Songs for the apocalypse: Paul Kelly “They Thought I Was Asleep”

Paul Kelly has more pathos in the index finger of his right hand than most songwriters do in their, er, heads – exhibit A is this track, the version of which you can watch below recorded with bluegrass band The Stormwater Boys. When I first heard this song it moved me to tears, partly because of the sublime melody but moreover because of the understatement, the humour and sadness, and Paul Kelly’s gift for storytelling, the story in this song of a journey home in the back of your parents’ car at night and the gulf there is between those rows of seats. Nobody does this more evocatively. I imagine one day this will be a song that I can never listen to again.

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About Mark Whitfield 1808 Articles
Mark Whitfield has been Editor of Americana UK for the last 20 years while also working in public health as his day job, which has been kind of busy recently.


  1. Morning Mark,

    You may remember from our chats last year that I’m also a huge Paul Kelly fan, and have been lucky enough to see him play live a couple of times during my winter sojourns down under over the last few years. You told me that you used to live in Oz, so I assume that this is where you first discovered him? I have to say that the song you’ve selected here also moves me in the same way.

    I think the man is an absolute genius, the Aussie Dylan if you will, although sadly very unknown/unrecognised over here. But what about his song ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ eh? Clearly it won’t have the same resonance with people here that it does in Australia (even those who take a dim view of Aboriginal land rights issues!), but his storytelling is just beyond equal in my view.

    I used to think that Roy Harper had written the only and definitive song about my beloved sport of cricket, and then I discovered that Mr Kelly had gone and written two of ’em!



    • Lovely to read your thoughts David. Yeah it was living in Sydney in 1991 that I first saw him with the Messengers on Tonight Live with Steve Vizard (a comedy show at the time, Paul Kelly obviously wasn’t comedy but funnily enough their album then was called “Comedy”!) and I was just spellbound. I saw him over there once but have mainly caught him here – he used to play Edinburgh in August a lot.

      “From Little Things” is an amazing track of course and I may well include it in a future political pops feature. It honestly was part of what made me become a union rep at one point. I also think “Special Treatment” is superb in terms of one of his more political songs. And as someone who has no interest in cricket, “Bradman” is easily my favourite song ever recorded about cricket!

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