Death’s Dateless Night

LETTER FROM PAUL

“Now can I drown an eye unused to flow
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night” *

Charlie and I had talked over the years about making a record together but had never got around to it. Driving to a friend’s funeral last year and discussing the songs we’d played at other such occasions, separately and together, finally gave us our frame. Songs mostly written by others – Cole Porter, Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen, Hank Williams, Lennon/McCartney – and some traditional.  

We enlisted J Walker with whom I’d worked with previously on Spring and Fall to engineer and co-produce the recording, taking over Charlie’s house at Arthurs Seat for a week at the end of February. We kept the sound live and sparse, just the two of us, except for the occasional vocal by family members – my sister Mary Jo and my daughters Maddy and Memphis.

I stuck to singing and playing acoustic guitar. Charlie was the swing man, playing dobro, lap steel, electric guitar, synthesizer and piano. I managed to talk him into singing some harmonies too.

It’s interesting to look at the kinds of songs people request at funerals. They’re not always sad, of course. They tend towards the philosophical, wide and deep in scope.
Paul Kelly, Aug 24, 2016

 

Paul’s notes on the songs…

HARD TIMES – Written by Stephen Foster, the Father of American popular music. He wrote Oh, Suzannah, Camptown Races, The Old Folks at Home, Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair, Beautiful Dreamer and many others. He died in 1864 with 38 cents to his name and a note in his pocket that said “Dear friends and gentle hearts.”

TO LIVE IS TO FLY – Texan tower of song, Townes Van Zandt, lived hard, died youngish and leaked many great songs along the way. Steve Earle says of him “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”
PRETTY BIRD TREE – L J Hill hails from Narrabri, NSW, and first released this song on his 2008 album Namoi Mud. Not long after recording our version I was in an ancient Dingle graveyard with Irish singer Pauline Scanlon who was showing me round the area. “Do you know L J Hill?” she asked. It turns out she’d landed on the song around the same time as I had. Or should I say, this rare and beautiful bird landed on us.

PALLET ON THE FLOOR – there are many versions of this old song with different words and melodies. Gillian Welch did her own a few years back. This is one of the first tunes I learnt on guitar. Good practice for finger-picking. And I like a song with a cooking reference in it.

NUKKANYA – One of two songs of mine on the record. Coincidentally, it was written when I was acting and singing in a play called Funerals and Circuses. ‘Nukkan’ is a Narrandjeri word meaning “see’. So ‘Nukkanya’ means ‘See ya’.

THE PARTING GLASS – Traditional Irish song of farewell. Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers’ version live at Carnegie Hall gives me chills every time I hear it. The silence of a crowd has a completely different charge to the silence of emptiness. I invited my sister Mary Jo to sing the harmony with me as we’ve sung this song a lot at family funerals over the years.

MEET ME IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AIR – The words to this tune are a rhyming rearrangement of Psalm 23, often recited at funerals. Allegedly written 3,000 years ago by King David, harpist of skill, commander of armies and lover of women.

DON’T FENCE ME IN – Cole Porter wrote this, adapting it from a poem that someone sent him. The story goes that he, the urban sophisticate, didn’t rate it too highly. Too hokey, too clip-cloppy. I love it though and I’m not the only one. I recorded a song – Roll On Summer – with my daughters when they were children but this is the first time we’ve sung as adults together on a record. It won’t be the last, I hope.

BIRD ON THE WIRE – Leonard Cohen sang this song every night when I opened up for him over ten shows in 2008. Every concert was an exquisite ritual, a sly and tender offering of service to the ecstatic audience. Leonard himself was part rabbi, part vaudevillian.

GOOD THINGS – Written by Maurice Frawley, a long-standing friend of Charlie’s and mine. Charlie played in Maurice‘s band, The Working Class Ringos, for many years. Maurice wrote Look So Fine Feel So Low with me when we were in a band together in the early eighties. I remember this song playing through the speakers set up outside the overflowing church when they carried Maurice in his coffin to the hearse.

LET IT BE – The second song on the record featuring the pure, clear vocals of Maddy and Memphis Kelly. I’ve sung a lot of Beatles songs for fun over the years but always shied away from recording any. The original versions are so idiosyncratic, so right, that it’s hard to conceive of them any other way. But M and M and I have sung Let It Be at various occasions over the years so we just approached it like we would a folk song with a little Charlie weirdness thrown in.

ANGEL OF DEATH – From Hank Willams’ series of recordings as Luke The Drifter, when he assumed the character of a haunted preacher. Charlie and I have never done this song at a funeral and I doubt if we ever would. We think of it more as a coda to the rest of the record, a kind of commentary. When Charlie, J Walker and I sat down to listen to the demo on my phone, prior to recording, we all looked at each other and said “Let’s leave it as is.”

