Local troubadour Mick McHugh has shown himself to be both a prolific writer of songs and player of gigs. He launches his new CD Choose Who You Wanna Be at the Rails on Sunday.
What was the inspiration for the new album?
To write positive inspirational lyrics with an upbeat feel – drums, bass and adding whatever melodic instruments we felt best suited the songs – so from banjo, mandolin, electric guitar, harmonica, fiddle, Irish uilleann pipes, even hammer dulcimer.
When I started out, I wrote more slower tempo ballads. But from playing live so much to pub- and festival-goers, it has influenced me in writing more uptempo songs. I still write and love a slow ballad but it’s not always easy in a pub delivering a heartfelt message about anti-CSG mining and the effects it has on our water and environment… and what about the children! So with this CD, I’ve written songs with a strong Celtic beat behind them, but still with a big emphasis to deliver inspirational messages.
What are the major hurdles you have overcome to be a working and recording musician?
My mental health, especially with lack of sleep from late-night gigs and travelling, and then you’re up the next day working on the recordings, and also the business side of things. Anxiety about getting enough gigs, and depression, creep into my head when I’m tired, keeping the family fed, roof over our head and the car going… are the songs good enough, how will I get everything done… I get overwhelmed. But the flame never burns out, and so my positivity picks up and I ride into the night again.
Who are the people who have been instrumental in your music career?
Damien Dempsey (Ireland) – for his socially conscious lyrics. Ralph McTell (UK) – he had a huge hit with The Streets of London in the early 70s. I loved his song growing up and I have been lucky enough to tour and get to know him. He has become an industry mentor for me. U2 – their live shows are so inspirational and moving. And so many other people on different levels.
What advice would you give to young musicians starting out?
Be yourself, do your own thing, and be prepared to work hard. Just do it! No-one will come looking for you. If you’ve something to say, something to share, get out there and start learning your trade. And enjoy the journey as much as possible.
Can you tell me the story of one of the songs on the album perhaps?
Song #4: Ready or Not – I was on the phone to my mam (who’s in Ireland) for an hour, and I never said a word! She’s reeling out all her sayings and expressions that she’s been saying forever like, ‘I see says the blind man a hole in the wall. You’re a liar says the deaf man, you can not see at all’. I put her on loudspeaker and make myself some tea and toast. She’s still talking so I started writing down her sayings and put them into a song. There’s so much under lying wisdom in the mammies that I wanted to capture hers.
What should we expect for the launch at the Rails?
Fun. I have a brilliant trio – an amazing fiddle player, Sallie Campbell, who has toured with the likes of Kate Miller-Heike. And Will Swan, a kickarse piano-accordion and whistle player from Sydney who is heavily influenced by The Pogues.
The Mick McHugh Trio play The Rails, in Byron Bay from 6.30pm this Sunday.