The Alistair Hulett Archives
Currently a pilot project using materials held by John Hamill, the Chair of the Alistair Hulett Memorial Trust is being undertaken, and already many interesting and important items not previously in the public domain are coming to light. Please do not hesitate to contact John about anything to do with the Alistair Hulett Archive.
Thus a record of such an important force in the fight for social justice will be preserved and made available to all bona fide researchers and those wishing to know more about Alistair’s work.
Alistair Hulett, who has died of cancer aged 58, was an outspoken, staunchly leftwing singer and songwriter who built up a dedicated following in his native Scotland in New Zealand and Australia here he spent much of his life. His colourful, wildly varied musical career included work with the Australian folk-punk group Roaring Jack and a series of albums recorded with Dave Swarbrick, Britain’s finest fiddle-player. For Swarbrick, Hulett was “committed, uncompromising and passionate, and the best songwriter since Ewan MacColl. I’ve worked with wonderful songwriters like Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny, but Alistair was spectacular.”
Born in Glasgow, where his father was an aircraft engineer, Hulett attended Ralston primary school and then the John Neilson institution in Paisley. He became fascinated by the folk scene while still a teenager and, his sister Alison recalls, would “climb out of his bedroom window at night when he was just 13 so he could go off to see the Incredible String Band”. He was given a guitar by his uncle and studied the songs of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.
The following year he was horrified when his parents decided to move to New Zealand. He initially regarded Christchurch as a cultural backwater, and was furious at being forced to wear a uniform at Christchurch boys’ high school, though he soon became something of a sensation at Christchurch folk club because of his interpretation of MacColl songs and knowledge of British traditional music.
After leaving school he studied at Canterbury School of Fine Arts and worked as a carpet designer. He was determined to return to Scotland, but after leaving home he travelled to Australia, where he met his first wife, Jane McDonald. They settled back in New Zealand (where Hulett formed the band Croodin Cant, which included his sister and specialised in British folk ballads) before moving to northern Australia and then, in 1977, to India, where they were based in the Himalayas.
Hulett’s strong political commitment was formed, his sister believes, during the two years he spent in India, “where he saw the huge divide between the poor and the wealthy”. Returning to Australia without his wife, he dramatically changed his image and musical style and formed the Sydney-based band Roaring Jack, who were seen as Australia’s answer to the Pogues, with a line-up of electric guitar, drums and accordion.
They played at concerts, benefits and demonstrations, and Hulett’s angry, highly political new songs included The Old Divide and Rule, Framed (a song about the activist Tim Anderson, who was wrongly accused of placing explosives outside the Sydney Hilton hotel), and The Swaggies Have All Waltzed Matilda Away, which includes the line “blood stained the soil of Australia”. According to his sister, “Politics put him at odds with the authorities. I’m sure there’s a big dossier on him in Australia.”
In 1992, Hulett changed musical direction yet again, moving from folk-punk to an exploration of his early folk roots with his first solo album, the acoustic Dance of the Underclass. But there was no change in his political stance, and the album included an angry lament for the suffering of Australia’s asbestos miners, He Fades Away, which was covered in England by June Tabor.
His collaboration with Swarbrick began in 1995. The fiddle player, best-known for his work with Martin Carthy and Fairport Convention, was living in Australia at the time and was eager to meet Hulett after hearing The Swaggies, a song he describes as “a masterpiece”. The duo recorded the album Saturday Johnny and Jimmy the Rat, which included traditional songs, political songs, and compositions based on stories of Glasgow that Hulett had been told by his grandfather. It was well received and the duo successfully toured Australia together. The following year they both decided it was time to return to the UK. Hulett was now remarried, to Fatima Uygun, and he and his wife stayed with Swarbrick in Herefordshire, where the album Cold Grey Light of Dawn was recorded.
In 1997, Hulett fulfilled his teenage ambition at last, and moved back to Glasgow. His collaborations with Swarbrick continued, but were curtailed when the fiddler became seriously ill in 1999, and in 2000 Hulett recorded another solo album, In Sleepy Scotland. In 2002 he was reunited with Swarbrick on the album Red Clydeside, which told the story of John Maclean – the Scottish revolutionary who campaigned against conscription during the first world war, called for a communist republic of Scotland and was imprisoned on several occasions.
In 2005, Hulett recorded a final solo album, Riches and Rags, which included his own political songs, traditional songs, and a reworking of The First Girl I Loved, by Robin Williamson, a song that appeared on the first album by Hulett’s teenage heroes, the Incredible String Band. In partnership with the singer Jimmy Ross, he also gave historical word-and-song presentations on the lives of Seeger and MacColl, or the history of Irish political song, and in 2008 he recorded with the Yorkshire-based band the Malkies.
Although brought up in a strongly Protestant family, he was a staunch supporter of Celtic football team. Hulett became ill on New Year’s Day, and died only days after being diagnosed with cancer. He is survived by Fatima.
Once referred to as “one of the defining voices of Scottish music”, Alistair Hulett was a genuine folk hero, perhaps best known for fronting the folk-punk band Roaring Jack.
Hulett was born in Glasgow in 1951, at a time when the Protestant/Catholic split was pronounced. His parents, Harry and Annie, wanted to name their child Michael. Alistair’s grandfather James Robertson, a Freemason, was the undisputed head of the family and vetoed the name, a move which was to prove ironic, when as an adult Hulett campaigned to end sectarianism violence in Glasgow and became a staunch supporter of Celtic FC.
Hulett spent much of his childhood at the home of his grandparents in Penilee. His parents had worked hard to buy a house in a more desirable neighbourhood with better schools and had moved to nearby Ralston. Hulett attended Ralston Primary School, which was close enough to his grandparents for him to run there during lunch times and after school. It was from his grandfather that Hulett heard stories about the old ways and itinerant travellers such as Saturday Johnny and Jimmy the Rat, characters who were to provide valuable material for his later songwriting.
Hulett’s musical proclivities were unleashed after he was presented with a guitar at the age of 11, a present from an uncle. Guitar in hand, he rushed to Glumb’s music shop in Paisley and bought himself a beginner’s guitar handbook endorsed by Pete Seeger.
He took to the instrument immediately, caressing the strings in a way which prompted his parents to upgrade the old Tommy Steele replica. At a time when most of his contemporaries were listening to Herman’s Hermits and the Hollies, the 12-year-old Hulett was playing the music of Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee and Muddy Waters. The closest he ever came to mainstream music was to become a lifelong passion, a love of Bob Dylan.
Leaving Ralston Primary to attend the John Neilson Institution in Paisley, Hulett discovered a close group of friends who remained loyal to his genius for humour and music for the remainder of his life.
In 1965, when Hulett was 14, his parents made another momentous move to attain a better life for their family, they set sail for New Zealand. For a teenager who had already discovered the Glasgow music scene (largely by climbing out of windows after his parents had gone to bed to watch The Incredible String Band play in the clubs of Glasgow) the move to an Antipodean colony was a nightmare come true.
At the time, he regarded Christchurch as a cultural backwater and was particularly horrified at being forced to wear a school uniform which had remained unchanged for more than 50 years. The school also had a strict rule on hair length. Hulett had shoulder-length hair and no intention of shortening it, showing a stubbornness that ensured he spent weekday mornings having his hair pinned up by his sister.
He was also one of the earliest conscientious objectors at the school, when he and his new best friend, Charles White, refused to participate in the senior pupils’ army cadet training scheme. Knowing his immovable opinion on the matter, Hulett’s parents supported him and managed to lobby on his behalf for him to be excused from the training and to spend that time where he was happiest, in the school’s art room.
Music, and folk music in particular, played a constant part in his life and one night, aged 16, Hulett and White consumed almost an entire flagon of beer to give them the courage to take to the stage at the local folk club.
Phil Garland, who ran the Folk Centre for many years, said: “I still remember Alistair’s first appearance at the Folk Centre back in 1967 and the stir he caused. I have never before or since come across a 16-year-old singing Childe ballads and Ewan MacColl songs, let alone sing them so well. His was an immense talent.”
Hulett enrolled at Canterbury Fine Art School, but left after less than two years to work as a carpet and rug designer. His heart was most definitely not in his job, but he was determined to earn enough money to return to Scotland and pursue the life of a folk singer, and to supplement his savings he stoked the furnaces at a glass factory, routinely burning his eyebrows and ankles.
He left New Zealand aged 18, heading first to Australia for a sightseeing trip, seemingly en route to Scotland. In Sydney, however, he fell for 21-year-old Jane McDonald and a year later returned to New Zealand with her. There he formed a band called Croodin Cant (which included his sister Alison and various friends). The band sang unaccompanied traditional British folk ballads incorporating complex harmonies.
Hulett and his new wife then left New Zealand for India, basing themselves in McLeod Ganj, a small town in the Himalayas where the Dalai Lama lived in exile from Tibet. Hulett had at least two audiences with the Dalai Lama and he maintained a healthy respect for Buddhism for the rest of his life.
Hulett then decided to return to Australia, though Jane did not go with him. Back in Australia, he became a founder member of Roaring Jack, a five-piece folk-punk band specialising in Celtic beats and radical lyrics. For five years the band toured to great success in Australia, releasing their first album, Street Celtability in 1986.
The album reached number one in the indie charts. By the time their second album was released (The Cat Among The Pigeons, 1988, nominated for an Aria award) the band were supporting big-time overseas acts such as The Pogues and Billy Bragg. A third album saw another Aria award but the band had decided to call it a day.
His solo work continued his success, and his first album, in 1991, Dance of the Underclass cemented his place as one of the most influential musicians in Australia. Further success followed, with the albums In the Backstreets of Paradise and Saturday Johnny and Jimmy the Rat. Hulett then started working with Fairport Convention fiddler Dave Swarbrick, and after a successful tour in Australia the pair moved back to the UK. Their 1996 Sidmouth performance was broadcast by the BBC and was followed up with a live studio session. Hulett continued to tour with Swarbrick, and produced two acclaimed albums with him.
Back in Scotland he continued to write and perform, returning briefly to Australia in December 2008, as part of a double bill with US singer David Rovics.
Outside of music Hulett had strong political beliefs and in 1991 he became a member of the International Socialist Organisation, a reaction to the perceived injustice of the Iraq War. In 1995 he co-founded the Socialist Alternative, using Roaring Jack to press the message at benefit concerts and political rallies. Many of the band’s songs were in support of oppressed minorities, such as indigenous Australians, or attacked oppressive regimes.
On New Year’s Day 2010 Hulett became acutely ill. He was hospitalised on 5 January with suspected food poisoning. Further tests revealed an aggressive cancer which had already spread, and on 28 January, only days after diagnosis, he died. He is survived by his wife, Fatima, and his parents Harry and Annie Hulett.
There is something admirable about those people of deep political conviction who, in their youth, rail against the unfairness of the world and maintain that rage for the rest of their lives.
The great Scottish-Australian folk singer Alistair Hulett was a gentle man with a wonderful sense of humour who never deviated from his deeply held belief in the essential decency of the working class and the exploitation of those workers by capitalist elites.
So it was appropriate after his death in Glasgow from an aggressive cancer at the age of only 58, that his wife, Fatima Uygun, would describe Hulett as a “singer, songwriter, international socialist, revolutionary, ecologist, community activist”. He was also a man who had and deserved the admiration of his fans.
Alistair Hulett was born in Glasgow on October 15, 1951, and was to be named Michael, but his grandfather, James Robertson, a Freemason, objected to a name with Catholic connotations and insisted on Alistair.
Hulett’s parents, Harry, an aircraft engineer, and Annie, settled in Renfrewshire, Scotland. When Alistair was 11, his uncle gave him a guitar. He taught himself to play from a handbook written by the great American activist-folkie Pete Seeger.
He was never interested in mainstream pop and by the age of 12, when he was starting high school at the John Nielson Institution in Paisley, he was already showing an interest in the African-American blues men.
When he was 14, Hulett’s parents moved to Christchurch, New Zealand. For the teenager, this was like being sent to the end of the world, although by the time he was 16 he was making his first tentative steps into music.
Phil Garland, who ran the Folk Centre in Christchurch for many years, has said: ”I still remember Alistair’s first appearance at the Folk Centre back in 1967 and the stir he caused. I have never before or since come across a 16-year-old singing Childe ballads and Ewan MacColl songs, let alone sing them so well. His was an immense talent.”
By the time he was 18, Hulett was ready to leave New Zealand. He planned to go to Europe via Australia but a romantic entanglement with Jane McDonald, which led to marriage, led him to settle in Sydney for a year before returning to New Zealand, where he formed a band named Croodin Cant, which included his sister, Alison.
He eventually left New Zealand again and spent some time in India where he met the Dalai Lama and became a lifelong admirer of Buddhism. It was around this time that his marriage fell apart.
In 1979, Hulett returned to Australia, where he started to play around the Sydney pub scene with an American bluegrass mandolin player, Hunter Owens. Slowly their unlikely blend of rockabilly and bluegrass with a punk edge morphed into the hugely important folk-punk band Roaring Jack. Their first album, Street Celtability, was released in 1986. It reached the top of the local indie charts.
The band’s popularity continued to grow, supporting overseas folk acts including Billy Bragg and the Pogues. Their second album The Cat Among the Pigeons (1988) was nominated for an ARIA. They established a passionate fan base on the folk and festival circuits.
By the end of the 1980s, having recorded a third album, Through the Smoke of Innocence, which was also nominated for an ARIA, Roaring Jack was disbanded and Hulett began the solo career which, with occasional forays into short-lived side projects, he would continue until his death.
He recorded his first solo album, Dance of the Underclass, in 1991. From this point he moved effortlessly between the folk punk style of Roaring Jack – he formed a fiery outfit called the Hooligans just to record and perform some songs he had left over from the Roaring Jack days – and the more overtly folkie sound that he explored with the great English fiddle player Dave Swarbrick.
Hulett and Swarbrick met in Australia in the mid-1990s when Swarbrick was living in the Blue Mountains. The connection was established simply because Swarbrick told a mutual friend he would like to work with the songwriter who wrote The Swaggies Have All Waltzed Matilda Away. The partnership endured. They toured together and released three albums.
Returning permanently to Scotland, Hulett continued to write and perform. He toured Australia in December 2008 and January last year.Alistair Hulett is survived by Fatima, his sister, Alison, and his parents.
Alistair Hulett died suddenly last week after a short illness. He was an acclaimed songwriter, guitarist and singer, and a committed socialist, anti-war campaigner and community activist. His songs demonstrate not only his passionate loathing of a system that kills and maims its way to profit but also his delight at the resistance that springs up in response.
One of his best known songs, recorded by June Tabor, Roy Bailey and Andy Irvine, is “He Fades Away”, about a former blue asbestos miner who is dying of asbestosis.
In “Don’t Sign Up for War”, Alistair celebrated the anti-war stand of the Scottish revolutionary John Maclean with the lines “Betray your country. Serve your class. Don’t sign up for war my friend. Don’t sign up for war.” His two lifelong heroes were Bob Dylan and Ewan MacColl. Alistair was born in Glasgow where he discovered folk music in his early teens.
But just as he was about to take the Glasgow scene by storm, he reluctantly accompanied his parents as they emigrated to New Zealand. At 18, Alistair, who by then had a growing reputation on the folk circuit, escaped the sedate town of Christchurch for Australia.
