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"And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" is a song written by Scottish-born Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle in 1971. The song describes war as futile and gruesome, while criticising those who seek to glorify it. This is exemplified in the song by the account of a young Australian soldier who is maimed at the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War.
The song is often praised for its imagery of the devastation at Gallipoli. The protagonist, a rover before the war, loses his legs in the battle and later notes the death of other veterans with time, as younger generations become apathetic to the veterans and their cause.
In May 2001, the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), as part of its 75th Anniversary celebrations, named "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" as one of the Top 30 Australian songs of all time.
The song is a vivid account of the memories of an old Australian man, who, as a youngster in 1915, had been recruited into the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and sent to the Battle of Gallipoli. For "ten weary weeks," he kept himself alive as "around me the corpses piled higher". He recalls "that terrible day" ... "in the hell that they called Suvla Bay we were butchered like lambs at the slaughter" ... "in that mad world of blood, death and fire". In its clear and stark retelling of the events of the battle and its aftermath, "they blew us right back to Australia", it is a passionate indictment of war in general... "never knew there were worse things than dyin' ".
The song, written in 1971, has also been interpreted as alluding to the Vietnam War. The song rails against the romanticising of war. As the old man sits on his porch, watching the veterans march past every ANZAC Day, he muses: "The young people ask what are they marching for, and I ask m'self the same question".
The song was originally eight verses long, but Bogle pared it down to five verses (without reducing its meaning). At the 1974 National Folk Festival in Brisbane, Bogle entered another song in a songwriting competition. Since the first person who performed sang two songs rather than just one, everyone who followed did the same. Thus, Bogle also sang "Matilda", to great acclaim; some expressed consternation when it did not win the competition.
Jane Herivel from the Channel Islands had heard Bogle sing at the festival and requested Bogle to send her a recording. She sang it at a festival in the south of England where June Tabor heard it and later recorded it. Unknown to Bogle, the song became famous in the UK and North America; so when Bogle was in the UK in 1976 he was surprised to be asked to perform at a local folk club on the strength of the song.
The first release of the song was by John Currie on the Australian label M7 in 1975. Cover versions of the song have been performed and recorded by Katie Noonan (Flametree Festival Byron Bay 08), The Irish Rovers, Joan Baez, Priscilla Herdman, Liam Clancy, Martin Curtis, The Dubliners, Ronnie Drew, Danny Doyle, Slim Dusty, The Fenians, Mike Harding, Jolie Holland, Seamus Kennedy, The Langer's Ball, Johnny Logan and Friends, John Allan Cameron, Houghmagandie, John McDermott, Midnight Oil, Christy Moore, The Pogues, The Skids, June Tabor, John Williamson, The Bushwackers and the bluegrass band, The Kruger Brothers, Redgum, John Schumann, Tickawinda (on the album "Rosemary Lane"), Orthodox Celts, The Houghton Weavers, Pat Chessell and Bread and Roses. Garrison Keillor has also performed it on his radio show A Prairie Home Companion when ANZAC Day (25 April) has fallen on a Saturday. Phil Coulter released a cover on his 2007 album "Timeless Tranquility - 20 Year Celebration".
The Pogues' cover is perhaps the best-known version; critic Robert Christgau wrote that vocalist Shane MacGowan "never lets go of it for a second: he tests the flavour of each word before spitting it out."
American Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Senator Bob Kerrey, who lost half his leg in the war, sang the song to his supporters after being elected to the United States Senate in 1988, and borrowed the first line for the title of his autobiography, When I Was A Young Man: A Memoir.