Eric Bogle headlines the 33th Illawarra Folk Festival (18-21 January)
This year the Illawarra Folk Festival will pass into its 33rd year, a milestone that hasn’t escaped the notice of headliner and folk legend Eric Bogle.
“I played the first one, so when I see it’s the 33rd I think ‘surely it can’t be that much’,” he laughs.
“So I’ve got mixed feelings: on the one hand the fact of the Festival itself is making me feel very old indeed, on the other hand like every festival I’m really looking forward to it.
"As well as fantastic music, I get the chance to meet some old mates and have few beers, and I get paid for it.”
Eric was born in Scotland and emigrated to Australia in 1969. Since becoming a professional musician in 1980 he has been a prolific singer-songwriter, his most well-known song being the World War I-inspired ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’.
For Illawarra Folk Festival, Eric says he’ll be presenting both beloved favourites as well as more recent material from the album ‘Voices’ he released in 2016 with John Munro. “I’ll play a mixture as usual,” Eric says.
“I’ve got some new stuff which I’m going to unleash on the audience – when I say new, they’re songs I’ve written in the past year and not widely known yet – but I’ll be doing the old stuff [as well].
“It’s always a balancing act for any songwriter. When you go to a gig you want to present your new babies because you’re proud of them, but you want to engage an audience's reaction to see if you wasted your time or not.
"I’ve got a lot of people who have supported me for my whole career and I know there are some songs they want to hear and I’m not going to disappoint them.”
Throughout a career that has spawned 17 studio albums and seen him perform across the globe, ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ remains Eric’s most enduring contribution. Written in 1971, it recounts the horror of the 1915 Gallipoli landing from the perspective of a young ANZAC.
Though written some 47 years ago, Eric says the power of the song is maintained, even strengthened, each time he plays it live.
“The magic of live music, as any musician will tell you, is that when you’re singing to a live audience and they react well to it, it’s like you’re singing it for the first time,” he says.
“When I say that, that’s not show business bullshit; any musician who plays in a live environment will tell you this… the energy of the audience picks you up and takes you along.”
At 73, the one-time accountant says little has been done to diminish his songwriting spirit. “Nothing is certain in the songwriting game but I’m still involved, I’m still interested and I’m still angry at what’s going on at this time, so there’s no reason why I should stop writing songs.
“Anger is one of the engines, one of the drivers for writing a song, but also compassion, empathy, pity, love – all the emotions humans are capable of, they’re all drivers of art. Without any of those emotions we’d be just nothing… so God bless anger, God bless love.”
Eric Bogle plays Illawarra Folk Festival at Bulli Showground 18-21 January.