Cybele Malinowski/Press

Home Music Music Features

Paul Kelly will take a deep dive into temporality during four consecutive shows at the Sydney Opera House as part of this year’s Vivid LIVE.

“I’ve always felt, from pretty young, that we don’t have much time,” says Paul Kelly. Time has frequently influenced Kelly’s songwriting over his four-decade career. The narrator of “If I Could Start Today Again,” from 2001’s Nothing But A Dream, bewails their inability to go back in time. “Randwick Bells,” from Paul Kelly and the Messengers’ breakthrough release, Gossip, depicts two lovers whose lust and infatuation makes time seem irrelevant.

The passing of time is an integral feature of some of Kelly’s biggest hits, including Gossip’s “Before Too Long,” and “From Little Things Big Things Grow,” co-written by Kev Carmody and first released on Kelly and the Messengers’ album, Comedy, from 1991.

Paul Kelly will take a deep dive into temporality during four consecutive shows at the Sydney Opera House as part of this year’s Vivid LIVE. Kelly will be joined at the “Time and Tide” concerts by his regular band, comprising bass player Bill McDonald, drummer Peter Luscombe, guitarists Ash Naylor and Dan Kelly, and keyboard player Cameron Bruce. Vika and Linda Bull will contribute backing vocals and percussion.

Paul Kelly was born in Adelaide in 1955. His first public performance was at an open mic night in Hobart when he was 19 years old. He released his debut album, Talk, in 1981. His latest release, 2021’s Paul Kelly’s Christmas Train, is the decorated songwriter’s 28th studio album.

Since the beginning, Kelly has aspired to make music that could withstand the passing of time. “When I first started writing songs, I wanted to write songs that wouldn’t necessarily be out of fashion in ten to fifteen years,” he says.

The “Time and Tide” performances—which will take place on the Opera House’s Northern Boardwalk—will revolve around the material featured on Kelly’s new 30-track compilation album, Time. It’s the first in a series of themed compilation albums from Kelly; future instalments will centre on people, places, and drinking, he says.

“It’s fun just going through the catalogue and putting together these themes,” says Kelly.

Aside from the new single, “Back to the Future,” the songs on Time are all drawn from Kelly’s 28-album back catalogue. The oldest of the bunch is “Standing On The Street Of Early Sorrows,” from Kelly’s breakthrough solo record, Post, released in 1985.

The “Time and Tide” set-lists will also draw material from Kelly’s iconic 1980s releases, Gossip, Under the Sun, and So Much Water So Close to Home, and more recent records, Spring And Fall (2012), Nature (2018), and Thirteen Ways To Look At Birds (2019).

“I’m always trying to find ways to do new kinds of shows and not be boxed into playing well-known songs all the time,” Kelly says.

One of the many appetising setlist candidates featured on Time is “I Wasted Time,” which originally appeared on 2001’s Nothing But A Dream. The song’s subject matter is rooted in its opening line, “I wasted time now time is wasting me”—a lyric Kelly pinched from Shakespeare.

“It’s from King Richard II, where he says, ‘I wasted time and now doth time waste me,’” Kelly says. It’s a resonant sentiment regardless of its second-hand nature, but Kelly says it doesn’t accurately represent his own philosophy on time.

“I think wasting time is a perfectly fine thing to do,” he says. “Especially if you’re a songwriter, you’ve got to give yourself plenty of what I would call idle time, where you’re not really trying to achieve or get something done—just give yourself time to be open to the world.”

“I Wasted Time” isn’t the only song on Time that owes credit to the Bard of Avon. In 2016, Kelly’s love of Shakespeare gave rise to the album, Seven Sonnets And A Song, which consists of seven Shakespearean sonnets set to music. Two of the sonnets, “Sonnet 60” and “Sonnet 73,” appear on Time.

“Sonnet 60” begins with the line, “Like as the waves make towards the pebbl’d shore / So do our minutes hasten to their end,” which evokes the relentlessness of time and the sense that catastrophe could be waiting around the corner.

“The Greeks have a saying, ‘No man can say he’s happy until he dies,’ because you could have a life that you think is a great life and then something terrible could happen right at the end,” says Kelly.

He adds, “It’s not like you walk around in constant fear, but just having an awareness that life as you know it could be over soon gives you an appreciation of how precious life is. Life tastes better when you know you don’t have much of it.”

Kelly doesn’t mind looking back. He feels much affection for his back catalogue. Though, he’s not indiscriminate. “There’s really old songs of mine that I can still play, way back from Post, but I couldn’t play every song from Post. And it’s the same with every record.”

So, what influences his setlist choices? “There’s some songs that I can still find new things in them or they still feel right to sing,” he says. “Or they’re fun to sing—it’s got to be fun.”

Paul Kelly and His Band – “Time and Tide” at Vivid LIVE

Friday, May 27th
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, NSW

Saturday, May 28th
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, NSW

Sunday, May 29th
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, NSW

Tuesday, May 31st
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, NSW

Tickets available via Sydney Opera House

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine