@paul_kelly ; “To Her Door”, “Love Never Runs On Time” and “How to Make Gravy”

Paul Kelly is a brilliant Australian song-writer and performer. His songs – and there are so many – speak in so many different voices, of so many different experiences and emotions, to so many different people. He can capture, with enormous precision and economy, everything from casual moments, to joy, to despair. Objects come to life, (a Winter Coat as metonymy), relationships spiral to the coldest death (Everything’s Turning to White).  He is political, personal, both at the same time or – crucially – neither.

There’s an informal trilogy of songs – mentioned in the title of this post, that happen to be three of my favourites. There are themes of travel, redemption, violence (the threats or feel of it), love and family. These are, of course, abiding themes for any artist. Paul Kelly just does them better than most.

To her door,” [lyrics] from the album was a bit of a hit when I was in secondary school.  A man (we only later know as “Joe”) is trying to make a personal journey, to a better place…

There’s a sense of movement, possibility, the hope of redemption for him.  He can only move slowly, with his estranged wife’s help (“she thought he sounded better, she sent him up the fare.”)  Will the shot at redemption work? Can he “make a picture, and get them all to fit?”  Is it enough that he is, messily, trying?

“Love Never Runs on Time” [lyrics] is from the 1994 album “Wanted Man.” Joe is now a trucker recounting a journey (I like to think he picked up the hitch-hiker in “So Blue”).  “And you know and I know…”

How to Make Gravy [lyrics] is the final song. There is no physical movement here. Joe is in prison, for crimes undisclosed (or assault?). He reaches out to his brother (writing another letter) asking – as ever – for the family to be kept safe. He can offer, at the moment, only a recipe…

Again, Joe’s concern is for the things that, surely, matter most – for fairness, recognition, forgiveness, love. He may not be able to move towards his family physically, he may not be able to take the road trips of Love Never Runs on Time. But the radio may yet come alive again for him, and for Rita…

And I looked up wikipedia – here’s the tale of the composition of the third song;

In 1996 Kelly was approached by Lindsay Fields, the guitarist and backing vocalist for John Farnham, to perform a Christmas-themed song or carol for a various artists charity record, The Spirit of Christmas, to raise money for the Salvation Army.[8] Kelly originally selected “Christmas Must Be Tonight” by Robbie Robertson (The Band) however that had already been performed by James Blundell on The Spirit of Christmas 1994, so he told Fields that he would have a go at writing one instead.[8] Kelly later recalled, “I had a rough tune I’d been kicking around with the band at sound check, but was having trouble getting started on the words.[8] Kelly’s inspiration for the lyrics was subsequently drawn from Irving Berlin‘s White Christmas, where “Irving intensifies the feeling of Christmas by not being there”.[8] He advised Fields, “I have a Christmas song but it doesn’t have a chorus and it’s set in a prison“.[8] Fields was overcome with emotion when he first heard it and convinced the Salvation Army’s selection group to accept it for the collection.

Dwight Towers, with a new category – “joy” – on his website…

Hat-tip to Dawn Reeves, whose excellent Town Hall (!) thriller “Hard Change” references Paul Kelly’s “How to Make Gravy”.  Because of that, I’ve been listening to it to death ever since…

My favourite Paul Kelly anecdote: In 1999 I was at an event at Warwick University. Billy Bragg was there, and in the lunch queue I struck up conversation with him and asked him if he knew of Paul Kelly “he’s sort of the Australian Billy Bragg.”  And Billy said to me “Yeah, I know (of) him, and you’re wrong; I’m the English Paul Kelly.”

Sadly I’ve only seen him only three times – in Adelaide in 1991 (he was brilliant), in London in 1995 (he was brilliant, even though he didn’t do “So Blue”) and in Manchester in 2012. He was… brilliant (there may be a pattern here.)

About dwighttowers

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1 Response to @paul_kelly ; “To Her Door”, “Love Never Runs On Time” and “How to Make Gravy”

  1. Sarah Irving says:

    Manchester in 2012? You and I saw him at Manchester Academy, but it wasn’t 2012 – it was before the end of 2010 at least. So have you seen him 4 times, or have you mis-placed that one? Looking on Google it may have been 2006. Sadly, he only seems to do eye-wateringly expensive gigs in fancy arts centres in London when he comes to the UK nowadays. Taking himself too seriously?

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