After some years of solo performing he threw himself into the emerging punk folk scene, fronting the Roaring Jacks band. Alistair said of them, “We took the very hard-edged political tone that was characteristic of punk at that time. “There was an anger and a vitality in punk that reminded me of the folk music that I fell in love with way back in the 60s, when folk music was at the cutting edge.” During this period he wrote songs about the Australian labour movement past and present, the struggles of indigenous peoples, anti-racism, yuppie gentrification, miscarriages of justice, love and having fun.
Alistair joined the ISO (the then sister organisation of the SWP in Australia) during the first Gulf War. His band sang against the war at demos and benefits. He remained a committed and articulate revolutionary for the rest of his life. After the Jacks folded he had both a successful solo career and a fruitful partnership with the celebrated Fairport Convention fiddler Dave Swarbrick. They made three albums together.
Alistair arrived back in Glasgow with his partner Fatima at the end of the 1990s where they continued their political and cultural activity. This encompassed both the international campaigning against the war and the G8 summit, and local campaigning to welcome refugees and to save local services.
I had the pleasure and privilege to work with Alistair writing and performing shows on Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl and Songs of Irish Rebellion at the Marxism festival, Socialist Worker’s fighting fund events and at festivals across the country. In his last few years he also joined with three other musicians to form a new band, The Malkies. As well as their album Suited and Booted they also produced a special edition EP for Socialist Worker.
Our thoughts and condolences go out to his partner Fatima, his sister Alison and his parents in Queensland. He will be sorely missed as a friend, comrade and cultural inspiration.
Sadly, Alistair Hulett passed away this evening. Many of you who listen to the Roots stream will be familiar with his powerful voice and his incredible songs. He was an amazing, strong willed, inspirational man. He will be greatly missed by many. Rest in Peace
We are saddened to report the news that Alistair Hulett died at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow on Thursday evening, January 28, 2010.
There are already many tributes on the web including LINKS, the International Journal of Socialist Renewal who reported: “Alistair, a truly great singer, songwriter, activist and socialist, will be greatly missed by us all. Alistair’s partner Fatima thanks all those who wrote in with messages of support in the past week since news of Alistair’s illness became public. The response was overwhelming, and shows just how many people cared about Alistair and his music.”
Other tributes on that site included: “A red salute to Alistair Hulett. Over the years he consistently used his music to build the movements of working class struggle. I cannot take a ferry trip on Sydney Harbour without recalling a memorable harbour cruise in the 1980s with Alistair’s blasts drawing the attention of the water police, workers from the then occupied Cockatoo Island shipyards forcing us to make an emergency stop for more supplies of beer…”
And from David Rovic, a musician who worked with Alistair “Today is my daughter Leila’s fourth birthday, and while this occasion brings my thoughts back to the day she was born, the past 24 hours have otherwise been full of fairly devastating news.
If the left can admit to having icons, then two of them have just died. Yesterday it was the great historian and activist Howard Zinn, with whom I had the pleasure of sharing many stages around the US over many years. Much has been written about Zinn’s death at the age of 87, and I think many more people will be discovering his groundbreaking work who may not have heard of him til now.
And then less than a full day later I heard the news that my dear friend, comrade and fellow musician Alistair Hulett died today. He was thirty years younger than Professor Zinn, 57 years old, give or take a year. Ally had an aggressive form of cancer in his liver, lungs and stomach.”
No doubt there will be many tributes from those who knew Alistair in the Scottish Folk scene where he was a performer and a teacher with Glasgow Fiddle Workshop. Alistair led fundraising efforts in support of his friend and musical partner Dave Swarbrick when he needed a heart and lung transplant. When we heard that Alistair was ill with a liver complaint, we anticipated a similar need for Alistair. Sadly, his illness progressed at speed and this was not to be. Alistair was an honest sincere man who through his songs, music and friendship made more of an impact than perhaps he ever appreciated. He will be missed.
We expect a full appreciation of Alistair to be written Meantime we include an article written by Mel Howley not long after Alistair moved back to the UK from Australia.
Live Performance Reviews
The touring packages of the 60’s made no effort to mix around musicians. Today, singarounds like those at The Bluebird Café in Nashville let musicians wallow in a mood of mutual admiration and learning to the benefit of the attendant audience. That’s progress, of course, but it’s a brave man who puts together a bunch of musicians expecting them to gel by playing together in front of an audience. But like all good pub sessions, it’s a rare treat when it happens. Packaged as ‘The Shamrock, The Thistle and The Rose’, we are presented with Niamh Parsons – vocals extraordinaire, her excellent guitarist Graham Dunne, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan – BBC Folk Duo of the year and Alistair Hulett – one of the most underestimated traditionally styled songwriters.
It’s the last night of the tour and they’ve obviously had a lot if fun.
The opening medley allows Niamh to stretch the tonsils, Nancy and James to add some fire, Alistair to roll a few R’s in his Glaswegian burr and Graham to loosen up the fingers before we settle in to a delightful vocal from Niamh for their second number. Next up, Nancy and James back Alistair on the traditional song, ‘Geordie’, before he’s let loose on one of his finest songs, ‘Don’t Sign Up For War’. Yes, Sassenachs may find his Glaswegian accent rather impenetrable but perseverance pays and you can treat this as ‘world music’ if your ears don’t tune in properly. Nancy and James return with a couple of medleys where Billy Pigg tunes feature in ‘Bonnie Woodside’ and ‘Coates Hall’ mixed around with ‘The American Stranger’ which has Nancy in full flight with her percussive fiddle style. Niamh and Graham come back to the fold with two beautiful songs, ‘Fear A Bhata’ and ‘Alexander’ before the tempo is upped with by Nancy and James on ‘The Banks Of The Condamine’. The first set closes with a rousing version of Ron Kavanagh’s ‘Reconciliation’ performed by the ensemble.
The second set follows much the same pattern but with more ensemble performances such as the superb a cappella rendition of Alistair’s ‘Blue Murder’. At the other end of the scale, there are great individual efforts such as the unaccompanied ‘Gathering Rushes’ by Nancy Kerr. A marvellous moment, especially considering she’d spent most of the day recovering from flu. However, the magic moment of the evening comes as Niamh Parsons leads the ensemble on Alistair Hulett’s classic song ‘He Fades Away’. This starts a triumphant ensemble march to the close with ‘Anderson Coast’ sung by James, ‘The Ways Of A Rover’ sung by Ally and the climactic ‘Dance To Your Daddy’ led by Nancy and James. The phrase ‘well deserved encore’ is tarnished by its overuse in reviews but herein it’s a clean and simple fact. Niamh obliged the audience by leading the ensemble with Alan Bell’s ‘So, Here’s To You’ with its words celebrating the making of new friends. The fact that none of them departed the stage during the evening and the knowing glances between this fine set of musicians at the end reveal the sympathetic nature of the lyric. Let’s hope that there will be more audiences in the future who have the privilege of seeing this slice of unadulterated musical pleasure.
Given the success of the first Partick folk festival one can only wonder why no one thought of the idea before.
Having an idea/vision is one thing, converting that into an actuality is another matter altogether. In general terms this takes one who is driven, one whom has the energy and passion to see their idea, despite difficulties that may come their way, through to completion. In Mick West (aided by an enthusiastic team), the good folk of Partick Folk Club and beyond must be thankful that he came up with the idea in the first place.
One of Partick’s most famous sons, Billy Connolly, would, if he knew, (and who knows maybe he does) that Partick now not only boasts a Folk club but also a Folk festival, he would undoubtedly launch into a bunch of expletives exclaiming wonderment and joy at the news.
Being a long time devotee of this genre, I can well remember Connolly in his early days as a folk singer doing the rounds of pubs and folk clubs, The Scotia bar, The Montrose Folk club etc. It would be no surprise to me if at some future event Connolly were to turn up unannounced, the lure of visiting a folk fest in the very streets he spent his early summers playing (wearing short troosers and wellies!) being to much to resist.
The Fest kicked of with the burning of “The Bogeyman” which was accompanied by, Pipe bands and other live music, this was followed by a torchlight procession to “The Annexe” the venue that was to house the main events. Not being able to attend the opening ceremony I was delighted to be driving by the playing fields as the crowd warmed at the roaring bonfire, the rousing sound of the Pipe band filled the air, I could do little else but stop for a minute to listen and muse on my disappointment having missed the opening event.
Despite my initial disappointment at missing the opening events, that paled quickly as I walked into The Annexe to be entertained by Mick West, Alistair Hulett and The Clutha.
In a rapidly filling venue it was as well I arrived early to secure a seat! As was mentioned previously this the first Partick fest must have had the organisers wondering on it’s success or otherwise, they had, as events turned out, nothing to worry about.
Mick West walked up to the mic, in front of a packed house, welcoming everyone he gave us two songs, despite the evening being titled “Songs of Glasgow” surprisingly he gave us a couple of numbers with a strong Irish influence, then, when you think of the positive contribution “Irish immigrants” have made to Glasgow and it’s culture it’s probably not that surprising. West’s contribution, as it turned out, was to be the only (musical) disappointment for me over the fest!
Let me explain; my disappointment was that expecting, nay hoping, for an extended contribution from the man himself my expectations were not met, (my disappointment compounded by the fact that I couldn’t make the Mick West band gig a day or so later). Ochone! Ochone!
To most, if not all lovers of songs that are evidential to the struggles of the workingman, songs that portray an accurate record of events that many in power would prefer us to forget, the name of Alistair Hulett is synonymous.
Glasgow has a proud tradition of producing and raising men and women who are fiercely proud of their roots, never afraid to stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the costs. In a set that was to enthral and delight, Hulett reminded and taught us in both story and song how our forbearers not only stood proud, but also stood shoulder to shoulder with one another against injustice. One can’t help but wring one’s hands in frustration as I look out on a selfish present day generation whom by comparison, are consumed by self, the very notion of solidarity being an anathema. Thanks to performers of the ilk of Hulett at least we won’t forget the struggles and solidarity that went before. (And hopefully learn a lesson from the same)
In a set that kicked of with “Mrs Barbour’s army”, a tale about a real life character that was hugely involved with the infamous Govan rent strike during the time of “The Red Clydeside” – a song which enforces the view that the common man can indeed be successful if we stand united, Hulett quickly endeared himself to his audience, with the warmth of his wit his easygoing story telling and both his wonderful vocal and excellent musicianship. Hulett is indeed an excellent guitarist.
In many ways Hulett is a walking singing history book, but I hasten to add, a hugely entertaining one. Listening to the way he informs about John MacLean the leader of the “Red Clydeside” movement and other stories besides, one could easily sit and listen as he chatted whilst strumming his guitar, he was that entertaining.
Hulett principally though is a singer songwriter, a committed socialist he is not afraid to put his principals into action. In a fairly recent and highly publicised protest that ran and ran, local people in Govanhill took matters into their own hands as the local authority tried to close their local pool facility. A sit-in, in the best tradition followed, only to be stopped by the violent intervention of the forces of Law and Order! Hulett wrote a brilliant parody of Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land” about the protesters experience entitled “This Pool”, which went down a storm, great stuff indeed.
There was little doubt that the rapport between audience and artist was complete as huge and passionate applause and cheers supported every song.
During one of his chats talking about anti-war songs he made the telling point “ a bayonet is a weapon with a working man at both ends”. Profound stuff. In a performance that not only included workers songs, Hulett dazzled with some great Blues guitar during the number Trouble in Mind.
Taking us to the interval was the self-penned and wonderful “ Destitution Road ”, a song about The Highland Clearances. Hulett was correct when he made the point that if it happened today it would be called Ethnic Cleansing. This stunning but poignant song records what it must have been like when the Gaels of Caledonia, were forced from their homes, this unflinching, satirical song deserves a much wider audience.
Despite closing on a desperately sad episode in Scotland ’s history and one which shouldn’t be forgotten, EVER, having given an excellent performance to a greatly appreciative audience, Hulett walked off to rapturous and well-deserved applause.
As the crowds headed for the kitchen for their home made soup and food, Christmas pies etc etc (they know how to look after their guests in Partick), I chatted to Hulett. There was little doubt he enjoyed his set as much as the audience. You can read more about the man and his work here on the pages of Rootsreview soon as he is being interviewed by Simon Wallace.
The second half brought us the wonderful The Clutha, Mick West in his introduction made the point that The Clutha had a sound all of their own, to which I could only concur, even though I hadn’t heard them live for 20 odd years.
I have no doubt that many thought The Clutha had disappeared over the musical horizon settled back into the relaxed life, live events being nought but a memory, of course whilst maybe not recording albums they are very much live and kicking! As a packed out Annexe was about to find out.
Opening with Robert Burns Heilan’ Laddie this rousing rendition soon had the crowd clapping and footstompin’. The Clutha had set out their stall! Having heard The Clutha live many years ago it is perplexing to me that this innovative outfit didn’t shine more over the years. Chatting to my old mate Arthur Johnstone, a well-known vocalist of the left wing songs like Alistair Hulett, he informed me that he is indebted to The Clutha for teaching him the workers’ standard, The John MacLean March.
Back to the gig! Although there was much clapping and footstompin, in contrast we had the sensitive and the poignant the delightful Hush-a-by a lullaby that also doubles as a Lament, a song about a young single parent struggling to raise her bairn with out a father, (not a modern phenomenon it would seem!) Of course the night wasn’t all songs, being The Clutha pipes had to be included, a rousing set of tunes which included The Merry Boys of Greenland brought the house down, a set that induced impromptu dancing in the spaces folk could find!
Aye, this was a night not to have missed, and I have yet to mention “Child Ballad 275!!!” you really had to be there!
The joyous time that folk were having increased as the night went on, more a party than a festival, just the way that folk should enjoy themselves, great community singing one minute to the tear inducing the next, emotions all over the place as we enjoyed great songs from the stirring Gallowa’ Hills to the affecting lament from the Borders, A Border Woman’s Lament. If you are not familiar with this song do yourself a favour go find out about it.
There was a raft of magnificent songs and tunes that followed Hamish Henderson’s John MacLean March, The brisk young Sailor/Glesga Jean a furious set of jigs and reels that had drink spilling all over the place as tables were clattered and feet stomped as the crowd showed both there approval and enjoyment and finally closing with a song from Bonhill in Dumbarton.
This was truly a fabulous evening, and one that I am confident all who were there would happily experience again.
Until more recent times, the thought of Alistair Hulett as part of a band would lead inevitably to his time in Roaring Jack and their wonderfully thrashy folk rock. However, his latter-day musical history has seen him perform solo and as part of various duos (with Dave Swarbrick and David Rovics, for example) in acoustic mode. So now that he is part of a band again, the question inevitably arises as to how The Malkies fits into the rest of his musical oeuvre, and indeed if the group can be seen as more than just the “Alistair Hulett Band”.
To take the second point first, a quick glance on the bio section of their Web site shows that all other members – Phil Snell (mandolin, fiddle, lap steel), Hugh Bradley (double bass, harmony vocal) and Hugh Whitaker (drums, percussion) – have each had long and diverse musical careers taking in bands such as the Whisky Priests and Bayou Gumbo. So there is plenty of experience and individuality within the group to give it its own flavour.
A couple of guests also provide extra vocals on various tracks – Gavin Livingstone’s melodic tones provide backing vocals in various places, while Rachel Goodwin sings co-lead on a number of songs. Both singers help to add a different texture to the vocal line and, in common with the general arrangements, equal prominence is given to each voice and instrument so the overall effect is that of a band, not a collection of musicians each vying for the front spot.
