Debbie Harwood performed with Pacific funk band Big Sideways and did time in music promotion and managing bands, before releasing her debut single ‘If That’ll Make You Happy’ in 1985. It won her a NZ Music Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist. A second award followed for 'Blue Water', a one-off collaboration with Johnny Bongo. Her involvement with highly successful all female act When the Cat’s Away has dominated her subsequent career. Harwood has also performed live with Jimmy Barnes and Moana Maniapoto, and been a passionate advocate for women musicians.
Debbie Harwood and Johnny Bongo (John Quigley, formerly of The Bongos) were members of early 80s Auckland band Big Sideways. Harwood then released two solo singles and won Most Promising Female Vocalist at the 1985 NZ Music Awards. The pair teamed up for what became a one-off studio project which yielded the single ‘Blue Water’. It won them Most Promising Group in 1987 (although they never actually performed live). Harwood went on to form the hugely successful When The Cat’s Away. Quigley is a member of Auckland acoustic jazz act Nairobi Trio.
Before forming When The Cat’s Away, Debbie Harwood collaborated with Johnny Bongo (John Quigley) on this one-off project which won them Most Promising Group at the 1987 NZ Music Awards. The music video was funded by Harwood with money earned from waitressing. Director Jed Town (of Fetus Productions) keeps his palette very aqua but resists the temptation to get more literal with the subject matter, instead opting for layers of abstract watery textures to frame Harwood’s vocals (although a brief glimpse of a gnashing shark hints at Town's more macabre side).
Following the demise of Pacific Funk band Big Sideways, vocalist Debbie Harwood launched a solo career with this cover of an Ashford and Simpson song written for Gladys Knight and the Pips. The single was dedicated to recently deceased Dragon keyboards player Paul Hewson, and it won Harwood a NZ Music Award (at a ceremony which provided the impetus for the formation of When the Cat’s Away). The video, produced by TVNZ at Avalon, is a straightforward studio performance, but is notable for the extended, two minute long tracking shot that comprises its second half.
This four-part TVNZ series from 1986 surveyed the history of soul music, with a roll call of talented Kiwi performers belting out the genre's classics. In this first episode — presented by Dalvanius with Stevie Wonder braids — the focus is on the influential 60s soul music of New York label Atlantic Records. Singers include Bunny Walters, Debbie Harwood, The Yandall Sisters, Peter Morgan and more. Ardijah chime in with their contemporary soul hit ‘Your Love is Blind’. The series writer was Murray Cammick, founder of music magazine Rip It Up.
Jason Gunn and sidekick Thingee present a Christmas Day special as only they can. Guests include Wonder Dogs host Mark Leishman, singers Debbie Harwood and Kim Willoughby and All Black Va’aiga “Inga the Winger” Tuigamala. The fate of Christmas dinner hangs in the balance as guests and audience members take part in competitions that include an unfortunate way to make eggnog. Some bizarre presents are exchanged and there’s a cameo for Gunn's Mum. Jason also manages a Paul Holmes impression (along with some Frank Spencer and a dash of Rik Mayall).
This concert film captures When the Cat's Away during their first tour. Director Alan Thurston captures the high energy performance and pure joie de vivre of the five women vocalists, showing why the group became a Kiwi favourite. A set focusing on New Zealand songs, international hits of the period and soul classics proved irresistible on the pub circuit. The group would go on to score hit records and bigger shows (playing to 80,000 the following summer). But this was the moment they arrived. The film won best documentary at the 1988 Film and Television Awards.
Vocal group When the Cat's Away formed after Debbie Harwood, Dianne Swann, Annie Crummer and Margaret Urlich got together at the 1985 Music Awards and found common cause in a male dominated industry. Kim Willoughby was added as a fifth member; and, despite criticism for their reliance on cover songs, they enjoyed major commercial success — as chart toppers with 'Melting Pot' in 1988 and as one of NZ's biggest live acts of the late 80s. They disbanded in 1990. The cats reformed in 2001 (without Swann), touring and releasing a live album with Sharon O'Neill.
One of the most commercially successful NZ acts of the 80s, all female vocal group When the Cat's Away reformed in 2001 around four of the original five members: Margaret Urlich, Kim Willoughby, Debbie Harwood and Annie Crummer. They announced their return with this electropop reworking of Sharon O'Neill's 1980 ode to the east — and a Rachel Churchward styled music video which used black outfits on a black background to give an Oriental lacquer-like sheen. O'Neill returned the favour when she played with the Cats on a subsequent tour and live album.
This soulful despatch from the end of a love affair won Rikki Morris the APRA Silver Scroll songwriting award for 1991. It was produced by his brother Ian (aka Tex Pistol) who contributed a suitably epic 80s drum sound and won himself Engineer of the Year at the NZ Music Awards. The family connection extended to the music video where Rikki’s then wife Debbie Harwood (from When the Cat’s Away) played the former partner in the Super 8 footage (which the pair shot themselves). A stormy surf beach offers an appropriately tempestuous supporting performance.