Clip: Eric Bogle on "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" 34 years later
After 34 Years, His Antiwar Song Is Still Not Out of Style
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
Published: November 5, 2005
In 1969, Eric Bogle, a high school dropout, sometime accountant and
former singer in a Beatles-style band, emigrated from Scotland to
Australia in search of money and adventure.
Before the move, he had started writing songs somewhat like the ones
his grandfather, a noted Scottish balladeer, used to sing. But nothing
amounted to much.
Then in 1971, with Australia embroiled in Vietnam alongside the United
States, Mr. Bogle sat down to write what would become one of the most
admired songs about war: "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda."
"I wanted to write an antiwar song but didn't want to denigrate the
courage of the soldier," Mr. Bogle recalled in an interview on
Wednesday before a show at the Manhattan nightclub Satalla. "There was
too much of that 'baby killer' stuff going on."
Now 61, he is the archetypal touring folk singer, burly and balding
and bearded, with a remarkably similar-looking sideman, John Munro,
and a repertory ranging from wrenching to raunchy. (One song tells the
tragic tale of Gomez, an amorous Chihuahua who meets an untimely end
when he tries to mate with a Saint Bernard.)
But at every stop, the audiences, many having grown gray along with
Mr. Bogle, await the tune he wrote 34 years ago.
On Wednesday night, he told the roughly 100 listeners how sometimes "a
song acts as a key that opens a lot of doors," adding, "This was my
In it, he chose to tackle current events by exploring historical ones
- a habit he has had ever since - and jumping back to Australia's
first real battlefield test: in Gallipoli, Turkey, in 1915, just 14
years after the Commonwealth of Australia was born.
The song is in the voice of an innocent rural lad who joined the
Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or Anzac, in 1915, was handed a
tin hat and a gun and was shipped with 17,000 others to the killing
shores of Suvla Bay, where they were "butchered like lambs at the
The refrain recounts how at every turn - when troops were dispatched,
when the maimed came home, when the dead were buried, when the dying
veterans marched - some martial band played "Waltzing Matilda," the
unofficial Australian anthem.
The song, almost independent of Mr. Bogle's career as a folk
performer, took on its own life as an antiwar standard.
In a telephone interview from his home in Beacon, N.Y., Pete Seeger
called it "one of the world's greatest songs."
"In a few lines of poetry he captured one of the great contradictions
of the world: the heroism of people doing something, even knowing it
was a crazy something," Mr. Seeger said. "And he showed how the
establishment has used music for thousands of years to support its way
When it was recorded in Ireland by Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem in
1976, the song became the first of three chart-topping hits for Mr.
Bogle there. It was later recorded by the Irish punk-folk band the
Why such resonance with Ireland? "The Celtic people are a highly
emotional bunch, as we all know, God bless them," Mr. Bogle said. "And
my songs are based on pure emotion, most of them."
His last American visit was in 2002, and he is wrapping up a two-month
tour in the next three weeks, including a performance tonight at the
Central Unitarian Church in Paramus, N.J., and on Nov. 13 at the Towne
Crier Cafe in Pawling, N.Y.
His songbook is as variegated as folk music itself (details are at
ericbogle.net). Songs range from a searing account of an apartheid
prison hanging to a satirical romp on the nasal style of Bob Dylan and
audiences' persistent habit of asking Mr. Bogle to play a Dylan song.
(He doesn't play any.)
There is a relentless juxtaposition of humor and horror. He began the
Manhattan show with a vaudevillian introductory song alluding to his
age: "We're on the road, so lock up your grannies." But he returned
inexorably to war, as he painted wrenching word pictures of children
blasted by bombers in Baghdad and, in another song that became an
Irish hit, explored the sacrifice of Pvt. Willie McBride, one of 310
men buried in a 1916 battalion cemetery Mr. Bogle visited in northern
France in 1975.
In that song, written as "No Man's Land" and also known as "Green
Fields of France," Mr. Bogle dwells again on how music is used to
salve the wounds of war:
"Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the pipes lowly?/ Did
the rifles fire o'er you as they lowered you down?"
Mr. Bogle ended, as always, with his take on "Waltzing Matilda," which
he still sees not as a protest song but as a statement of facts and
the feelings they engender.
When called back for an encore, he sang "Hallowed Ground," which he
wrote this year after revisiting the graves on the French battlefield.
Addressing the fallen soldiers and the cyclical nature of conflict, he
concluded by singing:
Oh, boys, how I'd like to tell you everything has changed
But that would be a lie
All in all, this world is much the same
Old men still talk and argue while young men still fight and die
And I still don't know why.