Paul Kelly
WOMADelaide Festival
Tainmuntilla/Botanic Park
Foundation Stage
Monday, 14 March 2022
From little things big things grow

It seemed fitting to close out WOMADelaide’s 30th birthday anniversary party with a glorious homecoming performance by the iconic Paul Kelly.

Kelly had been part of the inaugural WOMADelaide line up back in 1992 when it was conceived at the time as a special one-off event as part of Director Rob Brookman’s Adelaide Festival program. Little did we all know that this world music and dance event would become a central part of our festival season producing so many magical moments over three decades.

Photo by Sahil Choujar

WOMADelaide and Kelly are a seemingly perfect fit for each other which made it hard to believe as the master stepped out onto Foundation Stage on Monday night with the brilliant Vika and Linda Bull providing back up vocals, that it was his first appearance back at Tainmuntilla/Botanic Park since 2006. As he said, “it has been a long time between drinks.”

This was to be a night of pure classics, kicking off with Finally Something Good before moving back to the 20th century catalogue with Before Too Long, Careless and Love Never Runs on Time. By this stage the adoring crowd, having been in party mode over the previous four days, didn’t need much prompting to be in full flight.

But it wasn’t all just a greatest hits package. Known for bringing issues to the fore, Kelly introduced a brand new song on the Northern Rivers, enabling us to all consider the current flood situation and the impact of climate change.

Then it was back to the party, with Firewood and Candles before Linda Bull provided some vocal magic with Smells Like Rain.

Monday’s performance provided Kelly a chance to reminisce about how From St Kilda to Kings Cross was written on Cold Chisel’s Don Walker’s piano in Sydney, while living at the keyboardist’s house or the summer Sundays spent after mass at Norwood pool before performing Deeper Water.

It was during these reflective moments that despite the large stage setting and crowd, Kelly was able to provide a sense of intimacy and gentleness to the night.

It was plain to see why Kelly is known as Australia’s rock poet laureate thanks to a prolific four decade career with legendary songs such as To Her Door, Leaps and Bounds (complete with a Shane Warne tribute), Dumb Things and the modern Christmas carol How to Make Gravy littering the set.

The finale, fittingly, was the powerful land rights anthem From Little Things Big Things Grow, co-written with Kev Carmody, complete with some superb yidaki from Russell Smith to close out the set.

After four days filled with wonderful performances, this masterclass performance was just the cream on top. WOMADelaide may not have had the international mix of previous years (thanks to COVID), but the Australian focus provided an opportunity to reflect on the depth of our own musical talent, particularly the rising dominance of our First Nations artists, something Kelly has been instrumental in bringing forth.

Happy anniversary WOMADelaide and here’s to the next 30 years.

Fontella Koleff

Photos by Sahil Choujar

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