Lismore City News
Saturday, 2 December 2023

Singer-songwriter Paul Kelly has released a love song called Northern Rivers

By David Kirkpatrick
Updated August 1 2022 - 2:21pm, first published July 29 2022 - 1:36pm

Paul Kelly has been no stranger to the Northern Rivers during his long and illustrious career, so it is no surprise the region features in new music from him which was released last week.

As part of his Rivers and Rain compilation the song Northern Rivers is the album's new track.

An emotional Kelly appeared at Bluesfest this year and also played at Lismore's post flood concert along with Grinspoon which he described as the "least he could do".

He explained why his emotions got the better of him at Bluesfest.

"It was the end of a long regional tour. We'd been playing small clubs where the audiences were really close and singing loudly with us," he said.

"No surprise that three of the band and three of the crew got Covid at different times along the way. We just had to leave them behind.

"We thought we were all going to be back together again for Bluesfest, the end of the line, and then the day before the show our beloved bass player Bill McDonald came down with it.

"Luckily for us we had someone who could step in. Richard Bradbeer, who was playing with Vika and Linda at the festival learned our whole set in one day. Twenty five songs, an amazing feat.

"My tears when I walked on stage took me by surprise. After all the tension and stress, hearing that huge crowd roar broke the dam. They were tears of relief. I could tell the audience was hungry, too."

Northern Rivers was written last year, and recorded soon after with his band, but the timing of its release couldn't be more apt.

As residents of the Northern Rivers cleaned up - twice - after the floods earlier this year, Kelly's songs could be heard coming out of shops, houses, halls, boats, utes, vans, cars and trucks, lifting spirits.

"I have a lot of friends and family up that way and have played there many times," he said.

"I've always thought of the Northern Rivers as a land of great drama and beauty.

"There have been quite a few big floods there over the years. Slim Dusty wrote about it in the 50s with his classic 'When The Rain Tumbles Down In July'.

"I'd had the title in my head in my head for a long time. 'Northern Rivers' has a good ring to it. Then one day I was playing piano and it all came tumbling out."

Northern Rivers once again shows Kelly's deep engagement with the natural world.

"It is a love song set in contrasting landscapes. I took it to the band and it came out really easily like they'd been playing it forever," he said.

It's more than a love song, it's a hymn of praise to the region and to our harsh and beautiful country, replete with vivid imagery, close observation and irony.

Yet at its heart is the mysterious 'girl from the Northern Rivers' whom the coloured birds sing out of bed each day.

As Kelly's philosophical narrator from the song says, "The more I know her the less I do".

Kelly shared some of his thoughts on his relationship to water and how they featured in his songs.

"Water appears very often in my songs. I live on Port Philip Bay and when I'm home I go down to the sea several times a week if I can," he said.

"When I'm traveling and visiting new cities, I always look for the water, be it a river, a lake, a canal, the sea or a swimming pool.

"If I were to make a compilation of all my 'water' songs the track list would be overflowing.

"So, for the second instalment in this series, I've decided to narrow the channel to Rivers and Rain. Songs to do with oceans and shores I'll save for another time.

"Rivers run through cities, run through wildernesses, and run through history. You can dream by a river. Court and picnic by a river. Swim or fish in a river. Sail or row or float down a river. Drown in a river.

"In Australia, some rivers are dry or low for long periods then roar to life, sometimes dangerously, after certain storms."

If you want to give the song a listen go to

Paul Kelly has released a love song called Northern Rivers.
Paul Kelly has released a love song called Northern Rivers.

In Australia, some rivers are dry or low for long periods then roar to life, sometimes dangerously, after certain storms

- David Kirkpatrick