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 lots of songwriting awards and inclusions on great song lists, without necessarily breaking through to public consciousness, and I doubt he’s well known outside of Australia and New Zealand. Fellow Antipodean songwriter Neil Finn writes that “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 recipe for gravy (“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’s also 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

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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features many Reviews and Blog Posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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  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. Can’t say I’ve ever heard of this chap before, but I quite like this track (lyrically more than musically, right enough).

  3. 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.

      • I ‘m just heading out the door with Paul and my Disc-man. I want to hear more about that TVZ connection and that record. It doesn’t surprise me. Here’s one for you. Two more of my favorite guys cut an album in Australia. Joe Ely and Butch Hancock. They had PK come on stage and do a beautiful song called ‘Special Treatment’. I love it when people I admire get together and make great music. Out the door to catch some sun. Back in an hour.

    • Also, I’ll probably be done with Elvis Costello tomorrow. Just need to finish off Blood & Chocolate, then I will have covered all of his studio albums from his first ten years.

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