Paul Kelly: How To Make Gravy


So this post started off being about music and now maybe is not. I am well known for my generally terrible taste in music. I’m also noted for liking songs rather than artists - I frequently buy/download albums and only ever listen to the one or two tracks that I like. I find myself liking perhaps 10% of most artist’s material, if that. There are classic examples of this - the only Beach Boys song I like is “God Only Knows”. Which also doubles down because I like a Beach Boys song … “And God only knows what I’d be without you…”

This is true of Paul Kelly as well. Over 30 odd years I guess he’s written 300 songs? I don’t like all of them. I am not even sure I like most of them. I can’t stand most of the Professor Ratbaggy material and some of the later stuff leaves me cold. But song for song - he’s my guy. “Dumb Things”, “From Little Things Big Things Grow”, “How to Make Gravy”, “From St Kilda to Kings Cross”, “Before Too Long”, “Darling It Hurts”, “Bradman”, “To Her Door” and of course my favourite Kelly tunes - “If I could start today again” and “Winter Coat”. The latter song being one that has a lot of meaning and history for me. I’ve played it in good times and in a lot of bad times too.

I just finished his recently released self-styled “mongrel” autobiography, How To Make Gravy, named for the song. (As an aside I was curious as to why Kelly named his book after that song - that’s provoking some thoughts in its own right). When I heard about the book I went online and ordered it and had it sent to the US without much thought to the cost. Remarkably it showed up very fast - thanks nice people at the publishers… There were two reasons for that. The first is that I love his lyrics and the storytelling in them. I frequently wondered how much of the story is fiction and how much is Kelly. I know Kelly gets asked that question pretty much every time he gets interviewed about his song writing but a few hundred words usually means the answer doesn’t satisfy. Kelly’s been married, divorced, tours, kids, heroin, politics. I was hoping the book would reveal a few more of the things that triggered some of those amazing lyrics. The second was because of Steve Connolly, Kelly’s long time collaborator. Connolly’s music and lyrics are an integral part of why I love a lot of Kelly’s music. One of the few albums I play regularly and in entirety is Steve Connolly’s solo contribution “And The Usual Suspects”. I was curious to see what Kelly had written and how he described their song-writing relationship. Turns out I was not disappointed.

It’s not so much a standalone auto-biography. It’s a vignette for each song included in his recent A-Z tours. A story, a letter, another song or list of songs, a quote etc all shedding some light on the background to each song. All shedding some light on Kelly.

I read it all in one long gulp, hurtling through the pages and chain-smoking. It’s one of best recollective auto- biographies I’ve read in years and in the end you know I think I worked out why he chose “How to Make Gravy” as the title.

I didn’t mean to say that, it’s just my mind it plays up, Multiplies each matter, turns imagination into fact You know I love her badly, she’s the one to save me, I’m gonna make some gravy, I’m gonna taste the fat Tell her that I’m sorry, yeah I love her badly, tell ’em all I’m sorry,

And kiss the sleepy children for me You know one of these days, I’ll be making gravy, I’ll be making plenty, I’m gonna pay ’em all back.