With regard to how the album fits into Hulett’s own history, there is a possible double-edged sword, at least in these early days of The Malkies. For many people, he will be the main attraction and, since this CD largely features his own writing – often songs that he has recorded previously in his earlier career – there is the possibility that the “band” nature of the arrangements and performance can be overlooked, or compared too easily to what has been before, rather than stand on its own obvious merits. I imagine that if this is an issue at all, it will be a short lived one as new material enters the repertoire, written and/or arranged to be specifically their own.
So if we leave such pondering and possible over-analysis to one side and concentrate on Suited & Booted itself, it’s easy to appreciate the album as its own work, and a thoroughly enjoyable debut recording.
Even if around half the tracks are familiar in one way, the new arrangements are usually so different as to render them practically new songs. The rest are arrangements of traditional pieces and works by Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie; these are similarly treated in an individual style – and the chosen songwriters should give a clue regarding the not unexpected political nature of much of the material.
Older Roaring Jack songs include the opener ‘Buy Us A Drink’ which began life as a typically breakneck folk rock song but it now has a gentle sway which, in common with other tracks here, does tend to make the understanding of the lyrics easier to some degree. The arrangement may be subtler but the playing is tight, with all instruments and vocals on a similar sound level. Likewise, ‘Playing For The Traffic’ is now more easy-flowing and it is noticeable that the language has been somewhat toned down as well! ‘Are There Honky Tonks In Heaven’ is now almost straight country with a not overly serious lyrical side, and some excellent acoustic guitar and mandolin work by multi-instrumentalist Phil Snell.
‘Out In The Danger Zone’, another reworking, is a very catchy midpaced song of social justice, again featuring some fine lead mandolin work.
As mentioned previously, a few traditional pieces are featured – these include well-known songs such as ‘High Germany’ and ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’. The latter is a mysterious, supernatural song with an appropriate arrangement. Hulett sings like he really feels it, with expressive vocals leading to a captivating track overall.
I’ve heard ‘The Overgate’ performed by other artists using the name ‘The Beef Can Close’. It is one of the overtly Scottish tracks on the CD, though as a collection the album doesn’t really fit into one particular geographical location. Likewise, ‘The Road To Dundee’ is both trad and Scots but is given a country styled arrangement here. It is one of the many story songs that fill the album – one of the usual definitions of folk music of course, though The Malkies try to steer clear of even such an obvious description of their sound.
‘Quite Early Morning’, the Pete Seeger track, is a kind of country blues and another duet between Hulett and Goodwin. It is also a good example of how his voice can hold its own on slower numbers as well as rockers – as he has amply shown in recent years anyway!
‘Pastures Of Plenty’ is another well-known song, of course, but the version here is great, with brushed drums and a steady rhythm – Phil Snell provides subtle fiddle within the arrangement, proving he is a handy man to have around the place.
The final track is the standard ‘The Internationale’, previously recorded by Hulett and many others. Here it is a fitting end to the album and perhaps a summary of its ethos; the version here still has a particular “rallying” effect to the lyrics without the listener feeling they’re being browbeaten while listening!
So the first Malkies album can easily be taken on its own merits as an enjoyable and well-programmed collection of songs, with nothing else to consider. In the slightly bigger picture, when the collective sound that clearly applies to the playing is applied equally to the songwriting – or if a few new Hulett songs are kept exclusively for this band – they will perhaps be seen more easily as their own group, assuming that’s the way they want to go.
The cheeky moniker conceals a right gang of reprobates, but they’ve no need to hide themselves away waiting for a bus in the middle of nowhere, for on the evidence of this CD (and some awesome live appearances, including its launch gig) they’re really going places. The Malkies formed around a year ago, with feisty-but-sensitive Glasgow-born singer-songwriter Alistair Hulett teaming up with those three currently-Yorkshire-based musos of high repute Phil Snell (mando/fiddle wiz, ex-Bayou Gumbo and St. Louis Zipper), Hugh Bradley (double bass, ex-Whisky Priests) and Hugh Whitaker (drums, also ex-Bayou Gumbo).
Together they produce what they describe as “hybrid music for uncertain times”, wherein folk music from the traditions of Scotland, England, Ireland and the Americas is melded inextricably with country, celtabilly and rogue folk, serving up something quite unique and tremendously exhilarating. Happily, their repertoire encompasses several of Alistair’s own songs, which invariably embrace a strong political conscience; here, Out In The Danger Zone, Playing For The Traffic, The Day That The Boys Came Down come into this category, as do suitably sparky covers of Pete Seeger’s Quite Early Morning (a mighty gem, this) and Guthrie’s Pastures Of Plenty – and indeed, the CD’s own “calling-on song”, the catchy Buy Us A Drink.
Not to mention the disc’s finale: what else but The Internationale?!… The Malkies also turn in elegant and well-considered versions of traditional ballads (The Wife Of Usher’s Well and High Germany), and the parlour-song pastiche The Road To Dundee (found in the repertoire of many a tradition-based song-carrier), while I loved their “Pictish-Blues” take on the bothy ballad The Overgate. It’s an invigorating mix alright, the mood and delivery may be (roughly) good-time, but it’s done with buckets of taste and real style.
There’s loads of delectable inner detail in the arrangements, and the musicians are having a ball too; there’s an easygoing, if slightly-rough-and-tumble backroom feel to the music-making that flatters to deceive by belying the expertise of the participants, but it’s so darned appealing! Phil’s dexterity on his newly-acquired ironing-board (sorry – pedal steel!) is worthy of special mention, as is his consummate skill in matters of recording, production, layout and design (clever b*****!). Another dimension of vocal heaven is brought to the mix with the harmonies on several tracks contributed oh-so-naturally by the stunning Rachel Goodwin (ex-Waking The Witch). All of which adds up to a welcomingly assured and disarmingly stylish band debut that really is a constant delight.
Suited and Booted is the first album by the new band The Malkies. It’s a collection of old and new songs that chronicle the struggle of ordinary people against our rulers.
The Malkies’ lead singer and songwriter is Alistair Hulett, a Socialist Worker supporter and an internationally renowned folk music artist. I asked him about the role and appeal of folk music.
“Over the centuries folk music has been a vehicle for the sentiments of the struggle of the poor against the rich,” said Alistair.
“Folk music is the expression of the labouring classes, from the time of the peasantry through to the industrial workers. It’s a window into the lives of ordinary people, describing how they felt about the events that their lives were part of – that’s invaluable.
“It’s a music that the bosses don’t own. Often a band will control its own output and how their recordings are distributed.
“I think of punk, reggae, bhangra and hip-hop all as urban folk music. At the progressive end of folk music all these influences are being thrown into the melting pot. Artists such as Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy, Paul Weller, Billy Bragg and others combined with bhangra artists to produce the Imagined Village album last year.
“It’s a wonderful cross-fertilisation of all the different forms.
“Of course you can get right wing folk songs, but folk music is generally left wing. And it is a form of music that lends itself well to the writing of contemporary songs.
“I don’t set out to be a political songwriter, and I do write love songs and ones about having fun. But I look at the world from a Marxist perspective and many of my songs show that.
“We also cover some songs from the past that have something to say today. One of them, ‘High Germany’, dates from the late 18th century. It is an anti-war song that argues against the idea there’s something glamorous in getting dressed up in uniform to fight a war and to kill. It’s a song that still resonates today.
“We have also covered Pete Seeger’s ‘Quite Early Morning’ and Woody Guthrie’s ‘Pastures of Plenty’. I love these songwriters and always come back to them. ‘Pastures of Plenty’ came out of the struggles of migrant workers in the US during the 1930s.
“One of the lines is ‘We stand in the fight and we fight till we win’. Migrant workers were the most downtrodden and exploited section of the population who responded to the song and took it up themselves.”
I asked why, after so many years working as a successful solo artist or in a duo, had Alistair set up a band now?
“I have been working as a solo artist or in a duo since Roaring Jacks, the last really committed band I was in, split up in 1992,” said Alistair.
“In some ways, it is easier to work as a solo artist but it’s not as much fun or creative. It’s not that I didn’t want to be in a band in all that time, it’s just that it’s taken this long to come across the players I wanted to work with – and who wanted to work with me!”
The term Malkies is 1970s Glaswegian slang for a cut-throat razor, named after the former right wing prime minister of Australia, Malcolm Frazer.
“Up here in Glasgow a Malkie is now a ‘rascal’ or a ‘likely lad’,” says Alistair. “I’m fascinated by the transformation of words.
“In Yorkshire, where the rest of the Malkies are from, a Malkie is a cross between a Yorkshire Terrier and a Maltese Terrier. It also has a connection to Australia, where I have spent a lot of time. Frazer came to power in a coup in 1975. I wrote a song about the coup that the journalist John Pilger quoted in the hardback edition of his book A Secret Country.
“So it’s a good name for us – and it sounded a bit punk.”
I asked Alistair why the Malkies had produced a new, very different, version of “The Internationale”.
“Because I don’t think it’s a hymn that should be sung like a national anthem,” Alistair replied with a laugh. “It was written for the barricades by Eugene Pottier, who had just been involved in the Paris Commune of 1871.
“He was inspired to write a song that expresses the hope that we can create a better world. It’s also a great song. It should be sung anywhere – at the bus stop or in the factory when the boss goes past.”
Alistair is performing with collaborator Jimmy Ross at this week’s Marxism festival in London. “This is the third time we’ve performed at Marxism,” said Alistair. “We’ve previously done the songs of Pete Seeger and Ewan MacColl, and this time we’re going to do songs from the history of Ireland’s struggle against imperialism.
“There is a wealth of material about the hundreds of years of dissent and rebellion. These rebel songs are part of the warp and weft of Irish history.
“Anyone who comes along who likes music, and who is interested in songs of resistance and insurrection, will be delighted with what we’ve got to offer.
“If you take an old song and reframe and renovate it for the modern day, it reminds us that the system that we want to change has been doing us over for centuries. It also says that, in our lifetime, we might be the ones to achieve that change.”
The Malkies are offering a sample CD of three tracks from the album to everyone who signs up to the Full Spectrum Resistance subscription deal for Socialist Worker, Socialist Review magazine and the International Socialism journal in July 2008 (while stocks last).
The CD contains the songs “Are There Honky Tonks In Heaven?”, “High Germany” and the Malkies’ new version of the socialist classic, “The Internationale”.
In his earlier incarnation as lead singer and main songwriter with the punk/folk band Roaring Jack, it’s fair to say a lot of the power of Alistair Hulett’s music came from the sheer volume and thrashiness of the arrangements as much as the songs themselves. This is by no means a bad thing, as proven by how well that band’s recordings stand up today. Since their split in the early 1990s, Hulett’s work has been largely acoustic and therefore the songs have had to rely a bit more on their own power, as it were.
His current CD Riches And Rags is a good example of how well this process has worked. Hulett has collected together a number of songs from various sources – original, traditional and some unexpected covers – which allow their inherent qualities to shine through without a single power chord or scream to be heard. He has also assembled a small cast of musicians whose collective ability to embellish the music without overpowering it, all the time being sympathetic to the material and Hulett’s delivery of it, is one of the pleasures of the album.
There are also a few surprising elements, such as the greater proportion of songs being non-political in nature and the addition of a couple of blues / country pieces, such as “Stealin’ Back To My Same Old Used To Be”, originally recorded in the 1920s by the Memphis Jug Band. Thankfully, Hulett does not affect an American accent for these tracks but stays with his natural Scottish intonation. Even a track with a title like “Militant Red” is set as a love song. However, perhaps this can also be seen as an extension of the definition of politics to include the politics of relationships, a thorny issue by itself. This is exemplified by “Shot Down In Flames”, a reworked Roaring Jack song that highlights the cut and thrust of harmful human interaction almost too well. On the other hand, the other re-recorded RJ track “Criminal Justice” is a blatant comment on corruption in high places.
The one other original composition is the title track, an easy rolling country-blues love song that Hulett wrote many years ago but has only now recorded for the first time.
At the same time, traditional pieces like “The Recruited Collier” are still apt in a contemporary sense, with the story of a soldier’s coercion to join “the cause” then facing the awful consequences. The gorgeous arrangement, especially the fiddle of Nancy Kerr, makes this one of those gentle, melodic songs that still manages to hit the listener between the eyes. Likewise, the oft-recorded “Dark-Eyed Sailor” benefits greatly from its treatment here; Hulett’s natural and unforced vocal style combining very nicely with the accordion, backing vocals etc of Gavin Livingstone and Kerr’s violin. Her partner James Fagan also appears on the CD, his bouzouki and mandolin adding impressive textures throughout.
The opening track “Fair Flower Of Northumberland” is another trad song, where Livingstone’s subtle bass and tasteful dobro help make it a very appealing way to start proceedings. Covers include “Old King Coal”, a rewrite of the John Barleycorn story by John Kirkpatrick with a memorable and stirring melody, and “The First Girl I Loved” by Robin Williamson. Whether cover, traditional or original, each track finds a comfortable place on the album and forms part of a cohesive and entertaining whole.
The sound quality is very good in terms of warmth and feel – despite necessary overdubbing, it still manages to exude a live atmosphere thanks to the production of Gavin Livingstone. The cover itself is well designed with song notes and sources, and some tasteful colour photography. Certainly, this is a more mellow sounding CD than might have been expected in some ways from Alistair Hulett but it suits him well. In fact if it were up to me, I’d change the subtitle to “Timeless Music For Wireless, Gramophone and iPod”.
Find out more about Alistair Hulett and how to order his CDs via his brand new Web site www.alistairhulett.com This review was originally written for Green Man Review www.greenmanreview.com
Alistair’s 2007 tour of Australia with Dave Swarbrick is taking shape. Confirmed festivals are the Blue Mountains Blues and Roots Music Festival (NSW), National Folk Festival, Canberra (ACT) and Fairbridge Festival (WA). The SA gig is confirmed as the Trinity Sessions, Clarence Pk on Friday March 30. Naturally, we’ll keep you informed of developments!
Scots-born Alistair’s long been one of my most favourite performers, a man of sublime gentility yet fierce integrity. Ali’s latest album finds him celebrating the various genres that have influenced him over a musical career spanning thirty years. It’s a persuasive and stimulating mix, certainly, with plenty of good examples from the fields of both traditional and composed song, and I’m pleased to find that Alistair’s “friends” turn out to be none other than Nancy Kerr, James Fagan and Gavin Livingstone – which should be recommendation enough to hear this album! But to my delight, four of Alistair’s own compositions are included: the title track is an infectious “Glesga’ club-chant country-style” piece about remembering not to forget, while Militant Red is a tongue-in-cheek love song that sort-of-associates Valentine’s Day with the red red rose of Communism!
The remaining two are re-recordings of songs from the Roaring Jack days, Alistair’s immensely poignant new treatment of the love-gone-wrong song Shot Down In Flames (with some lovely guitar work by Gavin Livingstone) being especially striking I thought. The latter has wistful resonances of Robin Williamson’s wonderful First Girl I Loved, which then turns up as one of the four covers on the album and which Alistair phrases unusually and imaginatively.
My other personal highlight here has got to be Alistair’s feisty take on John Kirkpatrick’s masterly Old King Coal, where Nancy Kerr’s driving fiddle and Ali’s own guitar create a stirring counterpoint. Ali even brings something fresh to the hoary Trouble In Mind (with the aid of Gavin’s dobro).
Of the small handful of traditional songs which are given the passionate and strongly individual Hulett treatment, particularly impressive is a superbly paced and eloquent Recruited Collier (which is further enhanced by Nancy Kerr’s brooding viola), although any one of those three traditional selections proves a worthy addition to the library (actually I wouldn’t want to be without his Fair Flower Of Northumberland either). Alistair has produced some abnormally fine albums over the years, all of which should be in your collection I say, but Riches And Rags may well embrace the widest appeal by dint of its farthest-ranging nature.
