Eric Bogle is one of Scotland’s most treasured songwriters with a catalogue of songs that, in his own words, give a voice to the voiceless and have been taken up by singers as diverse as Joan Baez and the Pogues, Mary Black and Donovan.
Born in Peebles in 1944, Eric began writing songs and poems when he was eight years old. He can’t remember a time when he didn’t sing and inspired by his first musical hero, Elvis Presley, he began his musical career as a teenager, playing rock ‘n’ roll around the Borders in a band later celebrated in the comical adventures of Eric and the Informers.
After leaving school at sixteen, Eric worked – or as he might say, found employment – as a labourer, time and motion officer, export clerk and bartender, among other jobs.
In 1969 he emigrated to Australia where, flushed with the responsibility of the newly married man, he decided to study accountancy. Still singing, in his spare time initially, and writing songs based on observations on his new home, he became a household name when his song And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda came third in a song competition in Brisbane.
Written after Eric had watched war veterans who had survived the Gallipoli campaign during World War 1 marching in the annual Anzac Day parade, it had originally received a lukewarm response and Eric had dropped it from his set.
However, after nearly starting a riot among people who felt it should have won the competition, the song reached the Australian charts and has subsequently been recorded by over one hundred artists.
Another of Eric’s songs, Green Fields of France (aka No Man’s Land), recorded by the Fureys, spent ten weeks at number one during a twenty-six week run in the Irish charts in the early 1980s.
By this time a professional musician, Eric began taking his music around the world. His warm, informal and self-deprecating stage manner and his simply stated but deeply human songs endeared him to audiences in America and Canada and throughout Europe as well as in the UK and Australia.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Australia’s policy on illegal immigrants, the events of September 11, 2001 and bipolar disorder, as well as his visits to military graveyards are just some of the sources of inspiration that Eric has drawn on in his songwriting.
His caring, sympathetic approach to topics that might otherwise be regarded as taboo has not gone unrecognised. In addition to music industry honours including gold discs and Song of the Year awards, Eric has been presented with a United Nations Peace Medal and the Order of Australia from the Australian government – not bad for a man who describes his life as stumbling from crisis to crisis.