Paul Kelly and drummer Pete Luscombe admit there were a lot of nerves when it came to re-recording their Christmas classic ‘How To Make Gravy’.
In 1996, when Paul Kelly was approached to take part in a Salvation Army Christmas charity album, little did anyone expect to see the birth of a classic Australian Christmas song. That song, How To Make Gravy has not only spawned its own day (Gravy Day, December 21, the date namechecked in the song) but it has come to represent the true essence of an Australian Christmas – a hot roast consumed on an even hotter day.
Also unexpected was for Kelly to re-record the seasonal hit for his first-ever Christmas album (Paul Kelly’s Christmas Train), released just a few weeks ago and lodging in the Top Ten since.
“I didn’t want to just put the old version on this record,” Kelly tells Steve Bell, host of the Rewind podcast. “I thought if we're going to put it on [the album] let’s just record it again.”
The latest season of Rewind With Steve Bell, is an oral history of the making of the original How To Make Gravy – its accidental creation, the lie told to Kelly about its potential inclusion on a Christmas Compilation, it’s unveiling in a tiny St Kilda shed and the filming of the “$2.50” video to accompany it.
But Kelly also reveals how nerve-wracking it was to re-enter the studio to tackle what is considered an iconic song: “The band wasn't sure about it either but once they decided ‘Oh let's do it… let’s play it live’ - that's just the way we play, the way we record in the studio. We play live anyway.”
And then some worry kicked in, according to Kelly, “The band got nervous. I said, ‘We're going to do it.’ And then Steve Schram, the engineer, he said, ‘I don't want to… I don't want to fuck up Gravy.’ So there were a few nerves because the song so well known.”
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Drummer Pete Luscombe who played on both versions adds, “Out of the whole record that we just did [Christmas Train], that was probably the most nervous I was, doing that song again because you just didn't want to overcook it. You know, it's become an epic live tune. So, the whole thing was… we were even in two minds, whether we should do it, you know, ‘Should we do this again?’ Then it was like, well, it makes sense to put it on this record. Well, then the argument is, do we just put the original version on of that song? We said ‘no’ let's do something that represents where it's at now.’
“So… we went in and we made it. We sort of made a pact that if we don't get it quickly, we might abandon ship because we don't want to overthink it. You know, all of a sudden somebody is going to start suggesting, ‘Maybe we should change the feel’ or ‘maybe we should put a bow on it’ - do something that's just going to destroy it. So, we ended up, we played it a few times and I think we probably used about the second or third take of this one as well.
“It's hard trying to explain to people, but that song is always either last or second last in the set. So, you've played, you've been on stage for an hour and 20 minutes so you’re well and truly in the groove, you're warmed up. You're not over-thinking, everything just spills out. When you go in and record a tune at 10 o'clock in the morning it's not the same.”
In the end Kelly was more than happy with the result of the new recording: “I think we got a first or second take, like I said, that's one of those songs. It's a song that plays us. We don't play it.”
All episodes of this three-part season are available to stream now. Check out Rewind’s oral history of How To Make Gravy on euphony.com.au, Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts.