30 Aug 2011
David Sinclair, The Times UK
The Australian singer Paul Kelly has written a lot of songs over the 30 or so years since his recording career began. In recent times he has taken to performing about 100 of them arranged in alphabetical sequence over four-night stretches. The show made its 'northern hemisphere debut' in Shepherds Bush this week to tie in with the release of an eight-CD box set, The A To Z Recordings, in this country.
On the opening night, Kelly got from Adelaide, a song about his hometown, to Everything Turning To White, a story about the brutal murder of a girl in the mountains. Along the way he paid homage to the great Australian cricketer in Bradman, hymned the Cities of Texas and negotiated a trilogy of 'Don't' songs: Don't Explain, Don't Harm The Messenger and Don't Stand So Close To The Window.
Kelly, 56, is a spry character with an easygoing manner and a sharp eye for songwriting detail. He sang and played guitar, piano and harmonica, sounding at times like an Aussie Bob Dylan. He was accompanied by his nephew Dan Kelly, who played perfectly judged electric guitar parts and added spot-on, spine-tingling harmony vocals.
The alphabetical device was as good an organisational principle as any, given Kelly's mission to range over such a vast repertoire. Putting on four nights without repeating any songs is an ambitious programme, but it was clear that many of the fans here had signed up for all of the gigs.
His folksy storytelling routines between numbers prompted gales of laughter, some of it a little harder than was strictly called for. He talked of his family history and made a moving tribute to the late Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens. Kelly described Desdemona as his attempt to condense the story of Othello into a few verses and explained how he came to write Difficult Womanfor the famously demanding Australian singer Renee Geyer, with whom he remains on friendly terms.
Dumb Things which he began and ended with a frightening, ululating shriek, was possible his best-known number of the night. Naturally, the hardcore fans loved it all. But this was also a fine introduction to a songwriter who deserves eider recognition on this side of the world.