Aussie songwriting great Paul Kelly hits 40 and treads into Deeper Water



By Steve Newton

Ever wonder what happened to the Aussie Invasion? Back in the early- to mid-’80s it seemed as if a band wasn’t on top unless it was from Down Under. Two-hit wonders Men at Work kick-started the worldwide interest in the music of koala country in ’82 with the quirky singles “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Down Under”, and the international breakthrough of more legitimate Aussie acts such as Midnight Oil, INXS, Hunters and Collectors, and Crowded House soon followed. But nowadays the only Aussies making big waves in North America seem to be the pint-size prepubescents of Silverchair.

So what happened to everybody else?

“Maybe we were just fashionable for a little while,” ponders venerable Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, on the line from Minnesota. “But I don’t know, and I’m the last person to ask. I mean, there’s still good bands coming out of Australia.”

Although he’s quick to defend the current musical state of his homeland, Kelly does admit that its small-town pub scene—often cited as responsible for nurturing a wealth of outstanding live acts—has weakened in recent years with the onslaught of (get ready to cringe) disco.

“There used to be heaps of places to play in the suburbs,” he contends, “but most of those places don’t have any live music anymore—not as much as it was through the ’80s. There’s still a pretty strong live scene, but it’s more inner-city now.”

Kelly himself has been striving to keep authentic pub-rock a viable entity in the Aussie metropolis. Last spring his current band—which will accompany Kelly at the Starfish Room on Tuesday (November 28)—could be found playing low-profile Monday-night gigs in the back room of the popular St. Kilda’s Esplanade Hotel in Melbourne. That stage-tested lineup then went directly into the studio to record the brunt of his new release, Deeper Water.

“I think it sounds more like a band,” says Kelly of his 14th or so release. “The last record, Wanted Man, was deliberately done with different people at different times, so this one was more of a conscious effort to have the same people on the record.”

While Kelly has played Vancouver numerous times before, including opening for Joe Jackson at the Orpheum last March, this will be his first local appearance with a full band. One highlight of the gig promises to be the performance of Deeper Water’s compelling title track, which starts off by drawing on Kelly’s personal remembrances of one very important aspect of the Aussie lifestyle: learning not to drown.

“I learned to swim in the local swimming pool,” he recalls, “and I can still remember how excited I was when I could swim and I could go out to the deep end by myself. But moving into deeper water represented to me growing up, and the different rites of passage as one grows older. Deeper water can either mean trouble or a more exciting life.”

And what does it mean to this particularly well travelled 40-year-old?

“A bit of both,” offers Kelly with a small laugh.

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