Eric Bogle made the joke he had been to “330 million” Illawarra Folk Festivals as he’s performed at nearly all of them since its humble beginnings in Jamberoo more than 30 years ago.
The Scottish expatriate, who now calls Australia home, is the man behind the iconic war song from 1971 And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda – a tribute to the 50,000 Australian soldiers who died in the battle of Gallipoli.
This January the singer-songwriter will return to the region’s folk festival – which now attracts up to 10,000 people annually – with his guitar and thought-provoking songs.
“When it was down at Jamberoo it was a very small family sort of intimate festival. There was no security fences or anything like that, people just wandered in and out - it was all very informal,” Bogle said.
“It’s still one of the friendly ones, it gives a go to the young musicians and old farts like me.”
The 73-year-old is one of more than 100 acts playing at the festival which now includes a wide variety of genres like reggae, country, swing, Celtic, African, gypsy plus bush dancing and yoga. The variety is the main attraction, according to Bogle.
Like many folk musicians, issues form the basis of the majority of Bogle’s lyrics from politics to domestic violence and interesting social situations that strike a chord. Unfortunately in his long career the negative issues of the world keep coming fast and strong with today’s world apparently “going to hell”.
“When I first landed in Sydney in 1969 you could almost reach out and touch the energy and the optimism … that’s disappeared, we’re heading in some wrong directions as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
But amongst the serious songs expect a bit of comedic banter with Bogle happy to swap “war stories” and the like from his career. By war stories he means having to wear the same underwear multiple days in a row or enduring rodents on tour.
“We were in Calgary in Canada. The bed bugs were just carrying the bed out of the front door the house heaving with insects. The house was actually owned buy a musical group who were on tour at the time but I think they were only on tour so they wouldn’t have to live in that bloody house,” he laughed.
These days Bogle doesn’t do much touring overseas as his body slows down but he still enjoys getting to as many Australian festivals as the body allows to catch up with old friends and entertain with a song or two. “Great thing about music business is you don’t retire from it, it retires you – it soon tells you if it have anything left,” he said.
The Illawarra Folk Festival is at Bulli Showgrounds from January 18 to 21. For the full program and tickets visit: www.illawarrafolkfestival.com.au