Do Re Mi

Like The Saints pre-empted punk, Do Re Mi were at the forefront of women breaking into the boys club called rock’n’roll. In retrospect too much importance can be placed on the fact that Do Re Mi was sexually balanced – two women and two men. It’s also something that can be underestimated in its significance. From Do Re Mi’s point of view it just was what it was, no specific agenda at hand, but where it mattered was in the impact that it had on the music Do Re Mi played and the songs they wrote. The women in Do Re Mi weren’t trying to be ‘men’ (rock chicks). The four members of Do Re Mi were equal partners.

Singer Deborah Conway had a few career options open to her. Her looks offered her a potentially lucrative modelling career. She was on the doorstep of an acting career (appearing in the movie ‘Running On Empty’). But she preferred to sing in a Melbourne r&b group, the Benders, joining around the same time as drummer Dorland Bray.

Dorland and Deborah both sensed there was something more they could do with their music, and moved from Melbourne to Sydney to find it. Before the Benders Dorland had played in a punk band, the News. In Sydney they teamed with Helen Carter, who’d played in a punk band called Friction. In August 1982 they started writing a new batch of songs . Initially guitarist Stephen Philip was brought in just to help out in the studio, but he fitted in so well he became an official Do Re Mi member. Stephen also had a punk background. The music they were writing and recording cast a much wider musical net. What they carried with them from their punk days was that their music had something to say.

The first EP was well received by radio stations. Do Re Mi reacted against that, and threw caution to the wind the next time around. Their second independent-label EP, ‘The Waiting Room’, contained ‘Man Overboard’, an anti-love song from a woman’s point of view that dared to have the words “penis envy”and “pubic hair”in the lyrics. Featured on the EP were the Laughing Clowns’ brass section, Louise Elloitt and Peter Doyle.

Do Re Mi was in no hurry to get rich and famous. It was three years before the group recorded its first album, when Virgin Records, recently arrived in Australia, decided to get into local record production. They signed Do Re Mi in August 1984 and sent the band to London to record with producer Gavin McKillop, known for his work with Heaven 17 and PiL. The songs on ‘Domestic Harmony’, all written in Australia before they left, were full of Australian inspirations. For all their musical aspirations the songs showed that Do Re Mi mixed with more than the music fraternity. Do Re Mi had a grip on the real world out there. The album also contained a reworked version of ‘Man Overboard’, which became Do Re Mi’s first hit single. Not only were the lyrics intelligent, ‘Man Overboard’ was also a fine pop song in its own right.

With hit records, Countdown Awards and pop star status behind them Do Re Mi returned to London to record a second album. It says something about the way Virgin Records was thinking that they chose Human League producer Martin Rushent to supervise this time. ‘The Happiest Place In Town’ was another strong album, with even more emphasis on the pop accessibility of the songs. The album’s centrepiece was the single ‘Adultery’.

Do Re Mi was in the middle of recording a third album when Virgin advised them that they wanted a solo album from Deborah Conway first. That third album never happened. Do Re Mi disintegrated at the end of 1988.

Eventually (it took some time, and without Virgin) Deborah embarked on that solo career. Dorland Bray ended up working on the first Ghostwriters album with Rob Hirst and Rick Grossman. Helen Carter and Stephen Philip formed Lupi.