Because you asked for it - Regional News | Connecting Wellington
 Issue 217

Because you asked for it by Madelaine Empson

New Zealand’s most cherished supergroup, When the Cat’s Away, will soon embark on their first tour in over three decades. Hall of Famers Debbie Harwood, Annie Crummer, Dianne Swann, and Kim Willoughby will reunite with their old friends Herbs and original members of their backing band to deliver hit after hit to their hungry Wellington fans at the Michael Fowler Centre on the 21st of April. 

I had the absolute pleasure of catching up with Annie Crummer MNZM about the reunion and her prolific career as one of Aotearoa’s best-loved and most-travelled voices.

When the Cat’s Away regrouped in October 2023 for the first time in 33 years for a one-night-only concert to farewell Margaret Urlich. How did the reunion concert go?

We knew that it was inevitable that we would get together to pay our respects to her, to her whānau, to her fans, to the people that have worked with her, her friends. They’re the ones that loved her the way we loved her. We had the full karakia and the blessings prior to the show even beginning because we needed to acknowledge where she comes from. Once we cleared that slate, it was all ready to go. And the audience – gosh, that room was full of so much love. It was very emotional for everyone. We were graced to have her two children there. Dad [her husband George] couldn’t come along because there was some big rally that happens in Australia. But the kids are on the phone calling Dad going, ‘Dad, listen!’ Then they saw the footage of their mother, long before they were born. They were just gobsmacked looking at her – and you know Marge, frickin supermodel. Perfection. The voice, no one in the world sings like that. Even if it was Baa Baa Black Sheep, you’d know that it was Margaret Urlich singing. That was a real treat and surprise and delight for them, and then for us to hear that back… Just hearing her voice, we’d all be paralysed. Standing there in absolute silence. And we’d giggle about stupid things that we used to do, but we would catch ourselves just stopping breathing whilst we were trying to pay respect to her in the best way.

And you decided to tour together again after that show?

We did our one shot, our one show. Our focus was like steel for Margie, so we had no thoughts of touring at the time. Like you said, it’s been decades since we’ve done anything. We didn’t know if anyone would – we didn’t know the status of When the Cat’s Away, because we’d been away so long. And my goodness, had the world not changed in that time?

Oh boy!

[Laughs.] In every way, and in departments that we are not used to. Like the internet, and this is from days of getting a pot of glue out and posting up your advertisements on the wall.

And all the music technology changes as well, in terms of production, your live set-up…

I’m definitely the most challenged technologically [laughs]. Technology hates my guts. Luckily, I’ve got my nieces and nephews. Come help your aunty!

But yeah, it was a beautiful experience performing at the Town Hall for Margie. Afterwards, we needed a two-week break! When we actually managed to open up the computer, there was all this feedback from people wanting us to please come to their town. Much to our surprise. When the Cat’s Away in the day, it was quite oddly a phenomenon. We didn’t know it would be that crazy, given that we’re not an original band that writes our own songs. We just wanted to have fun. Boy, that really took off in the 80s, 90s. Then we all got on with life, and then life gave us death, and then we react. In doing so, we had to read our audience. Because they wanted more, we thought, okay. It won’t be When the Cat’s Away as it was, it’s the rest of us who have all matured – got married, had kids, got divorced, got married again. All sorts of real-life stuff that every folk at PAK’nSAVE goes through. So, we’ve been getting together and re-crafting the show, re-pimping it. That’s really the wisest thing to do because you can’t emulate that show ever. That was a landmark gig. The shows we do thereafter... We will be there with open hearts, the four of us, giving 100 percent, and Margie is in the middle of our hearts whilst we do that. She will always be present. Always. For the fans? Yep. Because you asked for it.

Through all the changes in your lives, in technology, in the world… the music remains. And the songs you sing have such a generational impact.

Yes! Because it was downloaded as kids, what the ‘old people’ listened to, but then they come along and see it, and they get it. Something about the music. It is every kind of genre. It’s very hypnotic for us. It’s certainly our highest drug that we know of. Well, that’s my story! I think I get it when people come up to you and start singing Melting Pot, For Today, just songs that you sing. They’re just full of joy. It’s a weird thing, but it’s wonderful. I put it down to them wanting to come along because they want to feel good again. They want to feel how they felt when they heard that music back then.

You’ve toured with Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Sting... You must have some crazy stories!

[Laughs.] Please keep in mind that I’m just a normal person who fan girls like crazy. So I have to try to rein it in and just keep it professional. What a gift from the heavens to be offered such incredible opportunities like that. No one was more surprised than I was to be invited on those kind of [tours]. Sting was amazing, gosh. He came out and watched my show, and straight afterwards, he came up to me and said, ‘You want to come and sing a song with me?’ My manager at the time was so lovely, we’re still the dearest of friends. We very professionally went, ‘Oh yes, okay, cool’. I wondered whether he wanted me to do a backing vocal thing. I would’ve been so cool with that. But at the time, he was promoting the album Mercury – God, every song is incredible – and he asked me to do a duet with him: Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot. Wow, what? I knew the song because I played the album all the time and still do to this day. So the next night, it was the sixth song in his set, and I’d just be handed the baton, the microphone, and he would announce me, and I’d just walk out and frickin sing it. I’ll sing it for Jesus! Because you don’t want to let Sting down. No. You don’t want him to say, ‘Oof. Yeah, okay, thanks’. If frickin Sting is asking you to sing with him, you frickin go for it. My father – he’s a singer who passed me the leftovers [chuckles] of his musical gifts – always said to me, ‘You just whack it out!’ I found myself being that kid again, just going for it. I just knew it was important. And then! Wait, I don’t want to seem like I’m blowing smoke up my...

You’re not, I asked the question!

Yes, I’m just answering the question! I feel the need to clarify that! So this one week, after a performance with Sting, I got in the cab, went straight to Coogee Bay, and then sang River Deep Mountain High with Jimmy Barnes. Then flew to New Zealand to sing with Michael Jackson, and then Sting, and then Michael Jackson. October-November 96. That was remarkable.

I remember maybe a couple of years later, I was at the gym and the cooldown song they were playing was by Sting, singing with Sheryl Crow. I thought, ‘Oh man, I’d love to sing with Sting one day’. You know, in my out-of-it state stretching. Then I went, ‘Wait a minute, I did!’ [Laughs.] Stupid, ay?

Amazing. Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans and to our readers?

Aotearoa and I have been friends a long time. When we see each other again, nothing’s changed. We’re still friends. I’m a veteran now... We don’t need to go into ages or anything but know that in recent years, I’ve missed everyone. There’s nothing but love. It never got lost. There’s so much more I could say... Oh, that’s right. Just say, ‘I’ll see you at PAK’nSAVE’.

[At this point I am cackling.]

If you could, please, maybe, let’s get a sponsorship off them [laughs].

Here’s lookin’ at you, PAK’nSAVE.

That’s the one!

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