Home' Rhythms Magazine : November-December 2018 Contents 26
By Brian Nankervis
Photos by Cybele Malinowski
A Conversation with Paul Kelly.
Paul Kelly’s new record is Nature, a
companion album of sorts to last year’s
Life Is Fine. Five of the songs are based on
poems by Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman,
Sylvia Plath, Gerard Manley Hopkins
and Phillip Larkin. Others are inspired by
poems that Kelly wrote and there are songs
that ‘came in the usual way, as sounds sung
to chords then turned into words.’ The
songs on Nature are‘linked by the natural
world – trees, birds, animals, plants, dust,
desert, water – and human nature’s small
place in that world.’
At Paul’s St Kilda home we moved
between the kitchen and the dining table.
The morning sun poured into the room.
Paintings, CDs, vinyl, books, cassettes
and framed photographs all spoke of rich
connections to music, family and all kinds
Paul made toast and tea while nephew
Dan, newly moustached and energised
after a series of gigs in Tasmania, pottered
about with guitars and their cases. Dan is
heading to a Richmond rehearsal room to
set up equipment and meet the other band
members, Peter Luscombe, Bill McDonald,
Ash Naylor, Cam Bruce, Vika and Linda
Bull, to prepare for a secret midnight
gig for five hundred people in Brisbane,
following a day of press for Nature and
Paul’s Big Sound keynote address.
He’s busy, but this bright morning he
applies his focus to a dark rye, a range
of spreads and a tea pot. We’ve got 45
minutes before he needs to join the band in
an afternoon rehearsal. We get cracking.
‘Seagulls in Seattle’ is my favourite song
so far. I love the swimming references.
Broome, deep water in Southern Spain.
It reminded me of Loudon Wainwright’s
book where he lists his favourite
swimming spots, including Palm Beach
and The Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton Pool at
I thought you’d given me the book, but
maybe it was someone else. I passed it on.
To Spencer Jones.
Ah, Spencer. I’m sure there are multiple
approaches to recording a song. Is there a
typical path for you ... from first playing
it to the band, to putting it on a record?
It’s changed over the last five years. I’ll
take songs to the band now, we’ll rehearse
them and then record. In the past, we
would’ve taken those songs and played
them live. I do that less now and that’s
partly to do with the songs being recorded
by audiences as they’re played live. People
film on phones and send them on. So it’s a
way of keeping your powder dry. You’ve got
a record coming out with new songs, but
you have too many live performances and
people know them.
It dilutes their impact when they come
Yeah. I’m not too worried. I guess when I
was younger I would play more new songs
in a set that no one had heard before. I’ve
got out of the habit of that, which means
we don’t road test the songs. We play them
in rehearsal. Some songs we go around
and around and try in different ways. This
way and that way and really wrestle them.
Others we know “that’s it” and we stop
rehearsing so we can hit it fresh in the
That’s important to you, that freshness?
Yeah.‘Seagulls of Seattle’ was an early take.
I don’t even remember rehearsing that
one with the band. Sometimes when we’re
recording and we get through the songs
early, I’ll just say,‘How about this?’ And
play it for them ...
... and the band fall in with parts they
think will work?
Yeah, there might be a few takes. We’ll
have a quick talk about who comes in
where and off we go.‘Mushrooms’ is a
first take. We kept playing it but never
improved it. It was a happy accident.
It’s no good to think about the song too
much and think,‘Well, do I do this weird
little bubbly bit now? Or do this slow,
creaking, groaning noise?’ We spoke about
the Mushrooms poem and the general
idea and they knew the words. Their first
response to it was the one you hear on the
record. That’s not always the way. There’s
songs on the record that are twenty five
We’ve been working on‘The One I Love’
for quite a few years. Linda was singing it
at first. There’s a great version of her doing
it. It was in contention for the last record.
John O’Donnell at EMI said,‘You should
sing it, it’s a good song for radio.’ So I
ended up singing it for this record. It’s got
a one line chorus. I use ‘beguiled’, an old-
fashioned word. It’s in one of my favourite
songs,‘Parting Glass’.‘If I had money
enough to spend, leisure time to sit awhile,
there is a fair maid in this town, that sorely
has my heart beguiled.’ It has a slightly
archaic feeling, that lyric. But we’ve pushed
and pulled that song around a fair bit.
Who leads the pushing and pulling?
It’s very collaborative. Putting in ideas.
Choosing takes. We all sit around and
listen back. Everyone has their opinion
about which is the best. Most of the time
we agree. It’s obvious. Sometimes it’s the
one that’s a bit rougher or has the spirit. I’ll
call it in the end.
You’ve said the band‘can morph from
delicate scientists to big riff rockers and
everything in between.’ Can you give me
first thoughts about each of them? Peter
Peter Luscombe, the absolutist. A real
student of music. Forthright, great power
of concentration. Has a lot of great stories
and a phenomenal memory. Next.
Freakishly talented. Comes up with great
parts. He’s got all the colours and he
constantly surprises me.
The loveliest man in rock and roll. He’s
much, much better than he thinks he is.
He sometimes plays down his talent but
he’s got such an encyclopedia of music in
him that strong, classic parts just fall out of
him without thinking.
Paul Kelly’s new album follows on from last year’s Life Is Fine.
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