Words by Natalie Blacklock
All photos by Elizabeth Sharpe // IG : @ummagummamumma
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Paul Kelly is undisputedly an icon of the Australian music industry. With musical stylings ranging from bluegrass to studio-oriented dub reggae, folk, rock, country and even pop, Kelly’s lyricism captures the vastness of the culture and landscape of Australia by chronicling his life for almost 50 years. In his capacity as an Australian rock music singer-songwriter and guitarist, he has performed solo and fronted numerous groups including The Dots, The Coloured Girls and The Messengers. With an extensive catalogue of hits under his belt and his all-star band in tow, Paul Kelly has made his way to Queensland to kick off his On The Road Again Regional Tour, taking in 20+ towns and cities across the Australian East Coast as presented by Frontier Touring and Triple M.
Playing host for the evening is the Ipswich Civic Centre. Officially opened on 19 July 1975, by then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, the Civic Centre has been a welcome addition to the Ipswich region as a venue for touring performances, corporate functions, conferences, community events, wedding receptions, school formals, graduation ceremonies and eisteddfods, evolving into one of the city’s premier entertainment venues, hosting classical and modern dance, musical theatre favourites, traditional, revival and modern music, side-splitting comedy, thought-provoking drama and enthralling children’s entertainment.
Before the show, an array of Indigenous music set the tone, acknowledging the start of NAIDOC Week and Kelly’s ongoing connection to Indigenous life and culture in Australia. As the lights went down and Byron Bay alternative pop / folk singer-songwriter Sam Buckingham bounded to the stage, one could hear a pin drop. Introducing herself as the last-minute alternate for tour support Gordi; the musical moniker of Australian singer-songwriter-producer, Sophie Payten, who was unable to cross the Queensland border following last week’s snap lockdown, Buckingham wasted no time launching into her first jangly pop tune, Stand, taken from her yet-to-be-released new album.
After swapping from acoustic to electric Guitar and back again, Buckingham revealed she had struggled with creativity in her songwriting until she connected with the I Heart Songwriting Club initiative founded by Brisbanite Francesca de Valence in 2014. Structured as a 10 week program, members spend one hour per week writing a song to a theme provided. Sharing her track Chicken Wings, which spoke of “listening deeply to what your heart is asking for”, featured a mouth-made Trumpet solo and a few laughs, signalling a high-point of the set. Something More, the latest single from her soon-to-be-released album, read as a bit of a “fuck you” to all the people who told her she couldn’t have or do what she wanted and went over well with the audience as their attentive remained undivided. Closing her set with Dear John (“a song about an arsehole named John”), it was clear that, although a late addition to the line-up, Buckingham had developed a strong connection with the sold-out crowd.
Distinguished as one of Australia’s greatest performers and songwriters, Paul Kelly is just about as iconic as they come; with 25 studio albums, multiple film soundtracks, two live albums and a stack of ARIA awards to his name. Having toured Australia countless times, both as headliner and as the special guest of greats like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Kelly was awarded the Order of Australia in 2017, for his distinguished service to the performing arts and the promotion of the national identity through his contributions as singer, songwriter and musician. Keeping himself busy through Australia’s continued periods of lockdown thanks to COVID-19, Kelly released a surprise album, ‘Forty Days’, comprising of original tracks and covers he performed, recorded and posted via his social media platforms from home in lockdown, exploring themes including home-cooking, pubs with no beer, hope, insomnia and separation. On top of this, Kelly also released ‘Please Leave Your Light On’ with Australian pianist and composer Paul Grabowsky. The collection featured Kelly performing songs from nine of his albums, along with the previously unreleased track True to You and a cover of Cole Porter‘s Every Time We Say Goodbye to new interpretations by Grabowsky. New releases aside, for an artist as prolific as Kelly to be off the road for the best part of 18 months as show after show were first postponed then cancelled, must have been tough. However, the sold-out Ipswich crowd were masked up and rearing to go – ready to experience live music (sans the dancing) once again.
