How to Make Gravy

Paul Kelly

How to Make Gravy
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How to Make Gravy

Paul Kelly

Over four nights Paul Kelly performed, in alphabetical order, 100 of his songs from the previous three decades. In between songs he told stories about them, and from those little tales grew How to Make Gravy, a memoir like no other.

Each of its hundred chapters, also in alphabetical order by song title, consists of lyrics followed by a story, the nature of the latter taking its cue from the former. Some pieces are confessional, some tell Kelly’s personal and family history, some take you on a road tour with the band, some form an idiosyncratic history of popular music, some are like small essays, some stand as a kind of how-to of the songwriter’s art - from the point of inspiration to writing, honing, collaborating, performing, recording and reworking.

Paul Kelly is a born storyteller. Give him two verses with a chorus or 550 pages, but he won’t waste a word. How to Make Gravy is a long volume that’s as tight as a three-piece band.

Review

It is really difficult to muse on the writing of Paul Kelly because I’m in awe of his talent. Paul Kelly’s music has been the soundtrack of my entire adult life. When I lived in England a girlfriend sent me a collection of Australian sounds she had pulled together to tug at my weakening homesick heart strings. She included the song ‘Leaps and Bounds’. I cried like a baby. It was as poignant as hearing magpies when you first come back from being away for a long time. So to write about this man’s book? The man I associate with university gigs, pub gigs, outside gigs, Coopers beer, St Kilda, the harp, the smell of jasmine, the Black Arm Band – almost too much.

And to be really honest, I thought it might be the type of book that I delve in and out of. But no, actually I read it straight from start to finish. I read it directly because it is very good. How To Make Gravy follows the A-Z of Paul’s songs. With each song comes the story of where he was when he wrote it, or how the riff came to him, or which quote he overheard, or which relationship he was in.

What is surprisingly lovely about this book is it is not just the story of Paul’s music but it also follows the story of the music scene in Australia. I loved reading about other admired musicians, Don Walker, Vika and Linda Bull and more. I liked reading about what Paul reads, his tastes are diverse and his influences even more so. Paul Kelly, if you had not realised from his songs, is a complex man always on the lookout for the next line of his next story in his next song.

I learnt a lot about Australia from this bloke from Adelaide.

Thanks Paul.

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