PAUL KELLY 1980-1995

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Leaps and Bounds (C Langman/P Kelly) and To Her Door (P Kelly) – Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls 1987

In 1977 Kelly had relocated to a shared house at 1109 Hoddle St, East Melbourne, he was pretty much broke but absorbing musical influences from a lively local club scene and the extensive record collection of his housemates.

He played the Carlton pub rock, campus, and inner-city venues as initially The High-Rise Bombers and then the Dots, they were generally described as New Wave, he met and married his first wife Hilary and their son Declan arrived in 1980. 

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 Kelly was living with his wife and family in a flat in Punt Rd. Richmond, he was hitless, without a band and paralysed by writer’s block, he went to see a group called the Cuban Heels at a pub in Richmond, the band’s front-man, Steve Connolly (above second from the right), seemed to Kelly like a cross between Hubert Sumlin, Steve Cropper and James Burton, all legendary American guitarists. Connolly would ultimately join Kelly a year later in Sydney as lead guitarist with the Coloured Girls, and his musical influence within the group would prove to be pivotal to their future success.

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Leaps and Bounds was a double A-side release with the Dylanesque  Bradman on the flipside when taken off the Gossip album. It is uniquely Melbourne-oriented with specific references to the MCG, the Nylex digital clock above the Punt Rd silos, burning autumn leaves, Aussie Rules Football, and the city’s quirky weather. It was co-composed by Kelly and Chris Langman, when they shared a house in Hoddle St. East Melbourne, the song took several years to complete, with Steve Connolly writing the ultimate riff, and Jon Schofield delivering a distinctive bass line. A punk version of the original had been recorded with Sports front man Stephen Cummings producing, but basically it existed for years anonymously on a cassette in Kelly’s possession., until he re-birthed it in the mid-eighties.

Classic Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls Clip- Filmed Atop the Punt Rd Silos (Melb)

It is a poignant and timeless composition, all heartache and yearning, lust for life and feelings of ephemeral bliss. The first chorus consists of just two words: “I remember.” The second includes the refrain “I go in leaps and bounds.” It is much-loved by Melburnians, Kelly has performed it at the AFL Grand Final in front of 100,000 fans, and the promo video was filmed atop the Punt Rd. silos.

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When Meatloaf delivered a less than memorable halftime performance at the AFL Grand Final in 2011, fans demanded that local artists be engaged the very next year, of course Paul Kelly was the star turn, and he sang Leaps and Bounds to the great joy of the 100,000 people in attendance. The only mondegreen that has been consistently attributed to a Kelly song is this one, when Greg Arnold, singer with Things of Stone and Wood, recalled that one of his mates thought the song was about a guy who has been refused entry to the MCG and he‘s yelling, “But I ‘m a member, I’m a member!”

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Undoubtedly the Gossip album provided the critical breakthrough for Kelly, it was an album full of emotions, down-hearted songs (Look So Fine, Feel So Low; Somebody’s Forgetting Somebody), empathy for our First Nations people (Maralinga), and admissions of failure and personal short comings (Stories of Me), but it was also the clearest affirmation of the emergence of one of this country’s finest songwriters.

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Paul Kelly really hit his stride with To Her Door which was the first single lifted off the Under the Sun album and exemplified his accessible and engaging narrative style, so reminiscent of Bob Dylan and the bluesmen of another era, the opening guitar chords have a distinctive delta blues provenance. The steel pedal guitar of Lucky Oceans is exemplary and Peter Bull’s piano complements it perfectly, Kelly’s vocals are passionate and underscore the dramatic ebb and flow of the song.

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To Her Door has a bluesy ballad/country rock fusion feel to it as it depicts the story of a young couple who become estranged, and make a brutal yet touching attempt at reconciliation ”They got married early, never had no money/ Then when he got laid off, they really hit the skids/ He started up his drinking, then they started fighting/ He took it pretty badly, she took both the kids.”

Maybe the Best Paul Kelly Song Ever – Consummate Storytelling and the Images Here Resonate With Many

The song is typical of Kelly’s narrative style, infused with wry observations, bitter sweet emotions, as it  chronicles a schism in the life of a man and his wife and family, who also appear in two other Kelly songs – Lover Never Runs On Time in which the man is still rootless, and travelling around trying to locate his wife and kids, and How To Make Gravy, where the man is in prison, its Christmas, and he is  aching with regret and loneliness at the absence of his family, and  not being able to make the gravy for the Christmas roast. It took Kelly seven years to complete To Her Door, and in just over three minutes the song captures all the humor, despair, grace, tragedy, and sadness that imbues every human relationship, it charted at #14 in October 1987, for Kelly’s most successful single to that time.

To Her Door was the fourth single released by Kelly with his band the Coloured Girls, it won the ARIA award for best video that year and is listed by APRA in the top 30 songs written in the modern era in Australia to 2001.

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The song almost passed the taxi driver recognition test as recounted by Kelly in his memoir How To Make Gravy, when taking a cab from Tullamarine Airport back to the city, the Greek cabbie told him that he liked Kelly’s song “they got married early” and that other one “out the door” was pretty good too.

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