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Adelaide's Music Man Paul Kelly

21 Feb 2019

One of Australia’s most loved and iconic musicians shares his love for South Australia, holidays by the sea and making music.

Paul KellyPic: Cybele Malinowski

Home for me is… Adelaide. I’ve lived in Melbourne for longer than I’ve lived in Adelaide, and my children have grown up in Melbourne, but Adelaide is always home. I come from a big family…there are eight of us, but with just one sibling in Adelaide now. But because we come from a big clan, Adelaide to me is tied up with my family and my cousins. When I come back to Adelaide, it’s about spending time with them.

When back home in South Australia… I have my little rituals. I always like to go to the Norwood pool where we used to go swimming every Sunday after church. I love Kensington Park, too. It’s not far from where I grew up. I used to play cricket there.

In South Australia, I love… McLaren Vale, with that combination of wine region, hills and the sea. Sometimes we went to Port Noarlunga for holidays - I just love the look of that country.

Paul Kelly 2Pic: Cybele Malinowski

For family holidays… in the 60s, we never went interstate. Our holidays were to the beach down at Tennyson, Brighton or Henley Beach. We would just get a holiday house in Tennyson… I thought it was miles away. It felt like another world. We used to spend the whole summer by the beach.

I have a lot of memories of… going to the water. We used to spend the whole summer by the beach. Now I live by the water in St Kilda.

I used to go camping… with my brothers in the 50s . Parents used to let you do that. The three of us would just get a tent, some supplies, a bit of mum’s fruit cake and go and camp in the Hills. I can’t remember where but it wasn’t too far from home.

I’m not good at… putting up a tent, but there are a few of my family who are good campers and we do trips every now and then. I love them.

My rule for camping is… that you have to go with people who know what they’re doing. I liked going with my brothers.

Paul Kelly 3

When travelling in Victoria… most of our family holidays are down to the west coast. I tend to go towards the beach for holidays. I like going to Port Philip Bay, but if you want to get some surf, head to the west coast - Lorne, Apollo Bay… it’s pretty and we try to get there regularly, as well as the Mornington Peninsula.

Growing up… there was always music in the house. My mother was very musical and dad loved music even though he didn’t play anything. We all had pianos as kids. Music was just part of our lives. We all learnt music. Everyone else in the family can play something. My eldest sister was going out with this guy who played the trumpet and I really liked him so he got me into playing the trumpet.

We listened to… ABC Radio and classical music - Mum and Dad had classical records, Irish records, Barry Humphries comedy records.

I wanted to be… a writer. I knew that. I was writing from the age of 15 or 16. I was writing poetry in a notebook and just kept going. It was just pretty freeform poetry and prose. I was always writing things down. It wasn’t until a few years after I left school [that I got into writing for and playing music].

I got into playing music because… I met this gang of people in 1973 and they were all playing country rock, and that was when I first got into that kind of music. I started learning guitar and playing other people’s songs for a few years, and then I wrote my own song. I thought ‘if I can write one, I can write another one’.

Paul Kelly 4

The first song I wrote… was called ‘The Going Down’ (that I can remember). It was just a four line song.

My career was… fairly gradual. I made a few records and wasn’t really making much of a living off it. It was really my fourth record Gossip which got some commercial radio play. That really changed things. That kicked things off for me. When that came along I was ready to go.

One of the most important things I’ve learnt… is to keep your ears open and pay attention. Songs can come from anywhere - something someone says, something you hear, from other songs you love - they all influence what you do. For me it’s about being open and being awake.

My favourite songs… are ‘If I Could Start Today Again’, ‘They Thought I Was Asleep’, ‘Little Aches And Pains’…‘How To Make Gravy’ is always a good song to play because it sort of seems to play itself…it’s got an in-built gear in itself. It works for us as a band.

Paul Kelly album


The new record Nature has five songs based on poems by other people. That’s probably the biggest shift… over the last five or six years, I’ve got into the habit of putting poetry in music. That’s opened me up to writing songs in another way. I’m grateful for that because I’ve been writing songs for 40 years.

I chose poems because… it’s just a new way for me to write. Words are the hardest part of writing songs. The new record has five poems by other people: Sylvia Plath, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Walt Whitman, Dylan Thomas and Phillip Larkin. They’re poems that I have loved for a long time. By choosing those poems, they’re poems I love, they say something about me.

Paul’s latest album Nature is out now. Purchase your copy at


This interview was published in G’DAY Magazine.

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