How Paul Kelly made an Aussie classic
YOU'VE sung the song, made the sauce, bought the tea towel and now you can celebrate our most unlikely Christmas anthem at the Making Gravy mini-festival.
For more than two decades now, Paul Kelly's legion of fans have embraced his 1996 song How To Make Gravy as part of their Christmas traditions.
Heartstrings are tugged each year on December 21 - declared by Kelly acolytes as Gravy Day - as fans play the musical letter penned by a prisoner named Joe on that day about missing his family Christmas.
As well as sharing Joe's anguish about not spending the holidays with his children as he finishes his jailtime, the song features a gravy recipe shared with Kelly by a former father-in-law.
The song has more than five million streams, finding more fans each year.
"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."
While some purists take issue with the recipe's addition of tomato sauce, the song has proven to pull a very big crowd, with the inaugural Making Gravy concert in Melbourne last year sold out.
That success has inspired Kelly to take the show on the road with three mini-festivals this year, kicking off at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on December 14, Sydney's The Domain on December 15 and Brisbane's Riverstage on Gravy Day aka December 21.
"Every December 21, there seems to be more people talking about the song, making sauce and getting together to sing the song," Kelly said.
"I don't really know why it got popular with people. It doesn't have a chorus - and every Christmas song has a chorus - and it's set in prison.
"It's like From Little Things, Big Things Grow for me as well as over the years people just started calling out for it more."
Kelly said he is surprised How To Make Gravy has become one of the big crowd karaoke moments of his shows because it isn't an easy song to sing.
"I'm glad this one has become popular because I really like singing it because it has this natural gear change in it that takes the band and I for a ride.
"And because it's half taking and half singing, I never thought of it as a singalong song."
Joe's sad tale about asking his relative Dan to kiss his children for him and send his love to family members was written in 1996 when Kelly was asked to contribute to the annual Spirit of Christmas compilation.
The master songwriter said he had always thought of it as a comedy.
"Some people think it's a sad song but when I write it, I thought it was more of a comedy. That happens to me all the time," he said.
"People who grew up with it have this childhood feeling about it and what it means about everyone gathering together for Christmas and that gives it another power."
As for Joe's fate - the song suggests he would be released in July for good behaviour - Kelly has said he is pretty sure he got out.
Kelly is taking some of his favourite artists on the gravy train with him for the shows including Angus and Julia Stone, Alex Lahey, Mojo Juju, D.D. Dumbo and Angie McMahon.
He said it wasn't difficult to program a diverse bill of artists for his Making Gravy festival because of the wealth of bands and songwriters in Australia right now.
"I am really happy that we got the people we wanted, it's going to be a really fun gig," he said.
The concerts will follow the release of his 24th studio record Nature on October 12, the follow-up to last year's acclaimed Life Is Fine which would be the first No. 1 debut album of his four-decades career.
Tickets for the Making Gravy concerts are on sale now