I First came across stunning songwriter and singer Alistair Hulett at Auckland Festival in New Zealand , when he brought a solo concert to a roaring finish. Alistair was living in Australia at that time, but he has now been back in Glasgow for several years. He went on the road with Dave Swarbrick and recorded the critically acclaimed Red Clydeside, until Dave’s illness put a stop to that.
I have always been strangely fascinated by Glasgow and its people. I love its Celtic intensity, ruggedness, militancy and fire. Alistair concentrates these ideals to a startling degree and fuels the flames by adding Nancy Kerr, James Fagan and Gavin Livingstone, all friends and musicians who spice the album nicely. Riches and Rags has him mining his own history from the 1960s to the present day, from Fair Flower of Northumberland to the heartstoppingly beautiful First Girl I Loved, both learned from Scots singers, Enoch Kent and Robin Williamson. He peppers the stew exquisitely with four of his own compositions, the campaigning song Criminal Justice, Shot Down in Flames, Militant Red and the title track. Whoever called him “a genuinely imaginative lyricist” knew what he was talking about. This is a quality CD and one of which the international folk scene should be truly proud.
“Imagine a Scottish Billy Bragg, playing folk songs on the same level as Woody Guthrie, with the lyrics (almost) on par with Robert Burns.”
To put it as blunt as possible, when I think of modern Scottish folk music, I think of Alistair Hulett. There, I’ve said it. I can now take a deep breath and continue on. The former frontman of Roaring Jack has produced yet another stunning album that continues to define the way folk music should be played. “Riches & Rags” is Ally’s seventh acoustic album. That’s not counting the (3) Roaring Jack albums. Many of you have probably heard a few of those Roaring Jack tunes by now, so now is as good a time as any to pick up an Alistair Hulett solo album. I’d start with this one.
Actually, The full title of the album is: “Riches & Rags; Modern Music for Wireless and Gramophone” Performed by: Alistair Hulett and several of his friends. (Friends include Gavin Livingstone, Nancy Kerr, & James Fagan) “Riches And Rags” is the first album without longtime collaborator Dave Swarbrick since the mid-nineties. It’s an album that mixes everything from his self penned hard-hitting political songs, to some traditional material, to a couple of blues numbers. Out of all the Alistair albums I own, “Riches & Rags” cover the most ground. It contains four originals, (Two of them reworked Roaring Jack tunes!) four covers, and three traditionals. I’ve had “Riches & Rags” in my CD player for over a month now, and after playing it a few dozen different times, I can promise you this: the album is absolutely brilliant from start to finish.
1. The Fair Flower Of Northumberland. (Traditional) An 18th century border ballad. Alistair interprets the Scots version. The song is basically a warning to all the young Englishwomen to avoid any romantic endeavors with the Scots border reivers. If you ask me, it’s a perfect song to play while you ask some English lass for a dance, & give a wee wink to your Scottish ancestors when she’s not looking!
2. Criminal Justice (Words & Music by A. Hulett) Originally recorded with Roaring Jack. It’s a song about the derailment of the justice system by the powers that be. I enjoyed listening to Alistair’s acoustic versions of all these old Roaring Jack songs.
3. Riches And Rags (Words & Music by A. Hulett) For those keeping score, this song is the most recent Hulett original to date. According to Ally, this is a song about remembering not to forget.
4. The Recruited Collier (Traditional) More or less, a song about recruiting the poor, to fight the rich man’s war. Something’s never change eh?
5. The Dark Eyed Sailor (Traditional) One of my favorite tracks on the record! A Nautical tune! Alistair gives new light to this “dark-eyed” traditional number.
6. Stealin’ Back To My Same Old Used To Be (Will Shade) This song was originally written and recorded back in 1926, by Will Shade & his The Memphis Jug Band. Alistair makes a great point, the jug band tradition of using household utensils and DIY ethic is similar to 70’s punk music. A bluesy number that surprised me the first time I heard it.
7. Shot Down In Flames (Words & Music by A. Hulett) Another Roaring Jack song about those not-so-happy moments at the end of a relationship. Fantastic lyrics, Mr. Hulett…Yet again!
8. Militant Red (Words & Music by A. Hulett) A fantastic love song about a woman who wants to overthrow a certain “you-know-who” This song was originally on my favorite Alistair album “In The Back Streets Of Paradise” (Think acoustic Roaring Jack) Alistair originally recorded it with The Hooligans after Roaring Jack disbanded, and before he moved back to Scotland.
9. Old King Coal (John Kirkpatrick) John Barleycorn moves to the city, if you will. I’d love to track down the original.
10. The First Girl I Loved (Robin Williamson) Let’s be honest, sometimes you need to sit back and reflect on things. Sometimes an image of an old girlfriend pops into your head when this happens… If I were a guitar player, I’d love to learn this beautiful song. I’m not a guitar player and I’d still love to learn this beautiful song. (Just don’t sing it around your wife) The dorbo resonator guitar playing in the background completes the mood perfectly.
11. Trouble In Mind (Richard M. Jones) What a great blues song! It’s even greater to hear Ally covering it. (Yet another song to track down.) The perfect track to end a perfect album on.
In other news, Alistair Hulett will be touring the USA this April. If you are in the Northeast/Midwest part of the country, consider yourselves lucky. (Can I sleep on your couch?) More details to be posted on Shite’n’Onions soon! Also, in Roaring Jack news, there may be another album coming out this year! A Live/Rarites album is the rumor. We’ll keep you posted.
Since his return from the Antipodes Alistair Hulett has gathered a reputation for delivering hard-edged political material mixed with a fine understanding of traditional song. This new album maintains that mixture of traditional and contemporary. Sub-titled “Modern Music for Wireless and Gramophone”, this is essentially an acoustic album. Hulett is joined on most of the tracks by Nancy Kerr, James Fagan and Gavin Livingstone and the overall feel of the album is of friends having a good time in each other’s company. Consequently, the music is allowed to speak for itself and there are no over-elaborate arrangements to get in the way of the tunes and lyrics. British ballads and nineteenth century folksongs (“Dark Eyed Sailor” & “The Recruited Collier”) sit alongside some of the singer’s own compositions (“Militant Red” & “Criminal Justice”). There are also works by Robin Williamson (“The First Girl I Loved”) and John Kirkpatrick (“King Coal”). The country-tinged title track is nicely complemented by a couple of blues numbers (“Stealin’ Back” & “Trouble In Mind”) that Hulett cut his early folk teeth on. There’s another nod to the past with a re-recording of the poignant “Shot Down In Flames” that his former band, Roaring Jack, used to perform and a swaggering rendition of “The Fair Flower of Northumberland”.
Less politically charged than “Red Clydeside”, the album accurately reflects Hulett’s fine musicianship and real grasp of the emotional power of song.
English Trades Unionists in the 19th century gave our country the epithet “sleepy Scotland” because of their belief that we were unlikely to do anything very much to advance the cause of socialism – then came John Maclean and the other Red Clydesiders to prove them wrong. Alistair Hulett has a very clear set of ideals which he articulates clearly and passionately in his own writings, always singing with total conviction, and the title track of this latest CD is a fine example of the word-pictures that Alistair draws to get you thinking about issues.
Two other self-penned numbers,’ By Ibrox Park’ and ‘The Dark Loch’, reflect further on historical events with contemporary repercussions, but the rest of the material demonstrates Alistair’s mastery of traditional song and music. His driving yet melodic guitar style and powerful voice are particularly suited to the ballads and other songs represented here. Not everyone can make a ten-minute version of ‘Tam Lin’ an enjoyable experience, but here we have a version which carries the listener along, telling the story and enthralling at the same time. Not that all the traditional songs are that heavy – take the likes of ‘Tinker In The Lum’, where the moral is made with pawky humour.
It is usually pointless to try to pick out personal favourite tracks on any CD, but I thought I’d try anyway, but couldn’t make my mind up between two other (if lesser-known) ballads, ‘Geordie’ and ‘Brown Adam’. See what I mean about pointless?
The whole collection of ten songs and two instrumental tracks blend together to give a good idea of what the man sounds like in the flesh. If you have heard him live, you’ll want to buy this, if you buy this, you’ll want to hear him. Top marks, too, for well-crafted accompaniment from Gavin Livingstone, Aidan O’Rourke and Keith Easdale, who help to make sure that I’ll be playing this a lot – not just to myself, but to anyone else who hasn’t heard it.
The extraordinary industrial and political militancy in the west of Scotland in the second decade of the 20th Century led Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin to dub Glasgow “the Petrograd of the West”.
In his Red Clydeside, Alistair Hulett celebrates this period in a number of original, rousing, and sometimes deeply moving songs (written by Hulett and arranged by him and Dave Swarbrick).
The CD comes with a detailed booklet, written by Hulett, outlining the main events in the history of Red Clydeside, and doubles as a CD-ROM containing the lyrics and a number of weblinks.
The main figure is the man Lenin singled out as the leading light of Red Clydeside, John MacLean. MacLean, born in 1879 into a large highland family forced from the land, was a Glasgow schoolteacher famous for classes on Marxist economics that drew large numbers of workers into the revolutionary socialist movement in the period around the First World War. He was the Soviet Bolshevik government’s first consul in the UK, and was elected an honorary president of the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets, alongside Lenin, Trotsky, and Kamenev.
MacLean’s industrial agitation is celebrated in the songs “The Lassies of Neilston” and “Mrs Barbour’s Army”, covering the 1910 strike by young women at the Neilston Thread Mill and the 1915 Rent Strike led by a Govan homeworker, Mary Barbour.
MacLean is chiefly remembered, though, for his anti-war work, carried out in the face of a complete sell-out by the Trades Union Congress and the reformist left, whose leaders adopted a pro-war stance and had signed a “no strikes” deal with the government in London for the duration of the war. The chorus of Hulett’s “Don’t Sign Up For War” says it all.
MacLean was jailed many times by the British authorities, the longest sentences handed out in 1916 and 1918. MacLean conducted his own defence at the May 1918 trial.
MacLean was sentenced to five years hard labour in the notorious Peterhead prison in Aberdeen. The most powerful song on the CD is “The Granite Cage”, where Hulett movingly imagines MacLean’s thoughts and fears in his freezing prison cell, where he was drugged, force-fed, and brutally tortured by prison officers carrying out the orders of the British government.
Here, as elsewhere on the album, Hulett masterfully combines music and verse to profound effect. Such was MacLean’s standing with the workers that widespread agitation forced his early release, and “When Johnny Came Hame Tae Glesga” provides a boisterous account of MacLean’s return in December 1918, when a crowd of 200,000 amassed to welcome him off the train.
The agitation recommenced, and culminated in the notorious “Bloody Friday” attack by the British army on workers demonstrating in Glasgow’s George Square in January 1919. As Hulett says in his notes, this resulted in the largest mobilisation of British troops on native soil, when home secretary Winston Churchill sent tanks and army regiments from England to restore order in the aftermath (Churchill confined local regiments to their barracks, fearing they would go over to the workers).
MacLean never recovered from the brutal treatment he received in prison, and died in poverty in 1923 at 44. One of his last acts had been to give his overcoat away to a comrade who needed it more than he did.
Hulett’s final song “The Ghosts of Red Clydeside” starts at MacLean’s funeral in the winter of 1923, before taking us up to the present day: At the end of a century of carnage and fear The vision continues and won’t be denied From Beijing to Seattle, Dounray to Algiers Rebuild and fight on cry the ghosts of Red Clyde. This collection represents the art of political song at its very finest, and, together with the accompanying booklet, an excellent introduction for those new to Red Clydeside.
The years 1915 to 1919 saw a huge explosion of working class militancy in response to the First World War which brought Britain almost to the brink of revolution. One of the most important centres of struggle was Glasgow and the Clyde. ‘Red Clydeside’, a CD written and performed by Alistair Hulett, celebrates its foremost protagonist, John Maclean, and the men and women who contributed to this often neglected period of our history.
Hulett, who has an impeccable CV as a singer-songwriter of socialist and traditional folk material, has a rich, yet gravelly voice and a skilful, percussive guitar style. Dave Swarbrick, veteran folk-rock superstar, provides fiddle accompaniment to complement Hulett’s guitar in spare arrangements that draw the listener to the lyrics.
These are songs that not only put across an uncompromising political message, but have an authentic feel that is firmly planted in the roots of traditional music. They give an insight into the politics of the period and the enormous contribution Maclean made to the history of the working class.
Maclean famously opposed the war, holding regular rallies outside the army recruiting office in Glasgow, and was arrested and jailed five times between 1915 and 1920 under the Defence of the Realm Act for his anti-war activity. In Hulett’s song Maclean says, ‘A bayonet that’s a weapon with a working man at either end, Betray your country, serve your class. Don’t sign up for war my friend.’
This is an interactive CD. The lyrics sit with a glossary of the Scots words alongside, and there are links to references and reading for those who want to explore the period further. Hulett has thoroughly researched his subject with a meticulous eye for detail–his words remind us of John Maclean’s message as he stood in the dock during his trial for sedition in 1918. ‘I am not here then as the accused: I am here as the accuser of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot.’
This CD is available by mail order from Jump Up Records, Germany–e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or from Red Rattler–e-mail email@example.com. Make the effort to buy it because this is both politically inspiring and an interesting and enjoyable way to learn about these struggles.
Alistair Hulett’s new solo album demonstrates that he has become one of the finest singer-songwriters in this country.
The album, like Alistair, is intensely political, yet draws its strength from the sensitive and detailed portrayals of individual working-class lives, set both in his native Scotland and in his adopted home, Australia. Not many people write political songs, and few do it well. The directness of political assertion, and in particular the harshness of critical or left-wing comment, often defeat the empathy or more subtle emotional response looked for in music.
At the same time, the simplicity and repetition demanded by song often work against rich and complex poetry.
Alistair generally overcomes these problems, with his best songs managing to depict social relations behind and through personal lives.
Musically the album is mostly true to its Gaelic roots, of ballads and the more up-tempo militancy of Celtic folk-rock. Alistair’s vocal range and clean guitar playing create most of the variation, with backing arrangements minimised on most tracks.
“Among proddy dogs and papes” begins the album with a pacey accordion and guitar backed journey through his own personal and cultural history. The refrain mixes images of the sectarian divisions fostered by the English crown in both Scotland and Ireland, with that of the nationalist hero William Wallace, whose severed head a bloodthirsty English king impaled on London Bridge:
And at night the head of Wallace bled On solemn floral drapes And the flower of Scotland bloomed again Among proddy dogs and papes If “Yuppietown” retains a link with the Pogues-like freneticism of his former band, Roaring Jack, it is a muted one. Stronger now is the influence of fellow Scot balladeer Dick Gaughan, while the beautiful, sad air and imagery of “Suicide Town” match the craft of Christy Moore.
