PAUL KELLY: Ducking targets, taxi cabs and how to make gravy…

Dying kittens, third world famine and world war, maybe, but I never thought I’d be moved to tears by a song about gravy. Still, that’s just what happened over at Indus after legendary Australian songwriter Paul Kelly strummed the room into a pure emotional meltdown with the title song from his memoir, ‘How to Make Gravy’.

What a genius! It takes a special kind of talent to strum the heartstrings as well as those of a guitar, don’t you think? Especially with such a random topic. Don’t be fooled though… as was explained at the start, this isn’t just another cooking demo. This is a song about a man reminiscing over Christmases past from behind the bars of a prison cell.

He’s remembering the dances with his sweetheart, kissing the kids on Christmas Eve, and mixing the sauce for the turkey that will complement that festive feast. And as he does, so do we. We feel what he’s missing. We feel what Paul Kelly’s expressing. And so we cry… over gravy.

Paul Kelly learned the trumpet and piano in high school and started writing poetry from the age of 15. “I wanted to be a writer but wasn’t sure how to do it,” he told us. “Then when I wrote and sang my first song it was like flicking a switch. I knew what I wanted to do.”

Over the course of an entertaining hour, we finally learned the truth about Paul’s birth, too. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t born in a taxicab. “I was actually born in a Morris Minor (hence the middle name Maurice) but taxi cab fit the song better.”

On explaining why most of his songs are about traveling, Paul told us “A writer needs to keep moving, to be a ducking target. Writers don’t want to be fixed. They need to be able to go anywhere.”

Something I can definitely relate to, having traveled here to Ubud!

Paul Kelly’s memoir, ‘How to Make Gravy’ actually started as an accident after a series of shows in Melbourne saw him singing a series of different songs every night. “I had a repertoire of 100 songs to get through, and I think people quite liked that my show was a lucky dip. They might have been given well-known songs, and they might have got some new ones. I started writing the story behind each song and I thought, hang on, there could be a book in this. I just kept on going until eventually, I had a book!”

Other topics discussed in this fascinating session were the importance of opening lines in songs. Paul said: “The moment I wake up, before I put on my make up, I say a little prayer for you. Those words are so tender and so womanly, it’s hard to believe they were written by a man.”

“Sometimes the bottom brick of your own song is another opening line, something from another song. The whole song is written around it until you just can’t take it away.”

As for his favorite song? Paul Kelly understandably has many, but chose to answer carefully: “The one I’m working on”… which clearly and thankfully means there’s plenty more genius up this man’s sleeve.
And anyway, anyone who can bring me to tears over gravy is well worth keeping an eye on.

(Taken from my post on the Ubud Writers Festival site)

Check out the YouTube video here: