When Courtney Barnett was still a high school student on Sydney’s northern beaches, her English class was assigned a song whose lyric the students had to break down and analyse: Paul Kelly’s 1987 hit single To Her Door.
The budding singer-songwriter and Triple J listener was already writing her first songs as well as verses of poetry, but she’d never studied another songwriter closely. In Kelly’s tale of a broken marriage and a desperate dash to reconciliation, the teenager found an example of craft and a sense of place she could readily identify with. To Her Door didn’t just click, it suggested paths that could be followed.
“It was an eye-opening exercise,” Barnett recalls. “It was great to be able to connect with the Silver Top taxi line and those little Australianisms that really made sense and hit home. Things like that open up a portal in a song. I’d grown up hearing that Bob Dylan was the most important songwriter, but this was someone recognisable.”
Like Kelly, Barnett’s songs have a distinctive eye for detail, a quality she partially credits to him, but, until now, the two Melbourne musicians and acquaintances have never shared a stage. That changes this month when Barnett and her band, coming to the end of the touring cycle for her second album Tell Me How You Really Feel, play main support for Kelly on his third Making Gravy national tour.