So what is this?
A bunch of people doing poems about birds?
In the Town Hall?
And I am interested in this because?
The answer is of course, that one of the people is Paul Kelly, one of this countries best singer songwriters. Kelly n excellent story teller, an artist not content to sit on his considerable laurels and one who continues to make interesting art that stretches both his audience and himself in new and unusual ways. Mind open, let’s go.

The austere surroundings of the Adelaide Town Hall already give proceedings an air of grandeur. The ensemble consisting of Seraphim Trio, (cello, piano, violin) augmented by the remarkable Alice Keath (vocals, banjo, bass drum, keys, auto harp and more). James Ledger, who co-wrote the piece with Kelly, gives lectures in and conducts orchestral music at the Conservatorium of Music in Western Australia, makes his public debut on guitar, Paul tells late in the show, provoking gasps of disbelief as his playing is exquisite. Mr Kelly is our guide, narrator and lead vocalist.

All the songs are based on poems about birds that date from the recent pieces by Judith Wright back to classic poets like Thomas Hardy, Emily Dickinson and  Yeats.

Opening with Black Cockatoos, it is clear from the first that this is going to be something very special indeed. Deft musician ship, delicate composition, Paul Kelly’s amazing and compelling voice and the attention such an ambitious work should demand from an audience. Each new piece is a different avian type, The Darling Thrush, Barn Owl, Mudlarks, Nightingales, Thornbills. But each poem is a tale to tell of the fragilities of life and death and love and loss.

Yeats poem Leda & The Swan is introduced with a disturbing explanation that Leda is raped by a God disguised as a swan, which in the mythology leads to the birth of Helen of Troy. It is a distressing premise and yet a hauntingly beautiful piece. Each musician is exceptional but special mention should be made of Alice Keath, who sings like an angel, plays banjo like she comes from Kentucky and who harmonises with Kelly with delicious timbre, their voices melting and entwining with exquisite perfection.

Thirteen Ways To look At Birds turns out to be an understatement, as while there are thirteen poems interpreted there are four instrumental pieces and the projected running time of  one hour and ten minutes was actually an hour and a half. Returning to the stage for an encore, former Norwood local Paul Kelly, shows he knows his home town audience by introducing the final poem The Magpies by New Zealand poet Dennis Glover.

There is currently no recording of this work, but I do hope there soon will be.

Turns out musically interpreting poems about different kinds of birds is a brilliant idea.

Adelaide Festival Review by Ian Bell