Right on cue, the effervescent and evocative Paul Kelly entered the stage of the George Hogg Auditorium, still wearing his face mask (emblazoned with Guitars), capturing the current restrictions in place in Queensland. Opening the set in solo mode with Seagulls of Seattle from 2018 record ‘Nature’, Kelly had the at-capacity crowd in the palm of his hands.
The rest of the band; nephew Dan Kelly (Guitar / Backing Vocals), Ash Naylor (Guitar), Bill MacDonald (Bass), Peter Luscombe (Drums) and Cameron Bruce (Keyboard, Piano and Backing Vocals) joined the foray before launching into the powerful And Death Shall Have No Dominion (originally by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas), bookmarked by Ash Naylor’s prowess on a 12-string Guitar. Following up with 2017’s Finally Something Good, spurred on by Cameron Bruce’s upbeat and uplifting performance on the Keys. As the band settled into one of their first live performance since January 2020, Kelly cheekily boot-scooted his way through the unforgettable Before Too Long, followed by Careless, in a 1-2 punch of The Messengers era, with Drummer Peter Luscombe lending his hand to the Maracas too!
The so new that it’s “still got wet paint” Northern Rivers was melodic and dreamy and saw Dan Kelly trade his Guitar in for a Mandolin.The Mandolin theme carried on, teaming with Luscombe on the Tambourine for Our Sunshine – the story of infamous Australian bushranger Ned Kelly. Pausing to formally introduce bandmates Bill MacDonald and Luscombe to the crowd, Kelly recalled the day they recorded Love Never Runs On Time (taken from 1994’s ‘Wanted Man’) in Los Angeles and their dinner of Matzah Ball Soup that followed. A Bastard Like Me presented as more than just a song; telling the story of the life and times of Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins (Father of Indigenous filmmaker Rachel Perkins), with Luscombe’s attention to detail on the Drums really shining through the composition. Kelly spoke fondly of his Grandfather’s Italian heritage before embarking on the poppy and upbeat Josephina, complete with impassioned hand-claps from the crowd.
The matter-of-fact and almost conversational tone of When I First Met Your Ma wasn’t lost on the audience. The song, which is addressed to Paul’s son Declan, describes his courtship of first wife Hilary Brown, while presenting a cautionary warning about lost love in a beautiful avian metaphor; “love like a bird flies away / you’ll find out the only way”. Paired with the beauty of Kelly’s Harmonica, it was hard for many to sit still for this one! 2018 track Morning Storm saw Kelly perched on a stool as he told the audience about the band’s persistence to ensure this tour went ahead – outlining that he and nephew Dan had been in Queensland (sans instruments) since May after coming up for a family event, ultimately choosing to stay, in case they couldn’t come back, all while showcasing a simple nylon guitar they’d picked up in Southport so they could still practice in the interim.
Again, moving back into solo mode, the crowd were treated to Paul Kelly & The Stormwater Boys track They Thought I Was Asleep, speaking of the childhood notion of falling asleep in the car (or at least pretending to be) so your parents would carry you inside once you arrived home, which really framed the atmosphere and the seeming innocence of the song. Mid-80’s track From St Kilda To Kings Cross saw the Kelly’s pair up as a duo, with Paul speaking fondly of Dan’s early learnings of guitar coming from watching Coloured Girls and Messengers guitarist, the late Steve Connolly in action. The rest of band resumed their post as they embarked on Letter In The Rain before the story of Kelly’s first trip to the USA and a painting he saw in a gallery in New Mexico was told through Forty Miles To Saturday Night. Taken from 1987’s ‘Under The Sun’, it sure hit the spot as Ash Naylor and Dan Kelly combined to deliver some incredible harmonies.
