Combined Reviews: How to Make Gravy by Paul Kelly

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how_to_make_gravy.jpg    How to Make Gravy
Paul Kelly
Penguin Books

[This memoir has been shortlisted for the Best Writing Award of the 2012 Melbourne Prize for Literature.]

From the publisher's page:
This extraordinary book had its genesis in a series of concerts first staged in 2004. Over four nights Paul Kelly performed, in alphabetical order, one hundred of his songs from the previous three decades. In between songs he told stories about them, and from those little tales grew How to Make Gravy, a memoir like no other. Each of its hundred chapters, also in alphabetical order by song title, consists of lyrics followed by a story, the nature of the latter taking its cue from the former. Some pieces are confessional, some tell Kelly's personal and family history, some take you on a road tour with the band, some form an idiosyncratic history of popular music, some are like small essays, some stand as a kind of how-to of the songwriter's art - from the point of inspiration to writing, honing, collaborating, performing, recording and reworking.

Paul Kelly is a born storyteller. Give him two verses with a chorus or 550 pages, but he won't waste a word. How to Make Gravy is a long volume that's as tight as a three-piece band. There isn't a topic this man can't turn his pen to - contemporary music and the people who play it, football, cricket, literature, opera, social issues, love, loss, poetry, the land and the history of Australia ... there are even quizzes. The writing is insightful, funny, honest, compassionate, intelligent, playful, erudite, warm, thought-provoking. Paul Kelly is a star with zero pretensions, an everyman who is also a renaissance man. He thinks and loves and travels and reads widely, and his musical memoir is destined to become a classic - it doesn't have a bum note on it.


Michael Dwyer in "The Age": "Any gravy worth its salt begins with the juice. In that regard, Paul Kelly's sprawling memoir has a flying start. For 30 years he has been simmering the meat and potatoes of life into potent reductions of words and music. We add water, a pinch or two of our own experience, and voila: the magic of song...The lyrics to about 110 of Kelly's songs are the essence of this readable, ramshackle tome of essays, memories, legends, journal entries, letters and lists. Alphabetically arranged from Adelaide to Zoe, they're printed in enigmatic blue ink, as if to suggest shimmering depths of thought and myriad possible meanings and inspirations lurking inside...Clearly, and to the lasting good of our forgetful nation, keen observation has been ground zero for Kelly's craft since he dropped out of university in Adelaide 'to choose and read books in [his] own time'. From etymology to Tuvan throat singing, his appetite for understanding is as eager as his instinct for human justice. With the Bible under one arm, Shakespeare's collected works under the other and volumes of Proust and poetry teetering among the countless cassettes and LPs counting the beats from Louis Armstrong to the Triffids, no wonder every passage of blue ink sends his mind swimming off in another direction."

Deborah Crabtree for "Bookseller + Publisher": "Part memoir, part tour diary, part song-writing manual, this sprawling book is filled with all manner of letters, lists, confessions, hymns and yarns. Kelly's 100-plus songs begin each chapter (alphabetically) followed by a story that loosely or closely relates to the song. That Kelly is a consummate storyteller is evident in his song-writing. Here he has space to explore his storytelling skills further, which he does admirably, weaving in and out of the past and present easily and with an intimacy that invites the reader into his world. This book is full of tales that will delight Paul Kelly fans, and will appeal to anyone with an interest in popular music."

Iain Shedden in "The Australian": "There are cobwebs in Paul Kelly's shed. Normally, spiders wouldn't get much of a chance to be so industrious in this environment because at every available opportunity the prolific Kelly would be in there doing what he does best: writing songs. But for more than two years the little work station out the back of Kelly's St Kilda home has lain dormant. He hasn't written one song in that time. The singer has had other things on his mind...Despite Kelly having had the longest lay-off in his songwriting career, songs are very much at the forefront of his latest project. What began six years ago as a new way to play some of his material in concert -- presenting it alphabetically from A to Z across four nights -- has evolved into something quite different: his memoirs...How to Make Gravy is an offshoot of the A-Z idea, with each of the 100 songs from his 300-plus catalogue inspiring or linking in some way to the essay, historical tract or musing on anything from cricket to bad coffee that accompanies it. It's not a typical memoir, not chronological and not always about the writer, although we do learn more about him than he has revealed before."


In conversation with Robert Forster.

Michael Green for "Readings".


You can read an excerpt from the novel on "The Music Network" website.

The song.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on September 17, 2012 9:36 PM.

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