And where are you now Mrs Brown’s lovely daughter? “I drowned in the ocean of God’s holy water All my wee lambs They were led to the slaughter And then I just floated away”
His other songs tell of the curse of drink, the Gaelic emigrations caused by land clearance and, closer to home, the deaths in asbestos mines and nuclear weapons testing at Maralinga. Those who’ve heard gnise his broad red sweep across Australian history, “The swaggies have all waltzed Matilda away”:
Does it quicken your heartbeat To see tar and concrete Cover the tracks of the old bullock dray Have you grown so heartless To christen it progress When the swaggies have all waltzed Matilda away
Often sensitive, but uncompromising to the end, you could say, as the album ends with the more abstract and overtly Marxist “Dictatorship of Capital”, and a more faithful version of “The Internationale” than Billy Bragg delivers. This says a lot about the two approaches: Billy’s revised version, in his album of the same name, has it that the Internationale “unites the world in song”, while Alistair reminds us that Eugene Potier’s original included “We’ll shoot the generals on our own side”. The impressive feature of the album is that the potential harshness of uncompromising politics has not prevented Alistair proving himself to be a talented writer and musician, capable of great sensitivity.
Alistair Hulett, singer, songwriter, activist and entertainer, has given the Sydney left a lot of great times over the years. His presence at so many significant events — demos, fundraisers for all and sundry, pub brawls and parties — has made him an institution. So much so that we tend to look at his work with a bit of proprietary parochialism. It’s easy to overlook just how widely his music is appreciated.
Apart from his popularity around Australia, his songs are now known around the world. His last recording, Dance of the Underclass, was released in Germany, and his songs have been recorded by artists in Canada and England. His new CD with a new line-up has plenty to offer as well.
The songs are a mix of unrecorded but well-known numbers and some new material. The line-up also features familiar names like the “High Notes” Jim Gregory together with a whole lot of new people and instruments.
The Hooligans of this recording are Jim on guitar and bouzouki, John Deery on Uillean pipes, Janek Bagolen on fiddle and harmonica, Phil Murray on accordion, Brian O’Kelly on bodhran and Anthony Ryan on bass. James Fagan of the Fagans is also supposed to be joining the line-up for upcoming performances.
The songs featured include some of Alistair’s best originals and covers he has made his own, like the great “John McLean’s March” and “Victor Jara of Chile”.
For me, though, the best of the material here is the songs that have become favourites, the songs that never fail to do what great political music should — campaign: “… Foreign aid, Australian made,/ Death squads trained at Duntroon/ dropping hand grenades,/ Good Morning Bougainville …”
A great new recording with a great new line-up from our favourite hooligan.
“Sleepy Scotland” is the term used by English trade unionists in the 19th century to describe what they perceived as chronic passivity among Scottish workers. The mass protest movement during and immediately after World War One, known as “Red Clydeside”, that erupted in the industrial belt around Glasgow and Clydebank put paid to all that. This movement was imbued with revolutionary aspirations and was a major headache for the ruling classes in Scotland and England.
Alistair Hulett has long maintained an interest in this episode, popularising the song “John McLean’s March” in the progressive folk scene in Australia over the course of the last decade or more. That song is found on Hulett’s 1994 album, In the Back Streets of Paradise.
John McLean was a revolutionary socialist leader in Red Clydeside, arrested for his political activities and then released by force of mass workers’ protests even before the victory of the 1917 Russian Revolution began to inspire the workers’ movement around the world. In February 1918, McLean was made a consul in Britain of the revolutionary Soviet government, was arrested again and released a second time due to mass pressure.
Hulett has been making a major study of the Red Clydeside, which will be the theme of his next CD, and presenting workshops on the topic which include his original songs.
In Sleepy Scotland (released in 2000), an album that explores Scotland’s traditional ballads, is a prelude to the Red Clydeside album. It is the “mostly trad” album that Hulett has “been muttering about for years”, he writes in the cover notes. “The singer/songwriter tag is something I’ve never managed to wear with a great deal of personal ease. Traditional songs have always formed a sizeable part of my live repertoire, but so far that’s not been reflected in my recorded output”, he explains.
Some of the songs on the album are quite well known, such as “The Weaver and the Factory Maid” and“Tam Lin”. Others are unfamiliar to me. They paint a picture of ordinary life in historic Scotland.
It is the three songs on the album written by Hulett that drew my attention most. In part, these songs (especially the title track) that are essential for creating the link between the ballads and the theme of an awakening “sleepy Scotland”.
Hulett told Green Left Weekly, “The point [the album explores] is we should never write off any section of the working class, a big lesson recently learned in America with the eruption that began in Seattle a couple of years ago”. The title track paints a picture of displaced and alienated workers who climb out of the wreckage of industrial collapse and respond by getting blind drunk. These people will be affected by the tide of revolution when it erupts.
Similarly, “By Ibrox Park” reflects on the legacy of the 1822 formation of the (pro-English) Scottish Orange Order. He wrote it after watching a crowd of soccer fans enter Ibrox Football Stadium waving the Union Jack. The chorus (“Bang the drum and wave the flag, let them know who’s king of the pile of slag”) mocks the dead end of patriotism and sectarianism for working people. Hulett counters in the final chorus with “scorn the drum and burn the flag”.
The other albums Hulett has released in the last few years with Dave Swarbrick, Saturday Johnny and Jimmy the Rat in 1996 and The Cold Grey Light of Dawn in 1998, are more typical of his earlier solo efforts despite the unmistakable (and welcome) contribution by Swarbrick. These are mostly made up of original songs, expressing in music Hulett’s own revolutionary outlook (he is among the Scottish-based Socialist Workers Party members who joined the Scottish Socialist Party as a group last year.)
After period living in Australia, Hulett returned to his native Scotland several years ago. Experiences from the history of the workers’ movement in both countries are reflected in his music. Some of the Australian examples, often long-forgotten in popular consciousness, include “The Siege of Union Street” (about a Communist Party-led victory in the unemployed struggles of the 1930s), “The Days of ’49” (about the 1949 coalminers’ strike and the lesson that “must never be forgotten/How Chifley and his government stood on the bosses side”) and the “Sons of Liberty” (about the bushrangers of Australia’s folk heritage and “the spirit of resistance [that] is the legacy they leave”).
Hulett is a truly wonderful songwriter and a great asset to the progressive movement. His tours to Australia are consistently successful due to his loyal following among left activists and the mainstream “folk scene”. This is despite the fact that he pulls no political punches in his performances. Special mention must be made of the song “Behind Barbed Wire”, which Hulett recorded on his 1996 Saturday Johnny and Jimmy the Rat album when the federal Labor government was still in power. It is a passionate protest against the policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers introduced by Labor.
The song shows clearly that the Coalition today is recycling the same arguments used then by Labor: “Why are we locked up like rats in a cage/ And treated like the dregs of humanity?/We learned our lesson well/They bombed us into hell and made hell freeze/Now the same self-serving crew/ Say we’re jumpers of the queue, not refugees/Behind barbed wire/We watch your city lights spread out like stars/Behind barbed wire/You call us aliens/As if we came from Mars.”
Sleepy Scotland, I am reliably informed by the pithy track notes, was the epithet bestowed on the seemingly indolent workforce north of the border by we (and possibly wee) Sassenachs. It was a perception that prevailed until the labour revolts known as Red Clydeside took place during World War 1. The title track gives a more contemporary view and provides some very memorable images – pubs like air raid shelters, the last of the Mohicans blew away like sagebrush down the road to God knows where, the fat cat with a briefcase wearing a camel coat and trilby, being three that pop into mind. A splendid song that comes at just the right time, following on and providing a welcome respite from ‘Tam Lin’. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter; it’s just that the comings and goings of a particular Halloween is rather a tour de force, lasting over nine minutes. This then is Alistair’s traditional album; the long planned and finally delivered one. The arrangements for most are quite sparse – just voice and guitar (‘…exactly as I do them in my solo set…’) and for the most part are just right. Alistair’s voice and excellent guitar playing provide all that is required to bring out the richness of songs. The instrumental tracks – ‘Waterman’s Hornpipe’ and ‘The Battle of Waterloo’/’John D Burgess’ – are slightly more adorned and benefit from this slight augmentation.
The album is not strictly traditional, however, as three tracks – the title songs ‘By Ibrox Park’ and ‘The Dark Loch’ – are Hulett originals, but they slip seamlessly – virtually seamlessly – in with the other tracks so that it is only the modern references on the first two that give the game away. “In Sleepy Scotland” is a wonderful album, maintaining the high standard set by its predecessors: together they confirm (to me) that Alistair Hulett is one of the defining voices of Scottish music.
This compendium release collects together on just two CDs all the records made by that estimable yet largely unheralded agit-punk-folk outfit Roaring Jack. Yes, who they? you might well ask, for unless you’re familiar with the Australian political folk scene of the tail-end of the 80s and/or the songs and singing of the distinctive expat Scot Alistair Hulett, who six years ago returned to his native Glasgow and has since built a solid reputation for his excellent gigs both solo and in duo with ace fiddler Dave Swarbrick. Roaring Jack was the band that Alistair fronted back in Australia; veterans of innumerable political campaigns, their gigs were legendary for the good-spirited revelry that ensued as politics and drink flowed in equal measure, and by the time the band split up in 1991 they had acquired a fearsome live reputation and produced three LPs (two full-length – The Cat Among The Pigeons and Through The Smoke Of Innocence – and one mini-album, Street Celtability) and a small clutch of singles (the non-album B-sides of which are naturally included on this new set for completeness).
Roaring Jack was indeed a band to be reckoned with, and included within its ranks Steph Miller, Rod Gilchrist, Davey Williams and Rab (Bob) Mansell, also (pre-Smoke) Steve Thompson; this set marks the first appearance on CD of the group’s legacy, and is dedicated to the memories of Steve and Rod. As you might expect, the musical idiom is very much akin to the Whisky Priests and Pogues, with buckets of vitality and abundant conviction, passionate commitment allied to barricade-storming vocals and a high level of instrumental expertise (blazing accordion, swirling electric guitar, driving bass and drums, with mandolin, whistle, even bombarde on occasion – a stirring sound allright). While the “oi” factor’s well catered for, melody’s not overlooked though, for the albums have their less frenetic moments too, which are carried off with flair.
These early albums are of additional interest to Alistair Hulett devotees for containing the original versions of songs which have latterly appeared on Alistair’s solo records, some indeed having been covered by other artists – the mighty Destitution Road and Swaggies to name but two. The Street Celtability tracks would appear to have been mastered direct from the original vinyl, for there are some noticeable clicks and pops, but nowhere is the sound quality unacceptable and everything sounds as great and in-yer-face as it should. Maybe you didn’t have to be there after all, for these recordings are Alive! Played loud for maximum impact of course.
Interviews and Articles
Despite 9/11, global warming and wars in the middle east, there is still at least one folk musician out there who still believes a better world is possible.
Scottish folk singer Alistair Hulett spent the 70s on the hippie trail and the 80s roaring it up in a punk folk band. In this is the story, he explains how he’s managed to get through the disillusionment of the 90s to be still supplying lyrics for “the voice of the people”.
The Hulett odyssey started at age 16 when his parents decided to emigrate from Glasgow to New Zealand. At the time, the immigration rules stated that family had to stay put for two years or forfeit their assisted passage. For the teenage Alistair, Christchurch was tantamount to a prison cell. He escaped as soon as he could, landing in the Melbourne folk scene.
The early 70s was the time of ‘tune in, turn on and drop out’ and Ally heard the message loud and clear. He hit the hippy trail and travelled up north to the rain forest, living in a tree house at one stage. Singing was something you did cross legged round the campfire.
“I think you can’t help but accumulate a certain set of spiritual values when you’re living a life so dependent on circumstance and coincidence as we were living at that time,” he says.
Next was India and not always knowing where your next shelter would be. “That sort of experience puts an imprint on your brain. You realise the existential insecurity and inconsequentiality of your own existence. It gets reinforced on a daily basis.”
There was an anger and a vitality in punk that reminded me of the folk music that I fell in love with way back in the 60s
After three years, Ally was back in Sydney, only to find that punk was the “next page of the adventure book”. Flairs, long hair and caftans were passé. Ally teamed up with Hunter Owens, a bluegrass player from the US. Celtabilly they called it; a kind of celtic, bluegrass, rockabilly take on Irish and Scots folk. Galliard was to evolve into Roaring Jack, punk folk and proud of it.
The Clash had made the first foray into punk folk with the song English Civil War, says Ally. This was a Thatcher era song to the tune of Johnny I hardly knew you, an Irish folk anti-war song, only this time it was the class war that the Clash were bringing to the forefront.
“We also took the very hard edged political tone that was characteristic of punk at that time,” says Ally. In contrast, the music of the hippies had become “complacent, fat and self-satisfied”, he recalls. “There was an anger and a vitality in punk that reminded me of the folk music that I fell in love with way back in the 60s when folk music was at the cutting edge.”
Just as Fairport Convention had allied rock to folk, so Roaring Jack pushed the traditional boundaries with punk. If you just listen to the rhythm – bass and drums – says Ally, you hear pure rockabilly. Into the compound went the energy and toughness of punk and political awareness and social conscience.
Why folk though? “Because I knew it so well,” is the immediate response. Artists do their best work with what they have internalised, says Alistair. Growing up in Glasgow, the music was all around. It may have been commercialised and even bowdlerised – think Andy Stewart – but it still had the ability to seep into the pores.
“I was almost hot wired to that music. It came to me naturally.”
Of course, it’s a long way from the 60s and the music that had a generation fired up as they listened to Dylan or Ewan MacColl. What does folk music mean now? Says Alistair, “I don’t think people play folk now have anything like the fire in the belly that we had back in the 60s when we were so passionate about music and the social implications of what we were singing about.”
The original folk song revival, says Alistair, was driven by the organised left; the trade unions and the communist party. Many folk clubs in the UK were held in communist headquarters. While folk has always contained an element of nationalism and patriotism, this was counterpoised by the class struggle and internationalism.
Today, Alistair feels that folk has been subsumed into the search for a nationalism that will sit well with the establishment. Pete Seeger, Josh White, Woody Guthrie were all hounded in the McCarthy years. There’s a certain irony in the fact that Guthrie, the man who wrote This land is my land, now the anthem for the Republican Party, was under surveillance by the CIA, says Ally.
“If you go to a Conservative party conference,” he continues, “you’ll hear them sing Jerusalem.” Composed by William Blake, the song is a plea for utopia and the formation of a welfare state. “They sing that song without any sense that they are contradicting themselves.”
Historically, folk was the voice of the people. Now it’s to be a soundtrack for travelogues. “It’s become part of the tourist and heritage industry rather than an authentic voice of the people.”
Not that folk is about to fold up its fa la las and disappear into the misty morning. “All the time, there’s attempts to take it back again, says Ally, to return it to its roots. Is the definition of a folkie an eternal optimist? A pause. “Stoical optimist.”
We are playing at the moment with a lot of elation in the music
“Because we have to be. It’s our job,” he continues, serious again after a laugh at his own earnestness. Alistair Hulett also feels that there’s an urgency to the new message that needs to be sung. Global warming and climate change won’t wait for the debate, he says. While we can’t say for certain that every adverse event is due to global warming, we know we’re having a deleterious effect and we have to change.
“Folk is voice of the people.” That’s why he keeps singing? “That’s exactly why I keep singing. I take it as a given that there’s some people who like what I do and some people who wish I’d shut up.”
After 25 years Down Under, Ally is again based in Glasgow. The most recent Hulett album is Red Clydeside, on which he is again teamed up with English legendary folk fiddler Dave Swarbrick. It’s about the anti-war movement in Glasgow during the First World War, Ally explains; historical but with an eye cocked to the present Iraq war and looking for the parallels.
Swarbrick and Hulett first met in the late 90s when Dave was living in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. Ally has been a “huge fan” since the early 60s when Dave was part of the Ian Campbell Folk Group, predating even his stint with Fairport Convention.
