident sound. Female artists who broke into the mainstream charts of the 80s were likely to be Pop, R ‘n’ B or Disco-tinged. Deborah Conway’s voice combined a passion and strength that woke the nation, soaring over the riff-rich and funky music provided by Helen Carter (bass), Stephen Philip (guitar) and Dorland Bray (drums). They shared equal song writing credits and acted largely as a collective, crossing over into the broader creative arts scene that was burgeoning in inner-city Sydney.
It’s May 1985 and Virgin Records execs in London and Sydney are worried. Their first Australian signing, the staunchly independent Do Re Mi, wants to release Man Overboard as the first single from their debut album Domestic Harmony. Mainstream radio won’t play the single unless the band cuts the controversial lyrics ‘your pubic hair is on my pillow’ and ‘you talk about penis envy, your friends applaud’. Predictably, the band refuses.
Man Overboard – with lyrics intact – went on to reach the Top 5 in Australia and critical acclaim in Europe and the UK. The subsequent singles, Warnings Moving Clockwise and Idiot Grin also charted. Domestic Harmony reached #4 in the mainstream charts and Gold album sales in October ’85 with the help of hundreds of live shows, critical acclaim, a solid schedule of TV and radio performances and positive press reviews. In 1986 Domestic Harmony won three Countdown Awards – the pinnacle of achievement in Australian music at the time. Numerous other press and popular awards also cemented their crossover success.
Most Australian bands have nothing to say and they keep saying it: Domestic Harmony brims with fantastic illusions and aural extravaganzas, a magic box full of tricks so sublime they never cease to captivate…
The years 1986 and 1987 saw the band touring Australia, Europe and the UK, finally settling into the studio with legendary producer Martin Rushent to record their second album Happiest Place in Town, the ironic title inspired by a derelict fun parlour on Sydney’s George Street. Happiest Place in Town was released in February 1988, with the first single Adultery being a typically in-your-face, socially taboo barbecue stopper. Melodic and rich, Adultery was a love song, but not as we know it.
King of Moomba was the follow up single and highlighted the band’s ability for complex yet danceable rhythms, a strength sometimes incongruous with their powerful social commentary:
Layers of spinning guitars and snatches of fluttering brass with the winds of Africa stalking the arrangement. This is pop with a capital punch, an amusing vignette of local colour, culture and craziness.
The strident Haunt You was the third single and established Happiest Place in Town as a worthy follow up to Domestic Harmony, and what some called the band’s best:
Haunt You, which opens the album, scorches like the Divinyls or the Eurythmics at their hottest…
Do Re Mi was determined to stay steady on the wave of success and headed back to the UK to record their third album, again with Martin Rushent producing. It was an intense period of song writing resulting in 12 new songs that burned with creative riff-meistery. On the edge of their next adventure, Do Re Mi split. Depending on who’s telling the story, the cause was either a planned hiatus, a record company plot, or a bizarre gardening accident. Whatever happened, Do Re Mi did a few final shows in the UK and went their separate ways.
Deborah Conway has forged a successful career spanning an impressive range of styles, from the pure pop of 1991’s String of Pearls to her most recent release, Everybody’s Begging, an intense and beautiful collection of songs about Judaism, family and the riddles of human existence. Helen Carter and Stephen Philip continued to play live and record demos throughout the 1990s, and Dorland Bray wrote and recorded with Ghostwriters.
Deb and Helen remained in regular contact and about ten years ago, started toying with the idea of reinventing Do Re Mi. They wanted to create something connected but not chained to the past and reflect on what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. Helen Carter reflects: Playing those songs again and listening to the words, I’m struck by how danceable they are and sadly, how the forces we railed against persist. Those songs are still relevant and it goes to show how long it takes for real social change to happen. It reminds me of a hilarious letter-to-the-editor of Blitz magazine in 1988, where this guy says, ‘I attended Do Re Mi’s concert at the Mansfield Tavern…I paid $6 to get in and was entertained quite well…by the hairiest-legged female singer I have EVER seen. Please, someone lend her a razor!’ I mean seriously, if it weren’t so tragic it’d be even funnier!
Deborah Conway is relaxed: After 30 years we’re opening a time capsule and rediscovering artefacts that have been out of circulation for more than half my lifetime. Breathing life back into this treasure trove of tunes, words, riffs & rhythms is a loving enterprise. I come to them again with an appreciation of our passion, affection for our naivety & awe of our energy; I am looking forward to reopening that time capsule for our older & wiser audiences & for their great grandchildren 😉
The two have joined forces for a short series of festival and headline shows in early 2019. The reinvented Do Re Mi will feature Deb and Helen, plus a female drummer, guitarist and keyboard player to complete the line-up. Why the all-female line-up? Put simply, it is a well-timed moment to showcase women playing the type of strident, challenging music the songs of Do Re Mi represent. Balancing the gender scales, if you like. Always asking questions, debating the answers, and having fun making a damn fine racket.