These are the songs we’ve sung for friends and kin. We hope they give joy and succour. This record was a pleasure to make all the way. I’m already thinking about the sequel.

* SONNET 30 – William Shakespeare
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight: s
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

RELEASE DATE: 7 October 2016
  • 1
    Hard Times

    Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears
    While we all sup sorrow with the poor
    There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears
    Oh, hard times, come again no more

    ‘Tis the song, the sigh of the weary
    Hard times, hard times, come again no more
    Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door
    Oh, hard times, come again no more

    While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay
    There are frail forms fainting at the door
    Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
    Oh, hard times, come again no more

    ‘Tis the song, the sigh of the weary
    Hard times, hard times, come again no more
    Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door
    Oh, hard times, come again no more

    ‘Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave
    ‘Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
    ‘Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
    Oh hard times come again no more

    ‘Tis the song, the sigh of the weary
    Hard times, hard times, come again no more
    Many days you have lingered around my cabin door
    Oh hard times come again no more
    Oh hard times come again no more

  • 2
    To Live Is To Fly

    Won’t say I love you, babe
    Won’t say I need you, babe
    But I’m gonna get you babe
    And I will not do you wrong
    Living’s mostly wasting time
    And I’ll waste my share of mine
    But it never feels too good
    So let’s don’t take too long
    You’re as soft as glass
    And I’m a gentle man
    We got the sky to talk about
    And the world to lie upon

    Days, up and down they come
    Like rain on a conga drum
    Forget most, remember some
    But don’t turn none away
    Everything is not enough
    And nothin’ is too much to bear
    Where you been is good and gone
    All you keep’s the getting there

    Well to live is to fly
    All low and high
    So shake the dust off of your wings
    And the sleep out of your eyes

    Goodbye to all my friends
    It’s time to go again
    Think of all the poetry
    And the pickin’ down the line
    Well I’ll miss the system here
    The bottom’s low
    And the treble’s clear
    But it don’t pay to think too much
    On things you leave behind
    Well I may be gone
    But i won’t be long
    I will be a’bringin’ back the melodies
    And rhythm that I find

    We all got holes to fill
    Them holes are all that’s real
    Some fall on you like a storm
    Sometimes you dig your own
    The choice is yours to make
    Time is yours to take
    Some sail dive into the sea
    Some toil upon the stone

    Well to live is to fly
    All low and high
    So shake the dust off of your wings
    And the sleep out of your eyes

    Shake the dust off of your wings
    And the tears out of your eyes

  • 3
    Pretty Bird Tree

    Appear on the slopes and plains
    In the town of Narabran
    On the banks of the Namoi river
    ‘Neath the shade of the pretty bird tree
    All my brother Daabi died down there
    Neath the willows oh so cool
    Now he walks with our ancestors
    Underneath the Kamilaroi moon

    Namoi River
    You’re home to me
    I sit with you ‘neath the pretty bird tree

    Early on in life I took to the booze
    And drank away my dreams
    I watched my life flow steadily bye
    Like tear drops down the drain
    So I headed for the river, and became a river rat
    I’d worn out all my welcomes
    No place to hang my head
    Oh there was cranky Franky and Jackie brown
    Who demand old craigy and me
    And would lay next daylight poison dogs
    all around the pretty bird tree

    Namoi River
    You’re home to me
    I’ll sit with you ‘neath the pretty bird tree

    When the hallowing wind doth wane
    On the Namoi late at night
    You can hear the old ones singing
    As they dance in the pale moon light
    Oh there were many more names I can’t recall
    But their faces I still see
    Whisper smiths calm face appears
    As I dream of the pretty bird tree

    Namoi River
    You’re home to me
    I’ll sit with you ‘neath the pretty bird tree
    I’ll sit with you ‘neath the pretty bird tree

  • 4
    Pallet On Your Floor

    Make me a pallet on your floor
    Make me baby a pallet on your floor
    Make it soft, make it low
    I swear he’ll never know
    When your main one comes
    I swear he’ll never know

    Make it baby
    By that kitchen door
    Make it baby
    By that kitchen door
    Make it soft, make it low
    I swear that he’ll never know

    When your good man comes,
    I swear he’ll never know
    I get up in the morning
    I’ll make you a red hot meal
    I’ll get up in the morning baby
    I’ll make you a red hot meal
    Just to show you
    I appreciate it
    Whatcha did for me
    When you made me
    A pallet on your floor

    Oh make me a pallet on your floor
    Make me baby a pallet on your floor
    Make it soft, make it low
    I swear he’ll never know
    When your good man comes

    He’ll never know
    Make it soft, make it low
    I swear he’ll never know
    When your main one comes
    I swear he’ll never know

  • 5
    Nukkanya

    Outside the dogs are barking
    And the morning sun is breaking through the trees
    My heart is feeling heavy
    As I listen to the moaning of the breeze
    Nukkanya, baby, I really don’t want to leave