Dave leads by example, says Ally. “It’s an intuitive way to play.” The songs may be the same but each night is a different rendition and that’s “down to Dave’, he states. “We are playing at the moment with a lot of elation in the music,” he says with reference to the fact that Dave has recently come through a double lung transplant. “We all feared we’d lose him,”
After this tour, Ally is heading back home to Glasgow with more songs than he knows what to do with and “an itch to get back into a full band ensemble again”. After a long time playing solo and duos, he’s hungry for the energy and sound of a band. Next time he tours Australia, he plans to do it with an acoustic outfit, good for the festivals, good for dancing.
Acclaimed folk musician Alistair Hulett spoke to Socialist Worker about the revival of protest music. How are folk musicians responding to political events? The reaction on the folk scene to the current crisis in the system, and to the war on Iraq in particular, has been the same as in other forms of popular music around the world.
Political song has moved from the outer fringe right onto centre stage. Many artists who have never really been associated with songs of protest are coming out with musical statements against Bush and Blair. To check this out, visit the website of the Centre For Political Song at Caledonian University in Glasgow, » www.politicalsong.gcal.ac.uk
The list of anti-war songs on this site is incredible, covering every genre possible – folk, country, jazz, rock and hip-hop. At one folk festival I sang at recently there were workshops on non-violent action alongside the usual instrument teach-ins and singing sessions.
And the Left Field at the Fringe attracted large crowds to their political discussions at the Edinburgh Festival. I took part in a panel discussion titled “Scottish political music – alive or dead?” The room was packed, which in itself made the argument in favour of “alive” very convincing. Has folk music always had a political edge? In the 1950s and 1960s many of the leading lights of the folk music movement in Britain and the US were members of the Communist Party (CP).
Songwriters and folk musicians in Britain like Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger were part of this aspect of what the CP called the Cultural Front. In the US it included people like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.
Out of this came a wave of young singer-songwriters who moved well beyond the political agenda of the CP. The best known of these is Bob Dylan. In Britain there were political songwriters from the anarchist tradition such as Leon Rosselson and Trotskyists like Alex Glasgow. Throughout the 1970s folk music continued to be linked with the struggle for social change. But as that struggle got diluted, the heritage industry wing of the folk movement kind of took over.
Folk music has always had a political dimension, but it ebbs and flows along with the rise and fall of political struggle itself. Right now it’s back on the rise again. What is unique about folk music? Two things stick out – the sense of tradition on one hand and the DIY spirit on the other.
Most popular music puts a strong emphasis on “the new”, whereas in folk music we also tend to place a lot of importance on a sense of belonging to a chain of creativity that stretches back through centuries.
There’s also the notion that people can make this music for themselves, rather than buying it ready packaged from the corporate world.
That DIY attitude shone through in the punk years as well, but you also find it in other music forms like blues, skiffle, reggae and rap as well. I think of all these styles as being forms of modern urban folk music.
The sense of tradition is very important to the young folk artists who are getting some media attention right now. People like Eliza Carthy in England and Karine Polwart up in Scotland draw heavily on folk traditions. A few years ago Kate Rusby recorded a song called “The Recruited Collier”.
It’s a 19th century folk song about a woman lamenting that her lover has been conned by a recruiting officer into signing up to fight against Napoloeon. Some people might wonder what attracts a young singer like Kate Rusby to record a song like that.
But the other day I saw Michael Moore’s film Farenheit 9/11, and it shows army officers doing exactly the same thing to young black men in the US. These old songs belong to an era long gone, but the issues they address are still relevant today. Tell us about your latest album
Red Clydeside is the title of my latest CD, and it’s the name given to the massive anti-war movement that shook Glasgow during World War One. The leader of Red Clydeside was John Maclean. When the war was declared he said, “It is the task of socialists to build class patriotism, to convince workers not to slaughter each other for a sordid world capitalism.”
The Red Clydesiders set out to build an anti-war movement, and to turn it into a movement against the capitalist system that created the war in the first place.
We need to do exactly the same thing and, if we understand the lessons of the past, maybe we’ll finish the job John Maclean and the Red Clydesiders started. Last year I was booked to perform Red Cydeside for six nights at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. The show sold out every night. I think that is an indication of the interest there is out in the world for political folk music today.
Red Clydeside, a show combining songs and drama, was a sell-out success at last month’s Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. Mark Brown spoke to singer/songwriter Alistair Hulett and writer Martin McCardie about making art out of Glasgow’s famous workers’ uprising.
This show, about workers’ resistance during and immediately after the First World War, is a new version of the Red Clydeside song cycle. What are the origins of the cycle itself?
AH: I recorded a CD a couple of years ago with Dave Swarbrick, the fiddle player, and we performed it last year at Celtic Connections. In the show I was performing as the singer/songwriter and the narrator, which was exhausting. So when they asked us back again this year, we thought we should take it a stage on and enlist the services of a real writer and some real actors.
Which is where you come in, Martin. What did you do with what was already there in the show?
MM: Talking with the actor Gary Lewis about it, we thought that, rather than try to write a play, we should just tell the story, but tell it in a way that is entertaining and injects some humour. Alistair had done a lot of research just for the sleeve notes, and a lot of that is in the script. I’ve turned it into a piece for three actors. One character is from the present day, and asks a series of questions about Red Clydeside. The other two characters are like whispers on the wind, and they come out with all the facts and figures about what actually happened.
People have been singing folk songs about John Maclean and Red Clydeside for a long time. Why did you think a full song cycle was necessary?
AH: I was really astonished when I came across a biography of Maclean written by his daughter Nan Milton. I had been singing Hamish Henderson’s song ‘The John Maclean March’ for years, knowing very little about Maclean other than that he opposed the First World War, he was a socialist, and he had been put in prison for his anti-war activity. I realised pretty quickly that that was about the extent of what nearly everybody who sang that song knew about Maclean. I was over in Australia when I read Nan’s book – I was over there for about 25 years – and I thought, ‘I want to do a CD about this whole story.’ It has become even more relevant today. This was an anti-war movement that turned into something on a much larger scale, that challenged the whole capitalist system.
I realised that to do this properly I’d really have to be in Glasgow. So a large part of my decision to come back and live in Glasgow was that I wanted to do this song cycle.
There is continuing controversy over the legacy of John Maclean within the left. Does your piece touch on any of that?
AH: The main controversy is over events that occurred late in Maclean’s life, after the war was over. Maclean elected not to have anything to do with the creation of the Scottish wing of the Communist Party (CP). We come down strongly on the side of saying that Maclean was actually wrong about that.
What we really wanted folk to come away with was the idea that you can organise and you can fight to change society. Maclean and the Red Clydesiders came within a whisker of pulling it off. The ruling class were so terrified that they sent the largest mobilisation of troops and tanks on native soil in British history. When Maclean said they could turn Glasgow into a ‘revolutionary storm centre’, he wasn’t deluding himself.
MM: The script uses the words of the famous Glasgow socialist Harry McShane, who explains why Maclean was reluctant to get involved in the formation of the CP. The piece is a celebration of Maclean, but also of the other Red Clydesiders. Willie Gallacher (a leading member of the CP) is quoted many times. I hope people won’t fall out over the differences – I did a John Maclean event several years ago, and a fight started in the audience between someone who took Gallacher’s position and someone who took Maclean’s position, and it kind of defeated the purpose of why we were all there.
Is there a further life for this piece, or does it end with this year’s Celtic Connections?
MM: The next step would be to do something different again, maybe a full play, who knows?
Alistair Hulett, schottische Singer und Songwriter und astreiner Sozialist war am 24. März im Cobbler’s Irish Pub in Germering zu Gast. Auch bei seinem mittlerweile 2. Auftritt in dieser vor den Toren Münchens gelegenen Oase der keltischen Folkmusik gelang es ihm wieder spielend, das Publikum in kürzeseter Zeit in seinen Bann zu ziehen. Alistair Hulett ist ein exzellenter Musiker. Mit seiner ausdrucksstarken Stimme und seinen beiden Gitarren zaubert er einen dichten und mitreißenden Sound auf die Bühne.
Und dann hat dieser Mann etwas zu sagen und zu erzählen. Dass er das mit dem typische schottischen Schalk und mitunter auch mit einer gehörigen Portion ironischem Sarkasmus tut, das macht die ganze Sache sehr unterhaltsam – nicht zuletzt wegen seinem breiten schottischem Slang.
Im ersten Teil seines Auftritts im Cobbler’s Irish Pub sang er vor allem die für ihn so typischen Arbeiter- und Protestlieder, die lautstark die Ausbeutung der Menschen im kapitalistischen System anprangern, wie zum Beispiel in dem Song “the old divide and rule”….
Gut 25 Jahre hat Alistair Hulett in Australien verbracht und dort als Punk-Folk-Rocker und Mitglied eines Straßentheaterensembles gegen die Ausbeutung der Arbeiter in den Asbestminen agitiert.
Als Mitglied der Punk-Folk-Gruppe “Roaring Jack” nahm er in den 80er Jahren gemeinsam mit Steph Miller, Davey Williams, Rod Gilchrist und Bob Mannell mehrere Alben auf, die sich vor allem am damaligen Vorbild der irishen Punk-Folker “The Pogues” und der britischen Punk-Rock-Szene orientierten…
“Blue Murder”, der blaue Tod…damit ist das Sterben der Abeiter in den australischen Asbestminen gemeint, die sich noch im vergangenen Jahrhundert für eine one-way-Passage von England nach Australien auf Jahre zur Arbeit in den dortigen Asbestminen vedingten und bald an den Auswirkungen dieser Arbeit elend zugrunde gingen. Alistair Hulett hat sich in seinen australischen Jahren intensiv dafür eingesetzt, dass die Opfer dieser Arbeitsmarktpolitik angemessen entschädigt werden….
Sein aktuelles Album “Red Clydeside” erzählt die Geschichte des Arbeiteraufstandes in Glasgow während des ersten Weltkrieges, mit dem die Arbeiter in den dortigen Rüstungsfabriken das Ende des blutigen Gemetzels auf den Schlachtfeldern Europas erzwingen wollten. Im Konzert sang er unter anderem den Titelsong dieses Albums “The Red Clydesides”, der den Protagonisten dieses Aufstandes gewidmet ist…
Als unerschütterlicher Sozialist und Kämpfer für die Sache der Arbeiter und Gewerkschaften ist es selbstverständlich, dass Alistair Hulett den ofiziellen Teil seines Konzertes wie üblich mit der “Internationale” beschloss, der dann noch etliche Zugaben und ein Interview folgten…
Das Interview mit Alistair Hulett
Du hast eine ganze Reihe von Lieder gesungen, die von deinem letzten Album stammen: Red Clydeside. Das ist, glaube ich, eine sehr interessante Geschichte….?
Ja, das ist eine Geschichte, die mich sehr fasziniert hat. Je mehr ich mich damit beschäftigt habe, desto mehr hat mich diese Geschichte in ihren Bann gezogen. Es ist eine Art verborgene Geschichte (im historischen Sinn) der Stadt Glasgow.
Viele Leute, die Ihr ganzes Leben in Glasgow verbracht haben, wissen zwar so ein bisschen davon, was in der Stadt geschehen ist in der Periode zur Zeit des 1.Weltkrieges, viele haben schon mal vom Aufstand der Clyde-Worker gehört – der Clyde ist der Fluß, der durch Glasgow fließt. Zu dieser Zeit befanden sich in diesem Teil der Stadt viele Werften und Stahlfabriken.
Als dann 1914 der Krieg zwischen Großbritannien und Deutschland ausbrach wurde Glasgow zu einer Stadt, in der sich ein Großteil der Rüstungsindustrie befand. Hier wurden die Panzer und die Schiffe hergestellt, die Waffen und die Munition, die benutzt wurden, um Menschen abzuschlachten.
Unter der Führung der Sozialisten entstand eine Anti-Kriegs-Bewegung in Glasgow. Das war vor allem ein gewisser John MacLane (über den ich viel singe). Das ist der Teil dieser Geschichte, den die meisten Einwohner von Glasgow kennen.
1919 kam es dann aber fast zu einem gewaltigen Aufstand zwischen der Polizei und den Arbeitern, der genau im Zentrum der Stadt ausbrach. Militär und Panzer wurden nach Glasgow geschickt, die gesamte Stadt wurde eingeschlossen und eine Ausgangssperre verhängt.
Glasgow war quasi eine besetzte Stadt. Das war die Antwort der Regierung auf die Ereignisse, die als “Red Clydeside” bezeichnet werden, auf die Bewegung, die von John MacLane angeführt wurde. Daraus entwickelte sich beinahe eine Revolution und es gab natürlich gewisse Zusammenhänge mit den Ereignissen in Deutschland, die zur Entmachtung des Kaisers führten und im Endeffekt das Ende des Krieges herbeiführten, da sich die Dinge so schrecklich entwickelt hatten, dass die Arbeiter auf beiden Seiten zu extremen Mitteln griffen, um das ganze zu beenden.
Bei uns in Glasgow hatten wir eine ganz ähnliche Situation wie ihr hier in Deutschland. Auch der Anführer der Anti-Kriegs-Bewegung in Glasgow kam ins Gefängnis, genauso wie sie Karl Lebknecht aus genau denselben Gründen einsperrten. Weil er den Krieg als falsch anprangerte und das Ende forderte.
Red Clydeside beim Celtic Connections Festival 2004…
Diese Geschichte wollte ich erzählen und ich begann nachzuforschen. So schrieb ich schließlich etliche Songs, von denen ich 9 aufgenommen habe, die auf meiner letzten CD zu hören sind. Damit bin ich viel auf Tournee gewesen, in Schottland und erst vor kurzem fand in Glasgow das Celtic Connections Festival statt.
Im Rahmen dieses Festivals führten wir diese Geschichte “Red Clydeside” in einem Theater auf, mit Schauspielern, die die Reden der Red Clydesider, der Aufständischen, vortrugen.
Die Vorstellung war jeden Abend ausverkauft und viele der Zuschauer sprachen uns nach der Vorstellung darauf an. Sie hatten vorher noch nie von dieser Geschichte gehört, obwohl sie ihr ganzes Leben in der Stadt verbracht hatten. Sie wßten zwar, das da irgend etwas geschehen war, die ganze Geschichte jedoch kannten sie nicht.
Ich kam auf diese Geschichte, als ich mich in Australien aufhielt. Irgend jemand gab mir ein Buch, das von einer gewissen Nann Milton geschrieben war. Das Buch hatte den Titel John MacLane. Es stellte sich heraus, dass Nann Milton die Tochter von John MacLane war, die die Geschichte ihres Vaters erzählte.
Nachdem ich das gelesen hatte, befasste ich mich mehr mit dieser Geschichte, ich las weitere Bücher. Innerhalb von zwei Jahren muß ich fast jedes Buch über dieses Thema gelesen haben. Bücher, die sich dazu positiv äußerten, aber auch Bücher, die die Ereignisse als unpatriotisch verurteilten.
Es ist also ein Teil unserer Geschichte, der verschwiegen wird, so wie auch hier in Deutschland nur wenige Leute über die Geschichte von Karl Liebknecht und Rosa Luxemburg bescheid wissen, den Anführern der Deutschen Anti-Kriegs-Bewegung.
Ich glaube, diese Geschichte ist von großer Bedeutung, gerade jetzt, wo wir die größte Anti-Kriegs-Bewegung aller Zeiten beobachten können: Die Proteste gegen den Krieg im Irak. Erst vor einigen Tagen fand in England wieder eine große Kundgebung dagegen statt. Die größte der Demonstrationen gab es im letzten Jahr im Februar in London.
