Eric Bogle was born on 23 September 1944 in Peebles, Scotland. His father was a woodcutter who played the bagpipes. Bogle started writing poetry when he was eight years old. After attending school until he was sixteen, Bogle worked in various trades: labourer, clerk and barman. In 1969, Bogle emigrated to Australia and initially lived in the capital, Canberra, where he worked as an accountant. He had an interest in politics and by 1980 had moved to Queensland before settling in Adelaide.
Bogle taught himself to play guitar and joined a skiffle and rock band. He was the leader of Eric and the Informers in Scotland. His early influences were Lonnie Donegan, Elvis Presley and Ewan MacColl. He turned to folk music prior to emigrating to Australia – his first written songs concerned his parents. One of these, "Leaving Nancy", which sang of the day he left home for Australia, being the last time he saw his mother Nancy, was often covered, most notably by The Dubliners and The Fureys. When living in Canberra he joined the local folk music scene and performed occasionally.
Several of his most famous songs tell of the futility or loss of war. Prominent among these is "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda", written in 1971. The lyrics tell of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) experience fighting in the Battle of Gallipoli. It has also been interpreted as a reaction to the Vietnam War. Another of his best-known songs, "No Man's Land", is also World War I-themed. This song is commonly known as "The Green Fields of France", a title it was first given by The Fureys, and which has subsequently been used in many further cover versions. The song refers to the traditional Scottish song "Flowers of the Forest" being played over the grave of a World War I soldier. He deliberately gave the dead soldier an Irish name ("Willie McBride") as a counter to the anti-Irish sentiment prevalent in Britain during the 1970s. This song has been covered by Alex Beaton (with "A Scottish Soldier" from The Water is Wide), Plethyn ("Gwaed ar eu Dwylo" (Blood on their Hands), sung in Welsh from "Blas y Pridd"), and Hannes Wader ("Es ist an der Zeit" (It is the Time)). American folk singer Charlie Zahm also has a version on his album Festival Favorites, as does American Folk Singer Robert Marr on his 2011 album Celticism. "As if he Knows" (2001) widens the theme of the wastage of war to describe the sadness of Australian mounted soldiers in Palestine in 1918, as they prepare to shoot their horses before embarkation.
Another notable song on a similar theme, but with a more contemporary setting, is the Troubles-inspired "My Youngest Son Came Home Today", with its tale of a young man killed during fighting in Northern Ireland. Notably, the song does not take sides in the conflict; it does not mention whether the title character is a nationalist or loyalist. However, the song has been adopted by Nationalists and is now associated with Irish Republicanism. When Billy Bragg covered the song, he changed the line "dreams of freedom unfulfilled" (which echoes the language of Nationalists) to "dreams of glory unfulfilled". Memorable gigs can be recalled by fellow artists such as Fran Malone who played with Eric in An Rinn in the 1990's.
Bogle's songs cover a wide range of subjects and themes, including comedic songs ("The Aussie Bar-B-Q"), satires ("I Hate Wogs") protest songs and serious songs about the human condition such as "Now I'm Easy". His song "Safe in the Harbour" is an homage to Stan Rogers. "Katie and the Dreamtime Land" is a tribute to American folk singer Kate Wolf, who died from leukemia in 1986. Other well-known songs, with lighter subject matter, include two homages to departed pets, "Little Gomez" and "Nobody's Moggy Now" and an acknowledgment of his folk music fans with "Do You Sing Any Dylan?".
Bogle has undertaken an extensive concert tour of the UK (sometimes including dates in continental Europe as well), every three years since 1985. These tours have usually included a supporting cast of Australian-based singers and musicians, most regularly John Munro and Brent Miller. Bogle said that his 2009 tour, with John Munro, would be his last overseas tour. This featured a Saturday Night Special on 27 June with Martyn Wyndham-Read, Johnny Collins and Les Sullivan in Watford, the closest venue to London.
More recent tours in Australia have included Adelaide-based musicians Emma Woolcock (fiddle) and Pete Titchener (guitar/bass)
Bogle was a prominent artist at the National Folk Festival in Canberra over Easter 2011, has been a regular artist at the Port Fairy Folk Festival held in Port Fairy, Victoria, Australia every March.
On 25 January 1987, Eric Bogle was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia, "In recognition of service to the performing arts as a song writer and singer".
Many of Bogle's songs have been covered by other artists; including John Schumann, The Skids, June Tabor, The Men They Couldn't Hang, The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners, The Celtic Folk, John McDermott, Liam Clancy, Mike Harding, The Pogues, Robert Lawrence, De Dannan, Dropkick Murphys, The Corries, Billy Bragg, The Bushwackers, Slim Dusty and John Williamson. In May 2001 the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), as part of its 75th Anniversary celebrations, named his song, "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda", as one of the Top 30 Australian songs of all time.
In 2000 a five CD collection was released called Singing The Spirit Home. His first and only live performance DVD was released in May 2009.Now I'm Easy (1980)
Plain & Simple (1981) with John Munro
Scraps of Paper (1982)
When The Wind Blows (1984) with John Munro and Brent Miller
Hard Hard Times (1985) with John Munro
Singing The Spirit Home (1986)
Something Of Value (1988)
Voices In The Wilderness (1990)
The Emigrant & The Exile (1996) with John Munro
Small Miracles (1997)
Endangered Species (1999)
The Colour Of Dreams (2002)
Other People's Children (2005)
The Dreamer (2009)
A Toss of the Coin (2013) with John Munro
Voices (2016) with John Munro
In Person (1977) Recorded live in Germany, February 1977
Vol. 1 - Live In Person (1982) Reissue of 1977 In Person release
Vol. 2 - Down Under (1982) Recorded February & May 1977 - unauthorized release
Vol. 3 - Pure (1982) Recorded February & May 1977 - unauthorized release
In Concert (1985) with John Munro & Brent Miller - Recorded at the Octagon Theatre, University of W.A. in August 1984.
I Wrote This Wee Song... (1994) Recorded live at the Adelaide Arts Theatre on 31 July 1993
At This Stage: The Live Collection (2005) Includes 1985 In Concert release, and material from 3 other performances
Live at Stoneyfell Winery (2009) DVD - Recorded live at Stoneyfell Winery, Adelaide, South Australia on 1 March 2009
The Eric Bogle Songbook (1986)
Not The Worst Of Eric Bogle (1990)
It's Not Cricket (1992)
The Eric Bogle Songbook Volume 2 (1992)
Just The Funny Stuff (1994)
The Gift Of Years: Very Best Of (2000)
By Request (2001)
Singing The Spirit Home (2005) Limited Edition 5 CD collection
A Few Old Songs For Very New Times (2010)