Opening Party for Sydney Festival @ Centenary Square, Parramatta
From the moment that Paul Kelly announces “tonight there are 6 singers” you know that something special is imminent. For this collective is not just a collaboration of available singers, The Merri Souls have been handpicked & nurtured by Paul himself. Songs written by Paul Kelly and his band (Ashley Naylor, Cameron Bruce, Bill McDonald & Peter Luscombe) in February last year have been recorded for the new CD with these voices and talents in mind.
It is remarkable that Vika & Linda Bull, Clairy Browne, Dan Sultan & Kira Puru (the Merri Souls) are all available to tour this record. What is even more remarkable is that patrons in Parramatta got to see them perform for free as part of the opening party of the Sydney Festival celebrations.
With so many references to rain on the new record (it’s basically raining everywhere), it is only fitting that the heavens open up during the Soundcheck of Smells like Rain. The handful of passersby in Centenary Square at 5pm that are prepared to get soaked are treated to 30 minutes of a remarkable precursor to tonight’s performance by Paul Kelly & his Merri Souls. The rain eventually clears and by 9.15pm a sizeable crowd can feel the paplible excitement of what is to come.
The honour of opening the show goes to the Bull sisters with Vika singing What You Want and Linda singing Smells Like Rain. (incidentally the opening 2 tracks from the new CD). All 11 tracks from the Merri Soul Sessions CD will be played over the next 2 hours. Both Vika & Linda have had a long association with Paul Kelly and singing with him & his band appears as comfortable as putting on an old pair of slippers. Right on cue they don’t miss a note and a terrific opening to the show. The smile on Linda’s face says it all.
Righteous Woman gets Paul off the mark and again this sounds very comfortable. His voice is so familiar & unique in the Australian musical landscape. There is no one else that sounds like Paul Kelly. We are watching a true master at work with consummate ease. No sooner had he started, than Paul graciously steps aside to sing backing vocals on Dan Sultan’s Don’t Let a Good Thing Go. This is a very catchy song with a melodic hook and when Vika & Linda sing “Soon you’ll be standing out in the pouring rain" over the top of the song you can feel your feet starting to tap and can’t help but feel good.
Clairy Browne is next to the stage to sing the 1st of three songs, Where Were You When I Needed You. As soon as she starts singing it is apparent that she’s a class act also, a pedigree in the eyes
of Paul Kelly. All the singers prove to have powerful voices. As she sings the 2nd line of the song “Where were you in the falling rain”, I smile to myself recalling the soundcheck of some hours previous.
Paul Kelly only sings lead vocal on 2 tracks on the new CD and his song Thank you is next. Before singing this song he tells this tale. “ As I was walking down the street today, someone came up to me and asked if they could play one of my songs at a funeral. You know, I’ve had 3 of my songs played at funerals but I'd prefer to get into the wedding business". “This song is called Thank you". As he sang the line “Thank you for loving me” I couldn’t help but feel like saying “You're welcome.” A true gentleman that has given millions of Australians pleasure with his songs, stories & tales. A person of the people.
Linda reappeared on stage next signing Let My Love Be Your Guide followed by Paul picking up the baton to deliver the crowd pleasing How To Make Gravy. Paul’s voice is as strong as ever and the joy & exuberance of all around him is clear to see. Ashley Taylor (lead guitar) has a constant smile and the warmth of the smile on Linda’s face is evident all night. There seems to be a sisterhood between the 4 females and you can imagine them all sharing a bottle of wine at the shows conclusion. Everyone is having a good time on stage. Comfortable in their own skins and each a major contributor to the glorious cacophony of sound.
This brings Kira Puru to the stage to perform I Don’t Know What I’d do. Kira has a deep enriched voice and doesn’t disappoint either. Paul introduces the next song by saying “ I wanted to do a duet with Kira but wasn’t sure what to sing. A song from 50 years ago, James Carr – The Dark End of The Street, was what I decided with Kira was the right duet for us.” As the song progresses Vika & Linda join in once again culminating in a spectacular sound that just takes your breath away. Paul Kelly has really nailed it with his selections of collaborators for the new record and they all can cut it live. We would expect no less.
Finally the harmonica makes an appearance when Paul sings I Close My Eyes and Think of You as a duet with Dan Sultan, and at the conclusion of this song Clairy Browne re-enters the stage to perform the Sam & Dave song When Something is Wrong With My Baby accompanied by Dan Sultan. This is the highlight of the night for me as I witness Paul Kelly being in absolute awe. Open mouthed, he glances at Dan with a look that says ‘Hey this girl can really sing’ & the resultant nod from Dan just cements what we already know. Clairy’s voice is tremendous and this is a showstopper.
Next a couple of familiar tunes, Song from the Sixteenth Floor & Give in to my love (sung by Kira) are well received and Clairy returns to do a mighty job of her song Keep on Coming Back for More. It was at this point that Paul Kelly left the stage to “Go find a whisky” that “Dan the Man” as Paul affectionately refers to him takes the reins and thunders out a terrific version of Looks So Fine Feel So Low.
Paul’s exit just accentuates the fact that his band is terrific. Ashley Taylor on lead guitar, Cameron Bruce on keyboards, Bill McDonald on bass & Peter Luscombe are all seasoned and accomplished talented musicians. The sound is tight and you forget how powerful and good they are as tonight is dominated by the plethora of wonderful singers on stage.
All of the songs on The Merri Soul Sessions have been written by Paul & his band and one of his much loved songs gets a reworking next from Vika Bull. Vika returns to the stage with Paul introducing her with “Vika has a question for you”. As Ashley plays the opening riff (everyone knows the intro to this one), it becomes apparent that Sweet Guy is being sung by Vika and Paul lends his voice to the backing vocals. Her question is ‘What makes such a sweet guy turn so mean’ has gender credence being now sung by a woman. This song brings the show to an end to a thunderous round of applause by the 1000 plus crowd.
The encore lasts 5 songs and includes Down on a Jetty – a song written by Paul with Linda Bull while on the Kimberley Coast 3 years ago, another crowd favourite Dumb Things and Love Letter. As Paul sings the poignant line of the song “I want to make a deep connection between you and me" I know that he already has with so many Australians that admire and respect him.
A stripped back version of Meet Me In The Middle of the Air brings all 6 singers to the centre of the stage with only one microphone. This sounds incredible and you can almost hear a pin drop as the crowd quiets down to imbibe this pure & rich sound.
The show ends with the same theme as it started. Hasn’t it Rained just ensures that we have been soaked by songs of water and is a great up-tempo gospel song bringing everybody to the stage. Two hours has now passed and we have just incidentally witnessed the opening concert of Paul Kelly & the Merri Soul Sessions tour of Australia.
Spending 2 hours with one of Australia’s much loved artists has been a real joy. What resonates is that Paul Kelly has real humility & grace. He commands centre stage but takes great pleasure in promoting & nurturing others first & foremost. That’s what I will remember from tonight. A true gentleman.
Photos from the concert
Photos from the soundcheck