THE ASPHALT & THE OVAL (MGM)
LITTLE C WORD – NOT COUNTRY
“So when he got the news he didn't lose his sense of humour/ says I'm not sure what to make of it, this thing is not a tumour.” - Little C Word - Michael Waugh.
Gippsland dairy farmer's son and secondary teacher-singer-songwriter Michael Waugh has again drawn on his agrarian roots to fuel second album The Asphalt & The Oval produced by Shane Nicholson.
Waugh ploughed family history on debut album What We Might Be for songs diverse as Heyfield Girl, My Dad's Shoes, Dairy Farmer's Son, Brother and Heart Of The Valley.
Now, two years later, he personalises family challenges in passionate paeans driven by diverse emotions.
Entrée tune Little C Word , accompanied by a video directed by Sam Zagame (a former Waugh student), details a younger brother's battle with cancer.
Waugh's wry word play lightens a serious subject - the good news is the song's real life character is in remission.
“ Little C Word is my tribute to Australian men and women who call a spade an effen' shovel,” Waugh, now 47, revealed.
“There's little in the way of airs and graces but something so uniquely us about how we season sentences with colourful turns of phrase. It says something about our humour, our directness and our guts. Regardless of what four letter words life might throw at us, we know how to face shit with a joke and an eff-you back. We might sometimes cover our kids' ears but there is nothing obscene about the strength and ruggedness of my potty-mouthed countrymen.
“My little brothers used to fire themselves up for football matches with Aussie rock classics. The songs were full of the grunt and humour of an Aussie pub. They were perfect fight songs to pump up young Jesaulenkos for the field. I hope that this song reminds my brothers of how those anthems used to get the adrenalin rushing and how it made them feel like winners.
“In truth my brothers are the most sensitive and kindest of gentlemen. But they fight fiercely for their families. The only people who are even remotely stronger than them are the incredible women they married. My brothers are deeply Australian. There is more spit than polish. There are often raised voices and arguments and filthy, blue words. But always love and loyalty. I don't let anyone stand over my little brothers. That's only something that we do to each other.”
Little C Word segues into Footy Trip - a humorous homily accompanied by a video clip where Waugh plays bus driver for a brother and other country kids on a city bucks' night trip.
“Having grown up in a Gippsland dairy farming community, I understand that football is like a religion in many rural towns,” revealed Waugh - a media and arts teacher and house master at Scotch College in Hawthorn.
“I'm not a heretic disbeliever, but I don't practice the religion very well. Honestly, the only time I tried to kick a football I slipped and winded myself in the grass. In other undignified tales of my sporting prowess, I once tried to tackle a player who was taking a free kick at the time. It seemed when I was growing up there were some rules and skills associated with our unofficial religion that I was not privy to.
“I was once designated driver on a footy trip. It was my little brother's bucks' party but had enough footy players on board the bus for me to get some insight. The camaraderie and fun on the trip was infectious but a little out of control. And it struck me what a rite of passage the footy trip is in our culture and how much rural men need those smelly, loud journeys especially at a time when it is this difficult to make a living on the land.
“The greatest praise that I've had for this track was from one of my brothers who said ‘mate, if I didn't know better, I'd swear you were on the bus with us!' So, I'd like to say that this song is a little bare-butt-printed window into the great Australian tradition of the footy trip: the annual pilgrimage to the city for rural footy players in a road trip devoid of girlfriends and good taste.
“Aside from the fun, this video captures the darkness and violence of Australian male culture. It doesn't do so in a judgemental way. Rather it recognises why men in country towns sometimes need to “leave the dairy farm behind, get the boys and let's get blind."
FEMALE FOOTBALL OVERTAKES HISTORY
“Standing on the boundary line waiting for the bounce of the ball/ hoping for a chance to kick it back in/ if it gets knocked out on the full/ the best footy player in all of Grade 3 is a little blonde kid name Marie/ she finally gets a shot, everyone's impressed/ she kicks it pretty far, she kicks it in her dress.” - They Don't Let The Girls In The Game - Michael Waugh.
Waugh balances his macho footy song with They Don't Let The Girls In The Game - a subject tempered by gender changes in the sport.
