The Age EG Awards
Though this evening would mark his first formal recognition at the awards, in a way Paul Kelly has maintained a strong presence in the EGs since its inception in 2006.
Though this evening would mark his first formal recognition at the awards, in a way Paul Kelly has maintained a strong presence in the EGs since its inception in 2006. Core members of the EG Allstars (the event's house band) Dan and Peter Luscombe and Bill McDonald, have also played in various incarnations of Kelly's touring band. Kelly’s nephew Dan has never been far from the EGs, whether as a performer or a nominee. And naturally enough, when asked to pick something from the songbook of great Australian classics to perform, guest artists at the EGs have on multiple occasions chosen Kelly's work. (The most memorable example was when Katy Steele performed They Thought I Was Asleep at the EGs of 2008, and Kelly himself charged on stage unannounced to play the song's harmonica solo).
It's no surprise, then, that for his final year with The Age (and, presumably, as the curator of these shindigs), EG Awards founder Patrick Donovan would ensure the lifetime achievement award went to an artist whose indelible stamp in Australian music has been consistently matched - and then some - by his impact on the awards night itself. Before Kelly became the sole focus of the evening, though, host Brian Nankervis (who was more jovial than most of his predecessors, if not quite as witty) presented gongs to the winners of the awards determined by popular ballot. Though the EGs’ method of voting - inviting the general public to pick from ten predetermined nominees in each category - mightn’t be completely democratic, it’s encouraging to see that, when combined, the voices of the music lift-out’s writers and readers seem to consistently give independents and underdogs greater traction than they would find elsewhere. Take Jess Harlen’s (ex-Blue King Brown) triumph in the ‘Best Female’ category, or Love Connection taking out ‘Best New Band’. The unashamed Melbourne-centricness of the awards was made plain when Helen Marcou and Quincy McLean were given a special gong for organizing the SLAM (Save Live Australian Music) rally against unfeasible (State) liquor licensing laws.
In what you might call 'keeping it in the family', Dan Kelly not only triumphed in the category of 'Best Male', but was also the first of several artists to perform a tribute to his uncle. After singing Down To My Soul in a soft huskiness, Dan got more energetic with his own, characteristically irreverent number Read All About It In The Catholic Leader. Next to pay homage was The Drones' Gareth Liddiard, who performed The Executioner in his own inimitable style of spitting, slurring urgency.
With a history of surprise guests, the EGs produced its first for 2010 in the form of Evan Dando. Dando joked that he had been assigned one of Kelly’s more 'obscure' songs, before launching into From StKilda To Kings Cross with Spencer P Jones on guitar. Jones would later grab the limelight in his own right for a soulful rendition of Blues For Skip. Megan Washington was live and loose as she sang Look So Fine, Feel So Low, before moving onto keyboards for her own Cement. She was then joined by surprise guest number two, Tim Rogers, who performed a very theatrical version of I Can't Believe We Were Married. When Washington played the wrong chord in the final verse - making no attempt to downplay her mistake as she flung up her arms and cried 'Oh shit!' - Rogers seized the opportunity to deliver possibly the best lyrical ad-lib I have ever heard: 'You've played the wrong chord/ on your newly-purchased Korg/ I can't believe we were maaaaaarrieeed!' It's moments like this that really make the EGs. Finally, it was up to Adalita to rock up Darling It Hurts, dancing with all the abandon of a schoolgirl clutching a hairbrush microphone.
After accepting his award with a speech urging all present to keep supporting live music, the man of the hour finally went into a set of his own, with backing from the EG Allstars and the ever-reliable Vika and Linda Bull. Unfailing sing-along favourites like Before Too Long and To Her Door (for which Kelly somehow worked in a reference to the architecture of Southern Cross Station!), were well-balanced against more quietly appreciated gems like Careless, or classics-in-the-making like You're 39, You're Beautiful And You're Mine. After Vika took the vocal reigns (and our breath away) with the rocking Sweet Guy, Linda joined Kelly for a feeling performance of Everything’s Turning To White. Later in the set, nephew Dan returned to the stage with a ukulele - the enormity of his Cosmo Kramer hair suddenly put in hilarious perspective against his miniscule instrument - to help perform the bluegrassy Stumbling Block.
The crowd wooed Kelly back for two encores, one in which he invited his daughters Memphis and Madeleine to perform Let It Be, and another that saw all the evening’s guests take the stage together... But, coming after Spencer P Jones had provided the weeping pedal steel parts for one of Kelly's most emotionally charged songs (and title of his new memoir) How To Make Gravy, all this could only be... well, gravy.
I only hope that Patrick Donovan's departure from EG (to become CEO of Music Victoria, no less) doesn't mean the end of these awards. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything else with this much genuine spontaneity, or heart, in the musical calendar.
By Jesse Shrock