WHATEVER you do, don’t try connecting with singer-songwriter Eric Bogle on Facebook or Twitter prior to his appearance at next month’s Blue Mountains Music Festival. You won’t find him. The prolific 69-year-old Scottish born musician won’t have a bar of the social media platforms, that he says are full of “bile” and “arrogance”.
“I refuse to join Facebook and Twitter,” he tells the Gazette in his warm, rolling Scottish brogue.
“I can’t see how my thoughts about what I had for breakfast are important. Twitter and Facebook drive people apart ... You have to physically interact with people that you share the planet with.”
The Scottish born, Adelaide-based, folk singer will play four sets this year — including a tribute to American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger who died in January — at this, his fifth Mountains festival appearance. He says he loves the “beautifully compact” nature of the event and meeting the crowds, “especially when they are sober,” he adds, laughing down the phone.
Over his many years of touring, “dozens” of the hundreds of songs he has had published have come from lines he has heard, or stories he has been told, during chance meetings at music festivals and pub gigs. That includes one of his most popular, Now I’m Easy, an evocative ballad about the long, hard life of the cocky — the farmer.
“I’ve met a lot of iconic Aussies. I’m able to walk in someone’s shoes. I’ve found I’ve got an empathy... I’m always on the side of humanity,” he says simply of his songs.
Something of a national treasure — in 1987 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his music — his songs have been covered by Joan Baez, The Pogues, Billy Bragg, The Bushwackers, Slim Dusty, John Williamson and The Dubliners among others, with many of his songs translated into numerous languages. He has lived here since he was 24 and his moving folk songs have regularly topped Australian songlists, covering themes like the futility of war.
For his efforts, Bogle was given a Peace Medal by the U.N. which he says was “awkward really ... I hold it in trust for other people ... friends who suffered more physically and financially [for peace]”.
He told this reporter that as “a boat person from 1969” he was currently trying to write a new song about “the poor sods... asylum seekers” that he hopes to finish in time for the Katoomba event.
He rarely censors himself, but says he does wonder whether people currently coming to music festivals and already “bombarded with stuff on TV and the computer” want to hear him preach to them.
“You don’t have to educate people about the state of the union anymore... a lot come to music festivals to get away from all that and then an old prick like me is standing up there talking about it again, you’ve got to ask yourself, as a musician, should I just help them enjoy the weekend?”
Bogle says he “rarely has a set list before a concert,” — other than a couple of favourites like And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, — instead judging the crowd’s mood. Luckily his touring sidekick of more than 30 years, lead guitarist John Munro, is the original “human jukebox” who can recall all his songs, even the ones Bogle has long forgotten.
The Blue Mountains Music Festival runs from March 14-16. For details go to bmff.org.au.