Tatsache ist aber auch, dass Tony Blair sich davon nicht beeinflussen lassen wird. Wir müssen von den Red Clydesidern lernen und sie dazu zwingen, dass sie zuhören.
Die Veranstalter des Celtic Connections Festivals versuchen zur Zeit, Fördermittel beim British Arts Council aufzutreiben. Dieses Gremium finanziert Projekte, die nicht kommerziell funktionieren oder profitorientiert sind.
Unsere Aufführung ist zum Beispiel so ein Projekt, da es sehr teuer ist, das auf Tournee zu schicken. In Glasgow arbeiteten wir mit drei Schauspielern, drei Musikern und dem technischen Personal. Es gab auch Projektionen historischen Bildmaterials.
Wir brauchen etwa 10 Leute, um das auf die Bühne zu bringen. Das kostet viel und wir brauchen Unterstützung. Ob wir das Geld kriegen, das werde ich erfahren, wenn ich wieder in Glasgow bin, mehr kann ich dazu noch nicht sagen. Wenn wir die Finanzierung erhalten, dann gehen wir mit dem Projekt auf Tournee, wenn nicht, dann war’s das.
Aber es gibt noch genug andere Geschichten zu erzählen…!
Alistair Hulett, Scottish singer and songwriter and was a perfect local Socialist on 24 March in the Cobbler’s Irish Pub in Germering a guest. Even now in his second Occurs in this oasis located just outside Munich of Celtic folk music, he succeeded in playing again, to draw the audience into kürzeseter time in its spell. Alistair Hulett is an excellent musician. With his expressive voice and his guitar, he conjures both a dense and fantastic sound on stage.
And then this man has something to say and tell. That he typically does with Scottish wit and sometimes with a good dose of ironic sarcasm, which makes the whole thing very entertaining – not least because of his broad Scottish slang.
In the first part of his appearance in the Cobbler’s Irish Pub, he sang especially for him so typical workers and protest songs that denounce loudly the exploitation of people in the capitalist system, such as in the song “the old divide and rule” … .
Alistair Hulett has over 25 years spent in Australia to agitate as a punk-folk-rocker and a member of a street theater group against the exploitation of workers in asbestos mines.
As a member of the punk-folk group “Roaring Jack” he was in the 80s together with Steph Miller, Davey Williams, Rod Gilchrist and Bob Mannell on several albums, mainly on the former model of the Irish punk folk band “The Pogues “and the British punk-rock scene-oriented …
“Blue Murder”, the blue death … so that the dying of the asbestos mines in the Australian Abeiter is meant to be in the last century for a one-way passage from England to Australia for years to work at the local asbestos mines and vedingten sometimes to the implications of this work miserably perished. Alistair Hulett has worked extensively in his Australian years in ensuring that the victims of this labor market policies are appropriately compensated ….
His latest album “Red Clydeside” tells the story of the workers’ uprising in Glasgow during the First World War, which wanted to force the workers into the local armaments factories, the end of the bloody carnage on the battlefields of Europe. In concert, he sang the title song of this album include “The Red Clyde Sides”, the protagonist of this uprising is dedicated to …
As a staunch socialist and fighter for the cause of workers and unions, it is obvious that Alistair Hulett officially part of the concert, as usual with the “International” decided that was then followed by several encores and an interview …
The interview with Alistair Hulett
You sang a lot of songs that come from your last album: Red Clydeside. That is, I think a very interesting story ….?
Yes, that’s a story that has me very intrigued. The more I dealt with it, the more this story has me under her spell. It is a kind of hidden history (in the historical sense) the city of Glasgow.
Many people who have spent your whole life in Glasgow know in a way a little bit of what’s happening in the city in the period to the time of the 1st World War, many have ever heard of the uprising of the Clyde-worker – the Clyde is The river, which flows through Glasgow. At that time, were in this part of the city’s many shipyards and steel mills.
So when in 1914 the war broke out between Britain and Germany to Glasgow was a city where there was a large part of the defense industry. Here the tanks and the ships were prepared to slaughter the weapons and ammunition that were used to humans.
Under the leadership of the Socialists was an anti-war movement in Glasgow. This was above all a certain John MacLane (of whom I sing a lot). That is the part of the story, know that most residents of Glasgow.
1919, but came almost to a massive uprising between the police and the workers, which broke out in the very center of the city. Military and tanks were sent to Glasgow, the whole city was surrounded and imposed a curfew.
Glasgow was virtually an occupied city. That was the government’s response to the events, which are referred to as the “Red Clydeside”, on the motion, which was led by John MacLane. This developed into almost a revolution, and of course there were certain connections with the events in Germany that led to the overthrow of the Emperor and ultimately the end of the war brought about, because things had developed so terrible that the workers on both sides of extreme agents intervened to stop the whole thing.
Here in Glasgow we had a very similar situation as you here in Germany. Even the leader of the anti-war movement in Glasgow was jailed, as they locked up Karl Lebknecht of exactly the same reasons. Because he denounced the war as wrong and called for the end.
Red Clydeside at Celtic Connections Festival 2004 … I wanted to tell this story and I began to investigate. So I finally wrote some songs that I recorded 9, which can be heard on my last CD. I’m so much been on tour in Scotland and until recently was held at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, Scotland.
As part of this festival, we performed the story “Red Clydeside” in a theater, with actors who recited the words of the Red Clydesiders, the insurgents.
The performance was sold out every night and many of the audience after the show we talked to them. They had never heard of this story, although she had spent her entire life in the city. Although they wßten that was there anything done, the whole story but they did not know.
I came up with this story when I was in Australia. Someone gave me a book that was written by a certain Nann Milton. The book was titled John MacLane. It turned out that the daughter of John Milton Nann was MacLane, who told the story of her father.
After reading this, I concerned myself more with this story, I read more books. Within two years I must have read almost every book on this topic. Books, who expressed this positive, but also books that denounced the events as unpatriotic.
So it is a part of our history, which is concealed, as well as here in Germany just a few humble people about the history of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg to know the leaders of the German anti-war movement.
I think this story is of great importance, especially now that we are witnessing the largest anti-war movement of all time: The protests against the war in Iraq. Just a few days in England was again held a big demonstration against it. Was the largest of the demonstrations there last year in February in London.
But the fact is that Tony Blair will not be influenced from it. We must learn from the Red Clydesiders and forcing them to listen to them.
The future …? The organizers of the Celtic Connections festival currently attempting to raise funding to the British Arts Council. This committee will finance projects that do not work commercially and profit oriented.
Our performance is as such a project because it is very expensive, to send on tour. In Glasgow, we worked with three actors, three musicians and the technical staff. There were also projections of historical imagery.
We need about 10 people to bring to the stage. That costs a lot and we need support. Whether we get the money that I’ll know when I’m back in Glasgow, the more I can say no more. If we get funding, then we go on tour with the project, if not, was it das. But there are enough other stories to tell …!
Renowned folk singer Alistair Hulett is currently touring Australia with his new album ‘Red Clydeside’. The album deals with the emotions and trials of a radical time in the history of the international labour movements. Nick Martin caught up with Alistair to discuss the album, the Scottish labour movement, folk music, and working class politics at the National Folk Festival in Canberra over Easter, an event sponsored by the CFMEU A.C.T.
NM: Alistair, you’ve been involved in many strikes and workers struggles here and many of your songs have raised occupational health and safety issues like the asbestos question in the Wittenoon mines in Western Australia. This obviously is linked into criticising an agenda perpetrated by employers in the field, but maybe you’d like to give us a run down of some of the influences and inspiration of some of these disputes.
AH: There’s been a few struggles in Australia I’m very proud to have been involved in. There was a strike on Cockatoo Island back in the early 90s and we organised quite a few concerts and so forth and were able to build links with the workers. Rather than having any direct influence on the outcome of the strike it had an impact on the political struggle. What it did was politicise our audience which at the time were predominately young people unfamiliar with trade unionism and often hostile to it from an anarchist perspective. Bringing them into contact with organised labour was an educational process for us all. I think it was good for the people involved in the strike as well. It feels a bit grandiose to imagine as a political songwriter I’m actually able to shape history. I think it’s the forces of organised labour which shape history. As a songwriter I stand on the sidelines and try to comment on it and celebrate it.
NM: Alistair, your new album is called ‘Red Clydeside’. Could you give us a bit of background on why you chose the stories of the Red Clyde of 1915 as the theme for your album?
AH: It’s a history of Glasgow that many Glaswegians are even unaware of. And I think it’s a very important history to be told. ‘Red Clydeside’ erupted virtually with the declaration of war in 1914 and it was centred amongst the munitions workers and the shipbuilders. It began as a revolt against the level of wages and conditions and escalated, because of the influence of a number of socialists, into a revolt against the war in itself. There are a lot of very important lessons to learn from ‘Red Clydeside’; lessons of how it was built and lessons of why it failed. I think they’re all important and that’s what I tried to explore through this album.
NM: On listening to the album, one of the big themes that came out was the power of an active and unified workers movement. The work of striking match girls and rent striker Mrs. Barbour were all a reflection of workers coming together. How do you think this level of unity came about in Glasgow?
AH: Well, Red Clydeside didn’t appear out of a vacuum. There was a massive depression in 1908 that politicised workers all over Britain. By 1910 through until the declaration of war there was a period known as the ‘Great Unrest’ and the rulers of Britain were absolutely terrified by it. It was in the words of the leader of the ‘Red Clydeside’, John MacLean, he said that the workers of Britain were “entering the rapids of revolution”, Red Clydeside was really a continuation of the ‘Great Unrest’. Elsewhere because of the patriotism and the jingoism that was being promoted, the working class elsewhere succumbed to all that propaganda whereas in Glasgow it actually intensified the struggle. The reasons for that are too complex to go into here, but I think the most significant factors were the large numbers of Irish and highland refugees who were no friends of British imperialism for obvious reasons. But I think the most significant thing was the presence of so many militant socialists and trade unionists. That was really a happy coincidence that they happened to be there at the time. If it hadn’t been for people like John MacLean and Mrs. Barbour who lead the rent strike of 1915 then the anger would not have been as focused but by being there they were able to direct the anger and actually turn an industrial strike into a political strike.
NM: The linking of the industrial and the political is an important element of ‘Red Clydeside’, and your album isn’t just stating historical facts, it also serves a political purpose. How would you describe that political purpose in rejuvenating that ‘Red Clydeside’ spirit?
AH: Well I think ‘Red Clydeside’ is a very inspiring story but we can’t just leave it at that. I think it’s good to reflect on the struggles of the past but the point is to learn from the past in order to make it happen in the future and in the present and to learn the lessons. For me that’s what folk music is all about. It’s the unrecorded histories, and folk songs are full of unrecorded histories and often that’s the only way we can learn because workers don’t write the history books. Folk music is actually the oral history of the working class.
Renowned folk singer Alistair Hulett is currently touring Australia with his new album ‘Red Clydeside’. He speaks to Nick Martin.
Alistair Hulett The album deals with the emotions and trials of a radical time in the history of Scottish workers. We caught up with Alistair to discuss the album, folk music, and working class politics at the National Folk Festival in Canberra over Easter, an event sponsored by the CFMEU A.C.T.
Alistair, your new album is called ‘Red Clydeside’. Could you give us a bit of background on why you chose the stories of the Red Clyde of 1915 as the theme for your album?
It’s a history of Glasgow that many Glaswegians are even unaware of. And I think it’s a very important history to be told. ‘Red Clydeside’ erupted virtually with the declaration of war in 1914 and it was centred amongst the munitions workers and the shipbuilders. It began as a revolt against the level of wages and conditions and escalated, because of the influence of a number of socialists, into a revolt against the war in itself. There are a lot of very important lessons to learn from ‘Red Clydeside’; lessons of how it was built and lessons of why it failed. I think they’re all important and that’s what I tried to explore through this album.
On listening to the album, one of the big themes that came out was the power of an active and unified workers movement. The work of Match Girls and rent striker Mrs. Barbour were all a reflection of workers coming together. How do you think this level of unity came about in Glasgow?
Well, Red Clydeside didn’t appear out of a vacuum. There was a massive depression in 1908 that politicised workers all over Britain. By 1910 through until the declaration of war there was a period known as the ‘Great Unrest’ and the rulers of Britain were absolutely terrified by it. It was in the words of the leader of the ‘Red Clydeside’, John MacLean, he said that the workers of Britain were “entering the rapids of revolution”, Red Clydeside was really a continuation of the ‘Great Unrest’. Elsewhere because of the patriotism and the jingoism that was being promoted, the working class elsewhere succumbed to all that propaganda whereas in Glasgow it actually intensified the struggle. The reasons for that are too complex to go into here, but I think the most significant factors were the large numbers of Irish and highland refugees who were no friends of British imperialism for obvious reasons. But I think the most significant thing was the presence of so many militant socialists and trade unionists. That was really a happy coincidence that they happened to be there at the time. If it hadn’t been for people like John MacLean and Mrs. Barbour who lead the rent strike of 1915 then the anger would not have been as focused but by being there they were able to direct the anger and actually turn an industrial strike into a political strike.
The linking of the industrial and the political is an important element of ‘Red Clydeside’, and your album isn’t just historical reflection, it also serves a political purpose. How would you describe that political purpose in rejuvenating that ‘Red Clydeside’ spirit?
Well I think ‘Red Clydeside’ is a very inspiring story but we can’t just leave it at that. I think it’s good to reflect on the struggles of the past but the point is to learn from the past in order to make it happen in the future and in the present and to learn the lessons. For me that’s what folk music is all about. It’s the unrecorded histories, and folk songs are full of unrecorded histories and often that’s the only way we can learn because workers don’t write the history books. Folk music is actually the oral history of the working class.
Just to tap in on that, Folk music has often given form and expression to working communities needs and desires. How do you see yourself fitting into the modern folk scene and what place do politics have in the contemporary scene?
Huge question Nick
We ask all the big ones in ‘Workers Online’
All strength to you. I think that in the present we are in a period very similar probably to just before the ‘Great Unrest’. Where there’s a lot of widespread anger, for instance, against globalisation and privatisation but the anger and the bitterness is not yet quite focused. I think it’s the task of socialists to do what John MacLean did and give it a focus. Everytime there is a closure of a factory we have to be there agitating and saying that we can actually win if we fight back. In the instances where socialists have played that role, for instance in England, with the closure of the Rover car plant outside Birmingham, it was the Socialist Alliance I think which was able to connect with the militant shop stewards. If it had been left to the official trade union movement the aim was to have a large march and then go home. But it was actually the socialists and shop stewards who argued that there had to be a march to Westminster London. The response was that the Blair government was forced to find the money to keep the car plant going. I think that’s hugely significant. That was huge victory and we can’t speak about it often enough.
Alistair, you finish ‘Red Clydeside’ with a reference to the anti-capitalist or anti-globalisation movement. And you must see this as a contemporary expression of some ever present values, how do you see the movement as fitting into the political sphere of the Left?
I think the traditional Left, the old Left, has been far to slow to respond to this because it hasn’t recognised it. These young people are not necessarily adopting the forms we are familiar with and they refer to themselves as ‘swarms’ and they use a new terminology but in actual fact, what they’re doing is very similar to what has been done in the past. It’s just finding a new vocabulary for it. I think that socialists need to interact with these people and not try to take the movement over but follow and learn from it. Not direct it but be in there with our input and our experience. We also have to do it with a degree of humility as well and see that these people, these young kids, after years of us saying the struggle’s over and the working class are not going to fight back, suddenly they caused Seattle to erupt. I couldn’t believe it when I turned on the television and saw these young people coming together with the organised trade unionists, especially the teamsters and the steelworkers, that was what made Seattle flare. And that is really what we must try and build, we must build links with the ‘swarms’.
