Making Gravy: Paul Kelly, Ball Park Music, Sycco, Emma Donovan & the Putbacks @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Thursday 9 December, 2021

Header image by Valerie Lee

Now in its fourth year – and with Paul Kelly himself promising “some extra Christmas content” given that he finally released a Christmas album, Paul Kelly’s Christmas Train, this year – Making Gravy has become an essential annual kick-off to the festive season.

Warming up the stage for this legendary singer-songwriter and his peerless band – Vika & Linda, Paul’s nephew Dan Kelly, Bill McDonald, Peter Luscombe, Ash Naylor and Cameron Bruce – are a couple of shining stars from Brisbane’s vibrant music scene, Ball Park Music and Sycco, plus multiple 2021 Music Victoria Award recipients Emma Donovan & the Putbacks.

And the good news is there’s still some tickets available for tonight’s Making Gravy show, showcasing the same stellar lineup, at Sidney Myer Music Bowl! Get your tickets right here.

THE BEST BITS 

Emma Donovan & the Putbacks

We’re not even sure how they managed the logistics, but after Emma Donovan & the Putbacks set the bar impossibly high with their opening Making Gravy set, they hooned across St Kilda Road to Melbourne Recital Centre to perform at the Music Victoria Awards and also collected three trophies – Best Album; Best Soul, Funk, R&B or Gospel Act; and Best Group – off the back of the outstanding record, 2020’s Crossover (they’ve since released yet another awesome album, 2021’s Under These Streets). Then Emma miraculously returns to the Making Gravy stage during Paul Kelly’s set to perform The Virgin Mary Had One Son – the Paul Kelly’s Christmas Train song she features on – made extra heavenly thanks to Vika & Linda’s BVs. Anyone in the Bowl who may not have previously been aware of this powerhouse, and her fabulous band the Putbacks, will remember their name from here on in.

Paul Kelly, Christmas 

If you weren’t grinning from ear to ear while watching PK perform Chris and Wes Harrington’s song Christmas, sans guitar and with gusto, you’re probably dead inside. A rollicking rock’n’roll track with blazing riffs, killer harmonies and poignant lyrics we can all relate to (especially those kept away from their families due to border restrictions) – “I wanna go back to the people I love…” – Christmas belongs at the rowdy, jolly end of every Christmas playlist. And while introducing this song, Kelly admits he was totally chuffed when the Harringtons (from Melbourne band, The Large Number Twelves) gave him the thumbs-up to include this song on Paul Kelly’s Christmas Train.

Paul Kelly, Alice Keath and Sime Nugent, Silent Night

Have we ever heard a more glorious version of Silent Night than the one presented by Paul Kelly, Alice Keath and Simon Nugent tonight? Absolutely not. Paul explains this classic Christmas carol was originally written in German (Stille Nacht) and, as such, the Paul Kelly’s Christmas Train version contains a verse sung in this language, which completely throws us off our singalong game.

Paul and Dan Kelly, From St Kilda to Kings Cross

Watching PK and his nephew performing From St Kilda to Kings Cross as a duo is made even more special after Paul tells us that this famous riff, composed by the late, great Steve Connolly, is one of the first that Dan learned how to play on guitar when he was about 13 years old – naw! Baby Dan! Paul has previously said that he feels Connolly’s presence whenever he plays any of the songs they recorded between 1985 and 1990, and we’re positive this legendary lead guitarist (in both The Coloured Girls and The Messengers) would be chuffed with this bare-bones rendition this evening.

Vika Bull and Paul Kelly, Christmas Train

Is there a voice more powerful on the planet than that of Vika Bull? We think not. And tonight, as always, she sings her heart out and easily engages punters in the nosebleed section with her awe-inspiring projection, that cuts through even the loudest instrumentation. All aboard the Christmas Train! Vika also brings her trademark power and passion to Sweet Guy. And, just like the roar of a lion, we suspect Vika’s final sustained notes at this song’s conclusion could be heard many kilometres away.

Paul Kelly, Leaps And Bounds

It’s so satisfying to sing, “I’m high on the hill, looking over the bridge to the MCG,” given our current geographic coordinates here at Sidney Myer Music Bowl. The entire crowd is upstanding by this stage (the irresistible Dumb Things coaxed us to our feet) and those situated at the top of the Bowl’s grassy hill quite possibly even have eyes on the actual ‘G! During the, “I remem-ber-er-er…” bit at the tail end of this track, Paul inserts shout-outs to iconic, now-defunct Melbourne venues – including Hearts nightclub and the Crystal Ballroom – to keep memories alive.

Paul Kelly, From Little Things Big Things Grow

Paul’s captivating harmonica playing ushers in this misleadingly catchy (for a protest song) Kev Carmody co-write. Alice Keath’s banjo playing further elevates this rendition of From Little Things Big Things Grow, but it’s Emma Donovan’s impassioned delivery during her contributions that truly rule.

Paul Kelly, How To Make Gravy

How To Make Gravy was always gonna be a deafening, celebratory singalong given that this song inspired these Making Gravy shows, and experiencing it live just never gets old – punters really do know every single syllable of this unconventional Christmas song, which is no easy feat. PK’s matter-of-fact, sometimes spoken-word delivery encapsulates all of the things – good, bad, humorous – that the song’s protagonist, a newly imprisoned man, outlines he’ll miss about his family’s upcoming Christmas celebrations. And the fact that there’s a genuine gravy recipe, passed down to Kelly from his first father-in-law, contained within How To Make Gravy’s lyrics is pure genius: “Just add flour, salt, a little red wine/ And don’t forget a dollop of tomato sauce for sweetness and that extra tang.”
It finally feels like Christmas! Stay safe out there, hug your friends and family if you can and, most importantly, try to avoid doing “all the dumb things”.