7 June 2024

Terry Fielding still having a whale of a time performing his legendary hit song

| Michele Tydd
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Man performing and playing guitar.

Folk singer Terry Fielding says he has no plans to quit performing. Photo: Sandra Matthews.

Singer-songwriter Terry Fielding chuckles when revealing the story behind the catchy chorus of his legendary hit song, The Whale.

He was working with fellow musician Fred Dyer at the time who had a similar interest in songwriting and they would get together most weekends to smoke cigarettes, drink cheap wine and write songs.

“At a session in ’72, I played Fred a song I’d composed based on a poem I’d written after reading the novel, Moby Dick,” he says.

“Fred loved it but thought it needed a chorus between the verses to avoid it going flat, so he suggested di, di, di, di, da, di inspired by Fred’s girlfriend, Dianne at the time who he always referred to as Di.”

Terry says that quirky chorus tweak was so helpful in sending the song racing up the charts that he was happy to include Fred in the composing credits.

But it was Terry who had pulled off the amazing feat to get the 115 chapters of the action novel into a rollicking three-minute song.

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He now lives in Geelong in Victoria, but the Illawarra has a special place in his heart because he spent five years of his childhood in Wollongong after his father got a job as a boilermaker at the Steelworks.

It was around the time his mother bought her young teen his first guitar at what was then Dick Piper’s Music School in Crown Street.

“Mum loved music and she would bring home a record every week. When she brought home one by Frankie Laine, it just blew me away,” says Terry.

He was 26 when The Whale got to number five on the then national music chart in company with the likes of Robin Jolley’s Marshall’s Portable Music Machine, Elton John’s Rocket Man, Don McLean’s Vincent and Dr Hook’s Sylvia’s Mother.

It was the cream on the cake after a successful run that included winning the talent show, Australia’s New Faces and Bandstand’s songwriting competition.

The Whale’s success opened a lot of doors and I ended up singing it throughout Australia and in many overseas countries such as Ireland, England and Amsterdam,” says Terry.

“Wherever I went, the crowds loved it.”

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A treasured memory is when a Queensland band made up of about 10 police officers called the Irish Pigs asked him to join a recording session of the song, which they had performed many times.

“I was in Queensland at the time and they sent a police car to where I was in Queen Street to pick me up, generating a crowd of mystified faces,” he says, obviously tickled by the experience.

“There wasn’t much money in that industry back then and copyright payments were hard to police so there were times I had to resort to truck and taxi driving to feed my family,” he says.

One of his proud moments was about 20 years ago when the National Library of Australia in Canberra listed The Whale’s lyrics and music in its collections of significant Australian songs.

“They came to my house and interviewed me, which was quite an honour,” he says.

Terry is still performing the song, but these days he avoids pubs and clubs and focuses more on venues like concert and festival settings.

He will be performing his famous song at the Illawarra Folk Club’s Bastille Day concert at Thirroul on 14 July.

Terry says he is one of the lucky musicians who can still perform for the love of their craft well beyond traditional retirement age.

“My voice is still strong and my fingers still work, so until one or both stops working, I’ll continue singing.”

Terry Fielding will perform on 14 July at 2 pm at the Railway Heritage Hall, Thirroul. For more information and tickets, contact the Illawarra Folk Club.

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