    There’s a ticket in my pocket
    I’d toss it if I only had my way
    And a suitcase in the hallway
    I wish I could unpack it now and stay
    Nukkanya, baby, I’m gonna be back some day

    Nukkanya
    Don’t it go to show what a man don’t know
    Nukkanya
    Nukkanya, baby, I really don’t want to go

    My land was once a river
    I hate to see it slowly bleeding dry
    My love is like an eagle
    High across the desert she will fly
    Nukkanya, baby, I’ll see you by and by

    Nukkanya
    Don’t it go to show what a man don’t know
    Nukkanya
    Nukkanya baby, I really don’t want to go
    Nukkanya baby, I really don’t want to go
    Nukkanya
    Nukkanya baby, I really don’t want to go
    Nukkanya baby, I really don’t want to go
    Nukkanya baby, I really don’t want to go

  • 6
    Parting Glass

    Oh all the money that e’er I had
    I spent it in good company
    And all the harm that e’er I did
    Alas, it was to none but me
    And all I’ve done for want of wit
    To memory now I can’t recall
    So fill to me the parting glass
    Good night and joy be with you all

    If I had money enough to spend
    And leisure time to sit awhile 

    There is a fair maid in this town
    Who sorely doth my heart-beguiled.
    Her rosey cheeks and ruby lips,
    I own she has my heart in thrall

    So fill to me the parting glass.
    Goodnight and joy be with you all

    Oh all the comrades that e’er I’ve had
    They Are sorry for my going away
    And all the sweethearts that e’er I’ve kissed
    Would wish me one more day to stay
    But since it falls unto my lot
    That I should rise and you should not
    I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call
    Good night and joy be with you all

  • 7
    Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air

    I am your true shepherd
    I will lead you there
    Beside still waters
    Come and meet me in the middle of the air
    I will meet you in the middle of the air

    I will lay you down
    In pastures green and fair
    Every soul shall be restored
    I will meet them in the middle of the air
    Come and meet me in the middle of the air

    Through the lonesome valley
    My rod and staff you’ll bear
    Fear not death’s dark shadow
    Come and meet me in the middle of the air
    I will meet you in the middle of the air

    With oil I shall anoint you
    A table shall I prepare
    Your cup will runneth over
    Come and meet me in the middle of the air
    I will meet you in the middle of the air

    In my house you’ll dwell forever
    You shall not want for care
    Surely goodness and mercy will follow you
    Come and meet me in the middle of the air
    I will meet you in the middle of the air

  • 8
    Don’t Fence Me In

    Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
    Don’t fence me in
    Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
    Don’t fence me in

    Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
    And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
    Send me off forever but I ask you please
    Don’t fence me in

    Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
    Underneath the western skies
    On my cayuse, let me wander over yonder
    Till I see the mountains rise

    I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences
    And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
    And I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences
    Don’t fence me in

    Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
    Underneath the western skies
    On my cayuse, let me wander over yonder
    Till I see the mountains rise

    Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
    Underneath the western skies
    On my cayuse, let me wander over yonder
    Till I see the mountains rise

    I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences
    And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
    And I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences
    Don’t fence me in

  • 9
    Bird On The Wire

    Like a bird on the wire
    Like a drunk in a midnight choir
    I have tried in my way to be free

    Like a worm on a hook
    Like a knight from some old-fashioned book
    I have saved all my ribbons for thee
    And if I, if I’ve been unkind
    I hope that you can just let it go by
    If I, if I’ve been untrue
    I hope you know it was never to you

    Like a baby, stillborn
    Like a beast with his horn
    I have torn everyone who reached out for me
    But I swear by this song
    And by all that I have done wrong
    I will make it all up to thee

    I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch
    He said to me, “you must not ask for so much”
    And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door
    She cried to me, “hey, why not ask for more?”
    Like a bird on the wire
    Like a drunk in a midnight choir
    I have tried in my way to be free

  • 10
    Angel Of Death

    In the great book of John
    You’re warned of the day
    When you’ll be laid
    Beneath the cold clay

    The Angel of Death
    Will come from the sky
    And claim up your soul
    When the time comes to die

    When the Angel of Death
    Comes down after you
    Can you smile and say
    That you’ve been true

    Can you truthfully say
    With your dying breath
    That you’re ready to meet
    The Angel of Death

    When the lights all grow dim
    And dark shadows creep
    And all your loved ones
    Are gathered to weep

    Can you face them and say
    With your dying breath
    That you’re ready to meet
    The Angel of Death

    When the Angel of Death
    Comes down after you
    Can you smile and say
    That you’ve been true

    Can you truthfully say
    With your dying breath
    That you’re ready to meet
    The Angel of Death

    Are you ready to meet
    The Angel of Death