‘Love Never Runs On Time’ was a suitable opening to the penultimate A-Z show in NYC. When the song was over Paul introduced the evening as “The dark and mysterious night three. The night of death, near death, near misses, loneliness and farewells. And my companion for this journey to the Underworld is Dan Kelly”.
At which point Dan came out and joined Paul for ‘Luck’, which led straight into a beautifully delicate version of ‘Midnight Rain’. This sweet but not saccharine song of longing for a love long lost swept through the room like the background hissing of summer rain on a hot pavement, with Dan’s guitar dropping notes like love letters.
‘Maralinga (Rainy Land)’ was one of the first protest songs that Paul wrote and he explained the background to the song. In the late 1950’s the British government ran a series of atomic bomb tests with the full co-operation of the Australian government in the north part of South Australia, Paul Kelly’s home state. They believed they were dropping bombs on unoccupied land, but the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people lived there and were contaminated by the tests.
The McLelland Royal Commission held in the 1980’s investigated the circumstances surrounding the Tests and amongst other people, Yami Lester had been a child at the time of the tests and gave evidence as he subsequently went blind as result of exposure to the radiation. Edie Millipuddy also gave evidence and told how she and her husband were picked up sleeping in a crater caused by one of the bomb blasts. They were taken into the headquarters and separated as he spoke English and she didn’t. She was pregnant and miscarried whilst they were roughly washing her down. Later, one of her children died at birth of a brain tumor and another of an infancy heart condition. Her daughter Rosie had a daughter born with heart problems and a dislocated hip and her son was born with Club Foot.
Paul laid down a sparse acoustic guitar as Dan scattered shards of electric brutality over the top and the ending semi chant of “I know that Jesus loves me I know, because the bible tells me so” was chilling, as they were the words spoken by Edie’s husband when asked if he spoke English.
The dark delicacy of ‘My Way Is To You’ followed and Paul’s voice reached for the high notes, much like Bono’s in later years. Before delivering a stunning version of the acapella ‘Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air’ Paul told us that it’s based on Psalm 23, which was written Paul the Apostle 2,000 years ago, 1,000 years after it had been written by King David. Paul took obvious pleasure in pointing out that King David was also a great songwriter, as well as a mighty leader of armies and lover of women.
Paul forgot to change the letter to ‘N’ so stopped at the beginning of ‘Night After Night’ and laughed as he leaned over to the board to switch to the next part of the show. Sardonically introducing ‘No You’ as another cheery little song, it struck me that he is beloved by so many because he writes straight from the heart with little artifice, but with a great sense of humour.
‘Nukanya’ is a compound Aboriginal phrase that means ‘See ya, farewell’ and Paul introduced it as “our ukelele song for the night”, which brought a great cheer from the crowd.
‘The Oldest Story In The Book’ is one of Paul’s great twisted love songs. He was coming home from an overseas tour one day and driving home from the airport in Melbourne many years ago and saw a billboard advertising a womans only gym which said ‘No Tom’s, no Harry’s and definitely no Dicks’ (which brought a laugh from the audience) and thought it would be interesting to write a Tom, Dick and Harry song. He fooled around with it for a while but wasn’t getting anywhere as there always seemed to be one man too many. And then he realized he’d been writing songs for about 25 years but never written a song which include ‘moon’ and June’ in it. So he added June to the mix and all of a sudden, things started to happen. Tom gets the girl, Harry gets the song and Dick’s just happy to be in a rock and roll band.
Before playing the next song, Paul asked us not to record it, or if we did not to post it anywhere as it’s a new song that he’s planning to record in June. ‘One For The Ages’ is an upbeat and ‘happy’ song, which worked against the general doom and gloom theme’s running through the evening but was more than welcomed by the crowd who were happy to sing along when Paul asked them. Not many performers are capable of getting an entire audience to sing along with a new song. Respect.
‘Our Sunshine’ is based on the life and times of Australian outlaw Ned Kelly, who was called ‘our sunshine’ by his dad when he was a boy. As Paul pointed out, there’s still an argument going on as to whether he was a hero or a rat bag. Most of the audience seemed to fall on the side of hero more than ratbag. But that’s the Australian way. He also mentioned that one of the Ned Kelly gang was called Dan Kelly, as an obvious aside to his current musical partner, who took it all in with a wide grin. Dan’s debt to Beasts Of Bourbon guitarist Spencer Jones came to the fore with a great twanging guitar solo midway through the song.
After a 30 minute break, Paul and Dan returned to the stage for a fantastic rendition of ‘Other People’s Houses‘, the wonderful story of a boy who goes around with his mother as she cleans other peoples houses.
With the turning of the letters to P, Paul moved to the piano where he played a stunning version of ‘Please Leave Your Light On’ and followed up with the jaunty ‘Pretty Place’, which was originally written as a duet for the great Vika Bull, but she wasn’t around so Dan returned to the stage to take her part.
