How To Make Gravy by Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly’s a respected songwriter in Australia, with a solo career that began in 1981. He’s the type of figure who receives songwriting awards and inclusions on great song lists, without necessarily breaking through to public consciousness. He’s little known outside of Australia and New Zealand. Fellow Antipodean songwriter Neil Finn writes “There is something unique and powerful about the way Kelly mixes up everyday detail with the big issues of life, death, love and struggle – not a trace of pretence or fakery in there.”

‘How To Make Gravy’ is a great example of Kelly’s elegant, accomplished writing. It’s about a man in prison who writes a letter to his brother, lamenting that he’ll miss Christmas. It includes a gravy recipe (“Just add flour, salt, a little red wine and don’t forget a dollop of tomato sauce”), which Kelly learned from his former father-in-law. It’s a song that could have easily drowned in its own bathos, but it works because it’s so understated and real.

It’s the lyrics that are the most memorable, but the arrangement is also effective – the driving rhythm guitar is just asking for drums to join it, but they’re held back until the second verse.

In a celebrated career, ‘How To Make Gravy’ might be Kelly’s most celebrated song. 21st of December has unofficially been christened as “Gravy Day”. There was even an unofficial Twitter account dedicated to the song, most active around December 21, using the handle @itsthegravyman.

How To Make Gravy: Lyrics

Hello Dan, it’s Joe here
I hope you’re keeping well
It’s the 21st of December
And now they’re ringing the last bells

If I get good behaviour
I’ll be out of here by July
Won’t you kiss my kids on Christmas Day
Please don’t let ’em cry for me

I guess the brothers are driving down from Queensland
And Stella’s flying in from the coast
They say it’s gonna be a hundred degrees, even more maybe
But that won’t stop the roast

Who’s gonna make the gravy now?
I bet it won’t taste the same
Just add flour, salt, a little red wine and don’t forget a dollop of tomato sauce for sweetness and that extra tang

And give my love to Angus
And to Frank and Dolly
Tell ’em all I’m sorry
I screwed up this time

And look after Rita
I’ll be thinking of her
Early Christmas morning
When I’m standing in line

I hear Mary’s got a new boyfriend
I hope he can hold his own
Do you remember the last one? (What was his name again?)
Just a little too much cologne

And Roger, you know I’m even gonna miss Roger
Cause there’s sure as hell no one in here I want to fight

Oh praise the Baby Jesus
Have a Merry Christmas
I’m really gonna miss it
All the treasure and the trash

And later in the evening
I can just imagine
You’ll put on Junior Murvin
And push the tables back

And you’ll dance with Rita
I know you really like her
Just don’t hold her too close, oh, brother please don’t stab me in the back

I didn’t mean to say that
It’s just my mind it plays up
Multiplies each matter
Turns imagination into fact

You know I love her badly
She’s the one to save me
I’m gonna make some gravy
I’m gonna taste the fat

Tell her that I’m sorry
Yeah I love her badly
Tell ’em all I’m sorry
And kiss the sleepy children for me

You know one of these days
I’ll be making gravy
I’ll be making plenty
I’m gonna pay ’em all back


  1. I really should invest more time with Paul Kelly. I used to listen to a lot of radio shows introducing new artists in the mid 80s and remember a BBC DJ introducing Kelly as the new Elvis Costello. Intrigued, I went and bought “Gossip” on import. It is, for the most part, great (if a little drawn out). Any tips on where to head next?

  2. Came over to continue my romp through your reviews and seen this one. PK is one of CB’s favorites and I’m a long ways from his homeland. Seen him a few times (fantastic!). Great piece and the song is beautiful and Paul Kelly to the core. His music moves CB big time. Love this tune. Does he have a bad one. God’s Hotel, To Her Door …… It’s a beautiful day over here and time for a walk . Will be taking this collection with me.

Leave a Reply

  • Queen A Night At The Opera
  • Queen Made In Heaven

Review Pages

Read about the discographies of musical acts from the 1960s to the present day. Browse this site's review archives or enjoy these random selections:

Blog Posts

I add new blog posts to this website every week. Browse the archives or enjoy these random selections:

  • AC/DC Let There Be Rock
  • Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express The Go-Betweens
  • Dusty in Memphis Dusty Springfield