Folk Singing Lawyer
Hangs on to His Day Job

From the back row, it looked as though folksinger Bernard Bolan was wearing a white business shirt as he sang his cheery songs about a garden gnome, a hometown pub and a farting dog named Ferdinand.The shirt seemed rather at odds with his headgear, which would not have been out of place at the Mad Hatter's tea party.

"Many years ago, I was travelling by bus in South America," he told his audience yesterday at Australia's biggest annual folk festival at Woodford, 60k north of Brisbane.
"This was written on the bus in the middle of Mato Grosso, surrounded by drunken gauchos who were offering me pieces of bully beef and glasses of red wine."

Instead of the lilting Latin air one might have expected, Bolan launched into a jolly little ditty about a cat he once had named Basingstoke.

Closer inspection after the show revealed that the shirt was made of unbleached cotton, a material not exactly uncommon amid the tie-dyes, dreadlocks and floppy hats at the Woodford Folk Festival.

But although Bolan, one of the country's leading singer-singwriters, is very much at home at folk festivals, he is also no stranger to business shirts.

For more than 25 years he has combined a successful folk-singing career with the unlikely "second job" as a corporate lawyer.Or is it the other way around?

Bolan is well-known in folk circles, but he has an equally high profile in the business world. Among other "suits", he is best known as the former tax adviser to the sugar and building industry giant, CSR.
"I had a good 20 years with CSR," he said. "I kept them well regarded, saved a lot of tax."
He left the company two years ago to set up his own practice as a corporate and tax lawyer.

Bolan, who began his musical career as a teenager singing and playing guitar in an "absolutely appalling" skiffle band in his native Lancashire, owes his double life to a work ethic passed on by his parents.
"I grew up being taught that you get yourself a good job and the fun comes afterwards."

So music remained very much a weekend pursuit as he studied law, went to work as a lawyer in Britain and then moved to Australia, where he took up corporate legal work in the early 1970s.
"I've always thought that it was probably going to count against me if I didn't very much seem to treat my music as purely a hobby," he said. "And whether it's a hobby or a business these days is a question that the taxman often addresses very closely."

At the same time, his years of stage have put him in good stead when it comes to making presentations on behalf of business clients.
"With folk audiences," he said, "You learn to think on your feet."

He has never regretted moving to Australia.
"In Britain, it would not have been possible to combine the two careers with the same degree of profile as I have in Australia," Bolan said.
- Kevin Meade

CLOSE