As he has no songs that start with the letter Q, he played ‘The Ballad of Queenie And Rover’, which is a classic Paul Kelly story song that was written about the life and times of two of Australia’s great indigenous painters, Queenie McKenzie and Rover Thomas. They lived in Turkey Creek in the north western part of Australia and when Queenie was a child she was in danger of being taken in by the authorities so every time the police would come to round up children her mother (who was a traditional Aboriginal woman) would hide her in the bush. Rover started painting quite late in life after a female relative of his who had died in a car crash appeared to him in a dream and gave him instructions to paint certain ceremonies. Rover and Queenie met when they were quite young and were both living on the same cattle station. They were never sweethearts, but became close friends when Queenie saved Rovers life after he was kicked in the head by a horse. Queenie asked Rover to teach her how to paint and over time she became as successful as him.
Dan left the stage as Paul launched into ‘Randwick Bells’ a wonderful celebration of a lazy Saturday in bed with a lover. ‘Rally Around The Drum’ was written with Aboriginal songwriter Archie Roach about his life as a young tent boxer in the travelling sideshows in Eastern Victoria before they got shut down by the Health Department in the mid 1970’s. Archie used to fight for the late Billy Leach, who would travel to Fitzroy in Melbourne on Saturday nights and buy drinks in bars for young Aboriginal men to recruit them for his stable of boxers. Archie’s Dad was a boxer before him and used to fight under the name Snowball, so Archie fought under the name ‘Kid Snowball’. When he’d arrive in a new town, Billy would bang on a 44 gallon drum to announce the start of the fights and the local lads would line up to take on the tent boxers, most of whom were considerably smaller than them.
‘Saturday Night And Sunday Morning’ opened with the unforgettable line “She’s a screamer, but no one knows except the neighbors, me and some old boyfriends I suppose.” Which elicited an immediate roar of laughter from the audience as this cheerful paen to the joys of sex and love and more sex rattled around the room and set fire to the air around us.
As ‘Seagulls of Seattle’ was a new song about beaches around the world, it elicited another warning/request for those amongst the audience recording with their smart phones not to release any recording onto the net. Which reminded me of a recent piece of graffiti: “We live in a world full of smart phones and stupid people”.
Dan was invited back to the stage and joined Paul for ‘Somebody’s Forgetting Somebody (Somebody’s Letting Somebody Down)’ and added some cool surf guitar lines before moving onto the stunning and almost Tex-Mex version of ‘Somewhere In the City’.
Paul observed “There are a shit load of S’s” which brought another round of laughter to the mostly Australian audience who were thrilled to be able to see Paul perform in such an intimate environment as it would never happen in Australia.
The last song was introduced as ‘Song Of The Old Rake’ and took the point of view of an old man telling his granddaughter about the chilling perils and regrets of love The video of the original is worth checking out as it’s a fantastic piss take of the shit musicians have to deal with when they do promo in radio stations.
After thanking the Rockwood for once again looking after them so well, Paul and Dan left the stage smiling with the satisfaction of a good job well done.
The audience made enough noise for Paul to make his way back to the stage a few minutes later, guitar in hand. He settled himself in and proceeded to tell us that the story of how his Aunt Judy had met his Uncle Bob was a famous one within his family.
She was travelling around Europe just after World War 2 with a friend, who was also an Australian nurse. They were staying over night in a small town south of Frankfurt in Germany with some family friends and were planning to travel on to Paris the next day. As they slept in and missed their train they had to stay one more night, so the elderly couple they were staying with did a bit of a ring around to try and find something diverting for their young guests. They discovered there was a dance happening that evening in the US officers barracks and as women were in short supply, found it easy to arrange an invitation for the two nurses to attend.
That evening two GI’s showed up to escort the ladies to the dance, one of whom was called Bob. (Or as Paul came to know him later, Uncle Barbwire, as the young Australian kids found the way he pronounced his name to be hilarious). Bob and Judy fell in love that night and not long afterwards got married in London. They subsequently had eight children and lived in El Paso, Texas as well as Los Alamos in New Mexico and that’s why Paul now has cousins scattered all over the USA.
He remembered being fascinated by the story as a child because he’d overhear the adults discussing it in tones of wonder, if she hadn’t slept in, they would have never met. And he would imagine his eight cousins just disappearing in a puff. He likes this story because people always argue whether destiny is a matter of character or fate or chance and this story shows both those things in perfect balance because yes, they met by chance, but Judy was quite the party girl so it was not that unusual for her to sleep in late.
He later wrote a song based on Bob and Judy, but took certain liberties with their story. And found that eight children didn’t fit in the song, so had to exterminate one of them. As the audience was still laughing at the end of his story, Paul launched into a beautiful pitch perfect acapella version of ‘South Of Germany’, which brought the house down.
He reintroduced Dan by informing us it’s ukulele time again and told the us it was time for audience participation. He’s not big on audience participation songs but every so often he will trot one out and this evening ‘Passed Over’ was elected to serve that purpose. The girls sang Paul’s part and the boys sang Dan’s part. And everybody sang along well enough that they were cheering and hollering by the end of this gospel flavored song with a Bill Monroe feel from Foggy Highway.
Paul and Dan left the stage but the noise of the audience brought them back out again. Somebody shouted out for ‘Bradman’ but he obviously didn’t understand the rules of the A-Z shows. Paul only sings songs relevant to the letters of the alphabet from that evenings show. With one more night to go, they wrapped up the gig with probably the best encore song of all, ‘One More Tune’.