BREAK­ING BARD

Af­ter 30 years of mak­ing mu­sic, Paul Kelly re­veals he is un­der the spell of Wil­liam Shake­speare

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - ARTS | MUSIC - SIMON PLANT

Three qua­trains and a cou­plet. Yeah, Paul Kelly knows a bit about that. The revered Aus­tralian singer-song­writer has long found in­spi­ra­tion in the fa­mous 14-line line son­nets that Wil­liam Shake­speare penned in El­iz­a­bethan times.

“They’re quite mag­i­cal and mys­te­ri­ous,’’ he says. And Kelly, who trea­sures his three-vol­ume Col­lected Works of

Wil­liam Shake­speare, has al­ways seen par­al­lels be­tween son­nets and songs.

“They have a shape where some­thing is sup­posed to hap­pen two-thirds of the way through. There’s a shift, a twist, which is what a bridge does in a song.’’

But set­ting mu­sic to a son­net – that’s some­thing else. Only now, af­ter 20 stu­dio al­bums, has Kelly de­cided to cut Seven

Son­nets & A Song. This “mini al­bum’’, fea­tur­ing sev­eral es­teemed mu­si­cians, launches to­day to co­in­cide with the 400th an­niver­sary of Shake­speare’s death.

“Shall I com­pare thee to a sum­mer’s day ...” yes, Son­net 18 is on his setlist. So is

Son­net 60 (“Like as the waves make to­wards the peb­bled shore/ So do our min­utes has­ten to their end”). But in craft­ing this project, Kelly delved deeply into the 154 po­ems ac­cred­ited to Shake­speare and ex­ca­vated lesser-known gems about love, lust and life. “I wanted to make this record fun, not high art,’’ he says.

Kelly’s mu­sic is lodged deeply in Aus­tralia’s sonic land­scape. From To Her

Door and Be­fore Too Long to Brad­man and How to Make Gravy, his earth­ily lyri­cal songs have re­flected on the pas­sions and pe­cu­liar­i­ties of this coun­try. Shake­speare speaks of an­other place, an­other time. Yet Kelly and the Bard go way back.

“Like most peo­ple, my first ex­pe­ri­ence of Shake­speare was at school,’’ he says. “I fell for the plays first. Loved Mac­beth. Sex, murder, sus­pense – it’s all there. I came to the son­nets later. I’d try and read ’ em every now and then and found some opened up very eas­ily while oth­ers had mean­ings that were dif­fi­cult to un­pick. The ones I wanted to make songs out of were the ones that spoke di­rectly to me. So I started mem­o­ris­ing some of my favourites. I’m up to about 20 now – enough if they’re ever called for at a party.’’

This is not the first time Kelly has set po­etry to mu­sic. On his 2013 al­bum, Con

ver­sa­tions With Ghosts, he slid melodies un­der the words of Yeats, Robert Frost and Ken­neth Slessor.

But cap­tur­ing the “sound’’ of the Bard – Kelly won­dered how that would hap­pen. As he says: “There’s been a long tra­di­tion of putting mu­sic to Shake­speare’s plays. The son­nets, not so much.’’

Kelly be­gan by prob­ing every son­net, im­mers­ing him­self in their mys­ter­ies and fluc­tu­a­tions be­tween joy and sor­row.

“Many are about de­cay and the pass­ing of time. Sure, ‘Shall I com­pare thee’ is a beau­ti­ful love poem. It’s also about death de­stroy­ing beauty.’’ Happy ac­ci­dents in­formed Seven

Son­nets, too. Kelly has been tak­ing pi­ano lessons and rip­pling key­boards give Son

net 138 a bar-room vibe while Son­net 73 has a Dy­lanesque qual­ity, due partly to slide guitarist Lucky Oceans. Kelly also sourced a song from play Twelfth Night and in­vited Vika Bull to sing My True

Love Hath My Heart, by El­iz­a­bethan Sir Philip Sid­ney. “Shake­speare wasn’t the only per­son writ­ing son­nets,’’ he says. “It was a very pop­u­lar form back in the day.’’

In­spired by Seven Son­nets, Kelly says set­ting po­ems to mu­sic is “go­ing to be part of the way I write songs from now on. It got me think­ing, why haven’t I done this be­fore?”

Paul Kelly’s Seven Son­nets & A Song is re­leased to­day dig­i­tally and on 10-inch vinyl.

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