Paul Kelly's songs dig deep into Australia: how it feels, looks, tastes, sounds. In the 40 years since releasing his first album, the human condition has been his special subject.
From St Kilda to King’s Cross, Adelaide, Leaps and Bounds, Incident on South Dowling, Maralinga (Rainy Land), Randwick Bells, Sydney from a 747. There’s the bus ride though the cane in To Her Door. A song about our greatest cricketer, Bradman. The Ballad of Queenie and Rover, about Aboriginal artists Queenie McKenzie and Rover Thomas. And Deeper Water is not just about the waves of childhood memory but the joys and sorrows of life itself.
How to Make Gravy, a message from a prisoner who can’t be home for Christmas, released in 1996, is now recognised as an Australian classic.
And From Little Things Big Things Grow, about the 1966 strike by Aboriginal stockmen on Wave Hill Station in the Northern Territory, co-written with Kev Carmody, has taught more Australians about the history of the battle for land rights than newspaper headlines ever could.
Kelly’s willingness to take the road less travelled has played an important part in keeping the flame burning in his own songs.
Kelly’s body of work includes live albums (see the CD/DVD recording of an Australian tour with Neil Finn, Goin’ Your Way, and the 8-CD box set A-Z Recordings, revisiting his songs with acoustic guitar, harmonica and voice). To this add the film soundtracks, co-writes (he contributed to land rights anthem Treaty with Yothu Yindi), production work and decades of touring, playing the kind of shows fans never forget. And he found time to write perhaps the finest and most unflinching autobiography ever written by an Australian musician, How to Make Gravy.
Kelly’s Order of Australia in 2017 acknowledged distinguished service to the performing arts and the promotion of the national identity through his contributions as singer, songwriter and musician.
In 1997, Kelly released greatest hits set Songs from the South. In 2019, Songs from the South 1985-2019 brought the story up to date. But not for long. Kelly’s mission to keep creating, keep exploring, keep moving, makes certain of that.