Michael Waugh

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Michael Waugh – Where We Might Be

By Denise Torenbeek

Recently, Allan Caswell conducted a songwriting workshop in Theebine – a little local village near me. I joined Alan and Marion at the pub for dinner, and as you might expect, the conversation was heavily biased to all things songwriting. Alan asked have I heard of a bloke from Melbourne called Michael Waugh?

I hadn’t, and Allan spoke in very glowing terms of his album What We Might Be, and (eventually) surrendered his own copy to me and I’m very glad he did.

Thank you Allan. It is my favourite type of record – where you keep hitting Play and it keeps giving up gems and weaving subplots long beyond the first listen. Like a movie that keeps playing in your head.

In the tradition of the troubadour storyteller, Michael Waugh is a fresh, intelligent and emotionally charged performer – giving a profound and genuine new voice to being Australian.

His lyricism cuts to the emotional heart of everyday experience – but that cannot be read about and must be heard to gain the payoff.

My favourite tracks change with every listen and I am still being shocked and moved by how brilliantly they’re crafted for multi-faceted revelations.

Listen to the title track to find yourself tumbling through a washing machine of emotions, or ‘Terrorists & Planes’, ‘My Dad’s Shoes’… then mine your own treasures.

Previously compared to the honesty and power of Australian folk and country legends such as Mick Thomas, Paul Kelly and John Williamson, I would draw similarities to Roger Whittaker and Jesse Winchester for craft and complexity, yet the expression is easily accessible. Michael’s voice is unaffectedly Australian, and his songs and stories are gut-wrenchingly honest, emotionally brave and compellingly beautiful.

Michael studied Drama at Deakin University and singing at the Melba Conservatorium. As a young musician, he worked in folk trio, St Vitus, releasing a record ‘Motor Mouth’ Michael won ‘Song of Peace, Tolerance and Understanding’ at the Port Fairy Folk Festival and

the Rudy Brandsma Award for excellence in songwriting through the Australian Songwriters Association. Irish-Australian folk singer, Enda Kenny, covered Michael’s song ‘New Releases’ on his Cloudlining Album.

As a young father, Michael gave up singing and songwriting to focus on his career as a secondary school teacher. He completed an Honours Degree in Literature, Post Graduate Diploma in Student Welfare and Masters in Education.

In 2012, Michael picked up his guitar after more than a 10 year hiatus. He wrote ‘Heyfield Girl’, about his mother’s battle with cancer, which won him instant accolades.

He independently released two EPs in 2013, ‘Heyfield Girl’ and ‘Drafts’. At the 2014 Port Fairy Folk Festival, he met and performed with Shane Nicholson and their association prospered to Shane producing Michael’s brand new debut What We Might Be, of which we speak.

Following is what What We Might Be means to Michael in his own words.

“My musical education was in the back seat of a Ford, driving down bumpy tracks on long country drives. My parents played car tapes – usually the Greatest Hits collections of American country singers – and you had no choice but to look out the window and listen to the stories. It was a case of ‘learn to love country music, or jump out of the moving vehicle’.

Sometimes Dolly Parton would tell about growing up in the Tennessee mountains, sometimes Kenny Rogers would sing about a woman who’d done him wrong in a saloon, sometimes Jim Reeves would croon about brave men and long distance phone calls. Always, there was the road and a story.

Those American songs seemed larger than the little country life that I was living. But they were also the closest thing that we had to the soundtrack of growing up in East Gippsland.

In this collection of songs I wanted to create stories like those musicians and songwriters who are my heroes. The texture of their rhyme and meter is the

shacks and bars and snowdrifts of American life. I wanted to capture the magpies and lawnmowers and footy games of rural Australian life. Because, to me, that is the beauty and the poetry of how I grew up. Maffra, Heyfield and Sale may not have the exotic twang of Nashville – but we’ve got the Macalister Hotel, Mafeking Hill, the Heyfield Timber Mills and more cows than you would ever want to have to get up at 5am to milk. And there’s music in our stories, too.

Some of that time is funny and beautiful – even if I didn’t always recognise it at the time. The teasing and Chinese burns for my brothers. The raucous underage parties with my friends. The endless bloody country drives with my family.

…  read the rest in Issue 81.