Live in Whelan’s, Dublin, 14 September 1999
Paul Kelly has come a fair way from his public debut singing to a Tasmanian audience in 1974. In 1998 he was inducted into the Australian Record Industry Hall of Fame, picked up the gong for Songwriter of the Year, and saw sales of his Greatest Hits Songs from the South pass the 250,000 mark – not bad considering he couldn’t even get a record deal in 1986.
Accolades and the like though are not what Paul Kelly is about – the man is words and music. While landmarks from Adelaide to Brisbane typically get a mention he generally steers clear of Ayers Rock and blokes calledBruce. The tools are much more mundane – failed relationships, coming of age, messing up your life – the everyday on a pedestal, with a home perspective.
In real life he’s also the typical stereotype that Australians like to have of themselves: unassuming, generous, the genuine article. A girl I know who missed getting tickets managed to accost him on the street outside Whelan’s and was soon on a guest list with her friends; another professed her love after the show and got free CDs and a signed poster.
Support for the evening is Peter Bruntnell who admittedly is up against it, and doesn’t make much of a mark, merely filling in the time and reminding us every once in a while that he’s written songs in Vancouver.
Soon the main attraction is on stage, Joe Spencer and a few guitars are the only musical accompaniment for the evening. With Paul Kelly, nothing else is ever needed.
Backpackers fill the place and Paul plays to them for most of the night. The crowd knows all the words – or do they? Here and there the words are changed and new music introduced – so the Irish get a chance to hear the man himself and not the roaring Antipodeans! The few I speak to come away well impressed.
‘Careless’ and ‘Dumb Things’ tell a story of ignoring friends who try to help in time of need. ‘Love Never Runs on Time’ and ‘Before Too Long’ tell us that the best chances always come to those who wait. And then there is the classic ‘When I First Met Your Ma’, a story told to a son of the greatest love affair a man could have and its aftermath – a lesson for the boy’s own future, to take good note that “love like a bird flies away”.
By far the biggest reception though is for ‘To Her Door’, about a departing wife and her husband’s bid to win her back – and when the line “…and his heart was singing like a low-down guitar” is followed by a long solo, nothing less than an ovation can be expected.
Part song, part story, always entertaining. You could track the progress of a person’s life through the stories of Paul Kelly, and obviously this is what we are doing. The only question mark is where does he get such great material? Long discussions as to his romantic history drag into the night but prove inconclusive. The man you feel you know is in reality elusive.
Given such adoration an encore or two is inevitable, and the closing number is the renowned ‘From St Kilda to Kings Cross’. If you’re heading out to the Southern Land in the near future this isn’t a bad place to start.