“When I wrote the song, I also had this really strong memory about how the worst insult that you could be given in Grade 3 was if someone called you a girl. As a kid, it made sense that you wouldn't want to be like a girl, left out of games or useless at sport. Despite the fact that the most powerful people in our lives were our mums and our teachers we childishly believed that being a girl meant being weak or not belonging. Now that we're grown-ups, I would hope that we are a little bit smarter about the fact that gender has very little to do with capacity and that not every girl or boy neatly fits on the asphalt and ovals where they are sent to play. There's nothing wrong with girls who enjoy playing elastics or with boys who enjoy kicking footballs. And there's nothing wrong with boys who like playing swap cards and girls who'd rather play cricket.”
So has the advent of AFL Womens' League dated Waugh's song?
“A friend of mine recently said about that song ‘you've missed the mark there, they've already let the girls in the game,'” Waugh added.
“He was referring to AFL football. And, yes, it's fantastic that women are being recognised in sport. But there's many more games where the rules still aren't fair. And, besides, I'm just telling a story.”
WILLY'S CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST
“They're not silly, the women, they rule the roost at Willy's Chicken factory line/ and they're not paid enough for their time/ and he's got them gutting, carting and plucking chickens on the factory line.” - Willy's Chickens - Michael Waugh.
Waugh also praised women - especially his late mother - in sibling song Willy's Chickens .
“This album has many stories about women who are much stronger than me,” Waugh revealed.
“The women who worked on Willy's chicken factory line on Willy's Chickens worked 10 hour shifts with their hands in the arse of a Sunday dinner for very little pay. When my mum was battling breast cancer, her only real worry was about the worry that everyone else was going through and she maintained a sense of humour through all of it just so that we wouldn't get too sad.
“And those women who work in bars and fend off the drunken insistent attentions of some of those male patrons, do it with jokes and power through, deflecting what's unfairly put in their way while they try to go about their work. If that's being a girl then all of us should wish for that kind of strength!
“The reason why I've been thinking about all of this is because of my granddaughter, Kiara. I didn't grow up with a little sister and I only have a son so before Kiara came into our world I'd never been responsible for a little girl. “And as someone who is now responsible for a little girl. I'm scared because of those things that my mum, my wife and my friends had to go through. I don't want Kiara growing up in a world where her gender might prevent her from being anything that she wants to be or where she could be hurt because of some man didn't grow up out of Grade 3.
“I think that all of us who are dads and granddads want a better world for our daughters and granddaughters.”
Waugh expands on that theme in other songs.
“ For a Moment and Kindergarten Fete are about that motivation in my world,” says Waugh.
“I'm at a place in my life now where I want to be part of building a better society as one of the elders in the community and that's why it is such an honour for me that I get to work as a teacher when I'm not playing music and that I get to play music when I'm not being a teacher.
“I've never been a writer who uses a song to bang a political idea into someone's head. I'm just telling stories and hopefully they are honest enough for people to recognise some truth in them. They can draw their own politics from what it is that I'm saying. Just, in this record, I've been thinking a lot about those stories about women.”
BALING TWINE IN BEGA AND BEYOND
“Me and my big brother inherited what's left/ when dad was working into the ground until he finally was laid to rest/ he was from a generation when nothing was replaced/ he did his own repairs when things broke down around the place/ when you can't afford a new one you just try to make do/ tie it up with string or you patch it up with glue/ you sew the broken pieces and pray they will be fine/ you hold the bale together with baling twine.” - Baling Twine - Michael Waugh.
Ironically, Baling Twine - a staple on most farms - was not just inspired by the Waugh family farm.
“ Baling Twine is a true story - but it's not mine,” Waugh revealed.
“When I drove home from the show, I wrote Baling Twine. I didn't get the man's name but I got his story. I hope that this song pays tribute to some of the true heroes of Australia who are fighting every day just getting out of bed and putting on a pair of gumboots.”
Waugh expands on rural themes and applies them beyond the bush in the title track, Bloody Rain, Tapping, Acid Wash , Driving With The Window Down and Shit Year.
Waugh launches The Asphalt & The Oval at The Spotted Mallard in Brunswick on Friday March 23.
Also on the bill are Melbourne bluegrass band The Weeping Willows , Canadian troubadour Scott Cook, Lindsay Martin, Mandy Connell and Rich Davies.