Introduced as “a song that ends at the beginning”, the seminal To Her Door was another step back in time, highlighting Kelly’s musical diversity with its country-rock underpinnings. Firewood and Candles, written with Billy Miller, was inspired by one of their mutual friends who’d organised a first date with a woman signposted with paella, firewood and candles. Unfortunately, that date didn’t work out – but unlike the real story – the song ends a far happier note. Newer cut, With The One I Love, presented a darker rockier tone, with PK himself leading the ‘clap-along’. 1987’s Dumb Things kicked the set back into gear as the crowd collectively tapped their feet and ‘seat-danced’ their way through the track. The simply iconic (and this writer’s personal favourite) How To Make Gravy followed, regaling the timeless tale of a newly imprisoned man writing home to his Brother, lamenting that he will be missing the family’s Christmas celebrations, and asking the age-old question; “who’s gonna make the gravy?” The final song of the set, Deeper Water, saw the blue-hued stage lights pair beautifully with the powerful vocals (usually taken care of by the talented Vika and Linda Bull) aptly covered by Dan Kelly and Cameron Bruce, leaving the crowd wanting just a little bit more.
As the final notes continued to ring out, the crowd howled for an encore and weren’t left hanging for long. Kelly returned alone, exclaiming “thanks for that, we did prepare a few other numbers”, before launching into the moving If I Could Start Today Again, taken from 1997 album ‘Songs From The South’. Kelly then indulged the crowd with the origin story of From Little Things Big Things Grow – inspired by the story of Vincent Lingiari, the song was written with Indigenous music legend Kev Carmody, during a camping trip at Wivenhoe Dam in the early 1990’s. The band reunited with Kelly to perform a stirring rendition of the track, complete with a crowd singalong and Dan Kelly on the Banjo. 1986 Paul Kelly & The Coloured Girls hit Leaps and Bounds closed the evening in very Melbourne–esque fashion, concluding in a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd.
The 25-song strong On The Road Again set was authentic and honest in its nature and delivery; pairing Kelly’s extensive back-catalogue with more recent cuts too – there was something for everyone. The evening was a poignant reminder that the music industry in Australia is ready to rock again post-COVID-19! Although it won’t be forever, the imposition of seated shows and face masks will do for now, particularly if it means experiencing nights like this!
Be sure to catch the iconic Paul Kelly on the remaining dates of his On The Road Again Regional Tour.
For all dates, locations and ticket information click HERE.
Monday 05 July – Kings Theatre | Caloundra (Licensed / AA)
Tuesday 13 July – Pilbeam Theatre | Rockhampton (Licensed / AA)
Wednesday 14 July – Mackay Entertainment & Convention Centre | Mackay (Licensed / AA)
Thursday 15 July – Cairns Performing Arts Centre | Cairns (Licensed / AA)
Friday 16 July – Cairns Performing Arts Centre | Cairns (Licensed / AA)
Saturday 17 July – Yacht Club | Port Douglas (18+)
Tuesday 20 July – Meeniyan Town Hall | Meeniyan (AA)
Wednesday 21 July – Meeniyan Town Hall | Meeniyan (AA)
Friday 23 July – Odeon Theatre | Hobart (Licensed / AA)
Saturday 24 July – Odeon Theatre | Hobart (Licensed / AA)
Tuesday 27 July – Lighthouse Theatre | Warrnambool (Licensed / AA)
Wednesday 28 July – Lighthouse Theatre | Warrnambool (Licensed / AA)
Thursday 29 July – Ulumbarra Theatre | Bendigo (Licensed / AA)
Friday 30 July – Costa Hall | Geelong (AA)
Saturday 31 July – Her Majesty’s Theatre | Ballarat (Licensed / AA)
Wednesday 04 August – Club Sapphire | Merimbula (18+)
Thursday 05 August – Anita’s Theatre | Thirroul (18+)
Friday 06 August – Anita’s Theatre | Thirroul (18+)
Saturday 07 August – Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre | Bathurst (Licensed / AA)
Sunday 08 August – Civic Theatre | Newcastle (Licensed / AA)
Wednesday 11 August – Club Forster | Forster (Licensed / AA)
Thursday 12 August – The Hoey Moey | Coffs Harbour (18+)
Friday 13 August – Tamworth War Memorial Town Hall | Tamworth (Licensed / AA)
Saturday 14 August – Yamba Bowling Club | Yamba (18+)
Connect with PAUL KELLY
Connect with SAM BUCKINGHAM
Thanks to Frontier Touring + Mushroom Group