Paul Kelly’s story begins with the Spiegeltent in Melbourne in 2004 when he was offered an exclusive show: four nights of never-to-be repeated performances. Around that was born the idea of singing 100 of his songs in alphabetical order, each night consisting of a completely different set-list. Around the songs, storytelling was added for theatrical effect, and as the shows hit the road they were recorded with a view to a CD release and then a book. How to Make Gravy is the ‘mongrel beast’ that emerged, and what a beast it is. 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. How to Make Gravy is also available with an exclusive 8-CD box set entitled The A-Z Recordings and a 64-page booklet of photos for $125.
Deborah Crabtree is a Melbourne-based writer and bookseller. This review first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher.