Eric Bogle,
By Request
(Greentrax, 2001)

Back in the 1960s, millions of people listened to the music and words of Bob Dylan, often without ever knowing that such a person existed. In the 1990s the phenomenon was repeated with the compositions of Eric Bogle.

Fans of the Dubliners, the Pogues, the Fureys and Joan Baez listened enthralled to a wide range of songs. Many became classics receiving huge airplay despite being up to seven minutes long in a world of three- or four-minute soundbytes. They achieved this because they were songs from the heart that told a story and touched chords in very different lives.

Bogle has recorded his own songs but has not achieved the fame that he deserves and in fact on one track here -- "Big in a Small Way" -- he pokes gentle fun at the pretensions of the songwriter.

Born in Scotland, he moved to Australia in 1969 and another track on the album refers to that move. "Leaving Nancy" is the first song that he wrote in Australia and refers to leaving his "white-haired mother" in Scotland.

Eric has recorded 14 albums and these have provided raw material for many artists around the world. Here he brings together 15 tracks as a sort of greatest hits compilation and it is worth seeking out and adding to any collection.

"Santa Bloody Claus" is a funny song that you will probably only hear live or on this album. It is unlikely to be played on mainstream radio. This is not just because of the strong language but also because it is not exactly "commercially correct." Cat lovers may cringe at "He's Nobody's Moggie Now," but it is a very good example of a short, fun song -- and kids will love it.

The old favourites are here as well, and it is a revelation listening to the composer singing songs that we have only ever heard by other artists. They include "No Man's Land (Green Fields of France)," "Silly Slang Song," "Glasgow Lullaby," "Safe in the Harbour" and of course the seven minutes of "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda."

But there are other songs -- new to me and I found them fantastic. "One Small Star" and "A Reason for It All" both refer to death, but they are so well written that they transcend sorrow. I can visualise "One Small Star" replacing the likes of "Wind Beneath My Wings" at funeral services if given enough exposure.

"The Gift of Years" returns to his anti-war stance and the futility of battles to change the world. "Singing the Spirit Home" was written for a young man executed in South Africa.

If you only buy one folk album in 2001 this one must be high on the list. Eric Bogle is the social conscience of the world but he does it with wit, good music and a fascinating use of language.

[ by Nicky Rossiter ]
Rambles: 14 July 2001

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