How to Make Gravy by Paul Kelly

I’m a big fan of Paul Kelly’s songs.  I’ve been listening to them for a long time.

‘A book that sings and talks and plays.’

Back in 2013, I went to the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra and saw an exhibition entitled ‘Paul Kelly and The Portraits’.  While I was wandering around, checking out the portraits, I realised that there was a lot I didn’t know about Paul Kelly and his music.  On the way out of the Gallery, I saw copies of ‘How to Make Gravy’.  I borrowed a copy a few weeks later, then bought a copy of the book and a copy of the CD boxed set ‘The A to Z Recordings’.

I’ve only read the book twice, but I play the music frequently.  It’s my ‘go to’ music for driving and for writing book reviews.

So, what can I tell you about the book (or the music)?    The book grew as a result of a series of concerts first staged in 2004.  Over four nights Paul Kelly performed, in alphabetical order, one hundred of his songs.  In between the songs he told stories about the songs, and together the stories and the songs became ‘How to Make Gravy’.  If you are a fan of Paul Kelly’s songs, then this book will give you some insights into how he writes.

‘Writing songs is a magpie business.  You build your nest and fetch and carry to it the bright shiny things that catch your eye.  You don’t care where they come from just so long as they fit just so.’

It’s a fascinating memoir: there’s a bit of family history, some personal reminiscences, life on the road while touring with the band, some of the things that matter to Paul Kelly.  I learned a little about the man behind the musician, about sources of inspiration.  And along the way, I was listening to the songs, making my own connections.

‘When you’re young you think everything’s possible.  All of a sudden you’re past the middle of your life, you’ve done only a fraction of the things you could have, and the field of possibility grows smaller each year.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith