Region at heart of Michael’s show

Stefan Bradley

There are few, if any, singer-songwriters that have celebrated Gippsland life more through their music than Michael Waugh has.

Mr Waugh was born in Maffra and went to school there, and now works as a high school drama teacher in Melbourne.

“I was useless at the farm, so I moved to Melbourne to help kids achieve their dreams,” Mr Waugh said.

“I’ve got some really loyal fans and followers, but it’s nice to come back to help somebody else with an arts experience, as a teacher working in drama.

“Teaching keeps me engaged with people, and I’m a better teacher because I play music.

“If you do music full-time, it’s all you ever think about it, but when you engage with the community like I do as a teacher, it feels more real. You don’t get an applause when you finish teaching your class for the day.”

For Mr Waugh, it remains a special occasion every time he comes to Gippsland, as his family ties are still here, and his songs contain stories from towns such as Sale, Heyfield, Seaspray and Maffra.

“I get to be seen by my community that I came from when I come to The Wedge, and it’s the same when the kids are on stage at school, because it’s special for the parents,” he told the Gippsland Times.

“My first Golden Guitar nomination was for ‘Heyfield Girl’, and Kasey Chambers gave me a hug at the end of the show.

“The show was televised and it was massive for me, but it’s still an honour to go and play shows for people, and tell stories about people at Gippsland.”

For audiences outside of Gippsland, Mr Waugh’s songs and stories still resonate.

“I was surprised, I didn’t think anyone else outside of Gippsland and Victoria would care, but people see their own lives reflected in these songs, so even if people don’t know where Heyfield is or who my mum is, they recognise a story about mum’s battle with cancer in ‘Heyfield Girl’,” he said.

“Maffra is like every country town across Australia, even if you’ve never been there before, and I think that’s really powerful. The songs resonate with audiences in places like country Queensland or Western Australia. I had people in South Australia tell me they completely get what I’m talking about.

“So I play the same set in Gippsland as I play everywhere else, but as the songs are about the people there, it resonates louder, because these are real stories about real people, so it resonates more with me too.”

One of the songs on Mr Waugh’s latest album The Cast is called ‘Dark’, which is a tribute to the Club Hotel in Sale, informally known as ‘Ringers’, which has now closed down.

“The Ringers nightclub was the place to go on a Saturday night, it had the FIFO workers from Esso, it had tradies and everyone else you can imagine – it was quite a colourful place. I remember Cold Chisel’s ‘Khe Sanh’ and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ being played. When you’re in a country town, there’s not much else to do, so you go to Ringers after working hard the whole week.

“You can see in the music video on YouTube we touch on the toxic masculinity at hand there, as you may be having fun there, but it was not so fun for everyone else.”

Mr Waugh’s new album The Cast is out now.

It has received two nominations for the 2022 Golden Guitar Awards – Alt Country Album of the Year and Heritage Song of the Year.

Michael Waugh will be performing at The Wedge on Saturday, May 7.