Just to change tact a little bit Alistair, I wanted to ask you about your involvement in workers struggles here. Some of your fantastic songs have raised occupational health and safety issues like the asbestos question in the Wittenoon mines in Western Australia. This obviously is linked into criticising an agenda perpetrated by employers in the field, but maybe you’d like to give us a run down of some of the influences and inspiration of some of these disputes.
There’s been a few struggles in Australia I’m very proud to have been involved in. There was a strike on Cockatoo Island back in the early 90s and we organised quite a few concerts and so forth and were able to build links with the workers. Rather than having any direct influence on the outcome of the strike it had an impact on the political struggle. What it did was politicise our audience which at the time were predominately young people unfamiliar with trade unionism and often hostile to it from an anarchist perspective. Bringing them into contact with organised labour was an educational process for us all. I think it was good for the people involved in the strike as well. It feels a bit grandiose to imagine as a political songwriter I’m actually able to shape history. I think it’s the forces of organised labour which shape history. As a songwriter I stand on the sidelines and try to comment on it and celebrate it.
Alistair, final question, you’ve got a couple gigs coming up here. One in Melbourne and one in Bathurst, what should people expect from your upcoming gigs?
I’m doing a few gigs but those two are going to be devoted to the ‘Red Clydeside’, which I performed at the National Folk Festival in Canberra. In these shows, unlike in Canberra, there will be time to breath between sentences so it won’t be as panicked or rushed! But hopefully people will find it an inspiring story.
Fantastic. Alistair Hulett, thankyou very much for your time – Dare to struggle, dare to win?
It is more by accident than by design that I end up meeting folk singer Alistair Hulett in the famous Clutha Vaults pub on the north bank of the river Clyde in Glasgow city centre. Hulett is a member of the campaign to save Govanhill swimming pool from closure, and the Clutha is a hop, skip and a jump from the Glasgow Sheriff Court, where he has been lending moral support to a number of his fellow protestors who are on trial.
Nevertheless, the pub is an appropriate place for me to meet him to discuss Them and Us, the Edinburgh International Festival’s series of concerts showcasing Scottish political song, which has been programmed in conjunction with the Centre for Political Song at Glasgow Caledonian University. Along with neighbouring bars the Victoria and the Scotia, the Clutha has long been steeped in the radical folk tradition in the south-west of Scotland, and many performers continue to play their music there.
Hulett, who is a longstanding socialist, will be performing in a late evening concert of what are described in the Festival brochure as “Scabrous Songs”.
“They are definitely political songs,” he says. They stand, he believes, in a long tradition of Scottish folk songs which aim to take a deep bite out of their intended target. “They are songs which are hard enough almost to be libellous,” he says with undisguised pleasure.
He will, for example, be singing a rather pointed song about a well-known Scottish QC who has connections to a fairly renowned, blue-clad Glasgow football team. In addition, says Hulett, there will be “a song about police corruption, and a song about Labour career politicians. I feel quite easy with both topics.”
But if the songs that Hulett will be performing give the impression that the series is concentrating on the most modern folk songs, nothing could be further from the truth. The first concert, which shares its title with the Them and Us series as a whole, will consider Scotland’s political song over 400 years.
Other concerts in the series will be concentrating on subjects such as Jacobite song tradition, issues around religion, and the music of the three most influential Scottish political folk singers of the 20th century – Matt McGinn, Ewan MacColl and Hamish Henderson.
Although the songs of that triumvirate are famously left wing, other works included in the programme – be they eulogies to Prince Charles Edward Stuart or even aggressively loyalist songs about Northern Ireland – clearly are not. So does this mean that Scotland’s political folk tradition isn’t quite as socialist as many believe?
“The folk tradition is largely left wing,” says Hulett. “But yes, you will find forelock-tugging songs along the lines of, ‘God Bless The Squire’, you will find right wing, racist folk songs.”
Indeed, he acknowledges, there is a history, typified most recently by the pro-folk music comments of British National Party leader, Nick Griffin, of the far right trying to lay claim to the tradition.
“Cecil Sharp, the great English folklorist, described folk music as the music of the labouring classes,” Hulett explains. “I would defy a fascist like Nick Griffin to find something that he can hang on to there, because he hates the working class, especially when it has internationalist consciousness.”
The 20th-century history of folk music – interestingly, in the United States as much as in Scotland or England – bears out the singer’s contention that the tradition has tilted much more heavily to the left than to the right.
In America, Woody Guthrie was just one of many leading folk artists who have been associated with the US Communist Party. And in Scotland, the Communist Party and the Labour left became heavily involved in the development of folk music. The late Labour MP Norman Buchan, whose wife Janey is a key organiser of the festival series, played a major role in the political development of Scottish folk music in the all-important years after the Second World War.
Just as the establishment in the US was attempting to use the abstract paintings of the likes of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko to prove that the capitalist system was more culturally free than the Soviet system, so the artistic friends of the USSR enlisted their work in the Cold War.
In the foreword to a 1962 book entitled 101 Scottish Songs, we see Norman Buchan employing a popular derogatory term for America (Tin Pan Alley) in his celebration of the folk tradition. “In an age apparently dominated by commercial jingles and the short-lived products of Tin Pan Alley,” he writes, “increasing numbers of youngsters have found expression and satisfaction in the folk-heritage of Scotland.”
In the 1960s and 1970s there was a plethora of left wing orientated folk music publications. They included the Rebel Ceilidh Song Book and the pamphlet Ding Dong Dollar, which contained the lyrics to numerous anti-Polaris songs and was sold during early Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demonstrations. Some of the songs, such as glowing hagiographies to Fidel Castro, give a strong sense of the influence of the Communist Party, whilst others, such as the songs of protest against the Pinochet coup in Chile, were more unifying of radical Scotland.
As if to complicate matters further, however, the Communist Party’s belief in what it called the “national roads to socialism” played a major role in uniting the radical and nationalist strands in the Scottish tradition. The songs about the famous ‘Red Clydesider’ John MacLean (a number of which are bound to appear on the bill of the McGinn, MacColl and Henderson concert) are a case in point. The earlier songs refer to his opposition to the First World War as an example of his internationalism, whilst the later works identify him as a national hero.
For Hulett, the coming together of these strands can create some peculiar political contradictions. “The notion that Scotland is a colony is one that’s very prevalent in the folk scene. There’s a tendency in Scottish folk music to want to wrap itself in the Saltire,” he explains. Consequently, he says, we see nostalgic songs of support for the Jacobites continuing to be sung by people who would otherwise be considered to be Republicans.
“You have to acknowledge that the Scots tradition is very adept at the scabrous song,” says the singer. “Jacobite songs like ‘Cam ye o’er frae France?’, are utterly scathing of the corruption of the house of Hanover. Where they fall down is that they’d ask us to believe that the house of Stuart was somehow superior.”
This complex mix of the historical and the modern, the internationalist and the nationalist, is something which can still be heard in Scottish folk music today. And it will undoubtedly be a theme running through a song series which many people will be surprised to see appear on the International Festival programme at all.
“You would expect it [political folk song] to be either on the Fringe, or on the fringe of the Fringe,” admits Hulett. Nonetheless, he insists, the festival organisers haven’t attempted to water down the rich tradition before placing it on the ‘official’ stage.
“We haven’t been asked to censor or compromise ourselves in any way,” he says. “I think we should take the opportunity.”
Warwick Festival on a warm and sunny Sunday lunchtime – time to chat over a pot of tea and a chance to find out a bit about recently-returned emigrant Alistair Hulett before he left to visit Dave Swarbrick.
Alistair first got involved in folk music way back in the mid-sixties, following what seems to be a surprisingly common entry route – “Yeah, I was Glasgow’s pimpliest Bob Dylan clone !” – but he went along to folk clubs and was exposed to traditional Scottish music. Having been “accustomed” to the likes of Andy Stewart and Kenneth McKellar, the real sounds of his homeland came as a surprise, hearing traditional Scottish ballads, the strange cadence, and the modality of the tunes he was “gob-smacked”. By the age of fifteen he was visiting The Attic Folk Club in Paisley and taking a strong interest in the music, but just a year later he was to become a reluctant emigrant to New Zealand travelling with his parents on an assisted passage. However despite not being eager to go, he was able to break straight into the folk circuit – it was very welcoming to what it regarded as the genuine article, and here was a Scottish kid singing traditional Scottish ballads.
After two years in New Zealand he was a seasoned performer, and when ex-Glaswegian Gordon MacIntyre came from Australia to tour, Alistair was a support act. At the end of the week Gordon said that there was a thriving folk scene in Australia and that Alistair should go over there, so he did! Gordon introduced him to the right people and soon Alistair was established, and played around the folk circuit for a few years before drifting into other forms of music. It was the time of peace, love, and flower power, and he went on the hippy trail for about ten years, before coming back to traditional music via punk!
Alastair had already started writing his own stuff in the seventies, travelling around with a guitar, playing round campfires, jamming with other musicians, and needing to expand a limited repertoire of songs, but it wasn’t until he was playing with Roaring Jack that he began to write seriously. The Jacks were an electric folk punk band, “We screamed our way through traditional folk ballads with great gusto, whilst the audience had a scrum at the front of the stage, but that got me back into folk music again.” He neglects to mention the stage-diving from the top of the speaker stacks, but the band was popular, even getting invited to folk festivals. They were usually put in a tent a long way off from everybody else and their audience was mostly punks – but they wouldn’t have been there otherwise, so the festival organisers were happy to have the Jacks because they brought along an audience. The band did two albums and an EP, plus an awful lot of touring, but Alistair was quietly(-ish) gaining a reputation as a songwriter of some note. “People more from the mainstream of folk began to do my songs – in a less frenetic style than the Jacks, and a few people recorded them.” Alistair also started doing more solo work, playing acoustic, rather than electric guitar, and eventually recorded his first solo album “Dance of the Underclass” in 1991. This album included twelve of his own songs, including “He Fades Away” and “The Swaggies Have All Waltzed Matilda Away”, plus a rousing version of the “Internationale”! Roaring Jack eventually split up after some six years together, but by this time Hulett was well on his way and had a second solo album, recorded with temporary band The Hooligans, issued in 1994 and titled “In the Back Streets of Paradise”.
The strength of his songwriting is obvious on hearing the material, but besides the very accurate and precise observation which underpins the lyrics from this fine wordsmith, there is also a common thread of a deeply felt political and social awareness. It was June Tabor’s recording of “He Fades Away”, on “Against The Stream” in 1994, that first made me aware of Alistair’s writing. “I love the way June sings it! It was weird really, but when I wrote it, especially when that middle eight section was coming to me, I was thinking of her music as I was writing that chord progression. I didn’t know her or anything but after I recorded it I asked my record label to send her a copy, but it didn’t ever reach her”. Happily, by the strange forces of serendipity, June was given a tape to play in the car whilst travelling between gigs in the US, and there it was. The song tells of a man dying from asbestosis, contracted whilst working in the Wittenoom blue asbestos mine in Western Australia, and is one of two songs written by Alistair about the horrors of the mines, the other being “Blue Murder”. “A lot of the people that worked in the asbestos mines came from fairly remote parts of Europe, coming over on government assisted passages. They had to sign up to stay and work for two years in the mines, and they weren’t aware of what they were getting themselves into. It was a hell-hole, and highly toxic too, but if they left before the two years were up, they were tracked down by the Western Australia police and forcibly returned to the mines. It was almost like indentured labour.” Both songs contain extremely moving and powerful imagery, demonstrating the skill, and the passion of the writer. They were originally written as part of a project to produce a play based on “Blue Murder” – a book about the mines by Ben Hills. The project never reached completion due to circumstances surrounding the Free Tim Anderson campaign where Alistair was actively involved in clearing the name of left-wing activist Tim Anderson. “He was accused of a particularly horrendous crime – planting explosives outside the Hilton Hotel, where a summit meeting of the Commonwealth heads of state was taking place. Two bin-men and a policeman had been killed and Tim was being framed as the culprit. He was completely innocent, as was later proved, but Ben Hills wrote an article for the Sydney Morning Herald defaming Tim, and I felt I couldn’t continue to work with Ben after that”.
It isn’t possible to talk about Alistair without being aware of his social and political stance, and his standpoint is made quite clear by his singing, his writing, and the introductions to his songs. “I see myself as a Socialist in the Marxist tradition – I believe that the way forward in society is for the producers to take control of the means of production – for the Working Class to take political and economic power”. These beliefs lend a great deal to both his own songs and his choice of other material. His version of “The Weaver and the Factory Maid” is quite a revelation, putting it into the context of hand-loom weavers (who had been at the pinnacle of their society) being driven into abject poverty by the advent of the steam shuttle, which mechanised the weaving process and almost at a stroke totally devalued the skill, the craft of the hand-loom weavers. “Their response was to band together in the night and go and smash the looms, out of sheer desperation”. The Luddites, as they were known, failed, and progress inevitably overtook them, but between the skilled weavers and the relatively unskilled factory hands there was a major conflict, and a marriage between the two was almost unthinkable. “At the end of the song the weaver is saying to his father that if a young man is going to find a partner it will be in the factory, that is where everyone is going, it’s inevitable. When you understand the social context, it’s really a formidable song.”
However, don’t get the impression that a Hulett gig is all politics, far from it, he doesn’t only sing about his political beliefs, he presents an interesting and well balanced set, but like several folk luminaries before him, he is politicised. “I’m not alone in this; a lot of singers on the folk scene in the sixties were card carrying Communist Party members – Bert Lloyd was; so was Hamish Henderson, and Ewan MacColl.” And MacColl was an early influence on his music, with one of his current repertoire being “Chylde Owlett”, using the Lydian mode, and learned from the singing of MacColl. “He was a huge influence. A lot of people have influenced me, but he would be at the top of the list.”
Twenty-odd years in Australia fostered in Hulett a taste for the “old” Australia, and its politics – and in his song “The Siege Of Union Street” there is a case of direct action from the times of the depression. “Somebody gave me a pamphlet and said that I might like to read it ‘cos it was about the street I was living in at the time! I read it and it amazed me. There had been a struggle to prevent the eviction of a war widow and her children, and over a thousand people had fought in the streets for three days against the police and the landlords, and managed in the process to ultimately get the law changed.” Alastair was given a copy of a taped conversation with a man by the name of Jim Monroe who had been a founder member of the Unemployed Workers Union, the organisation which had waged the Union Street campaign. “One of the things he said was about the solidarity amongst the people fighting to prevent this unjust eviction – they were grand old days on the barricade! – and I knew that that was the angle I wanted to write from. After that, the song just wrote itself.”
Another aspect of Australia’s past was the violent and bloody oppression which characterised the last two hundred years history of the continent: “The Swaggies Have All Waltzed Matilda Away” tells of the brutality shown to the original settlers, the transportees, and also to the indigenous Aboriginal people:
“You caused the poor blacks to suffer the same Imprisoned on missions or hunted for game Blood stained the soil of Australia.”
This song was the catalyst which brought together Alistair Hulett and Dave Swarbrick. “Dave had moved to live in Australia, in the Blue Mountains, and whilst on tour he was staying with a fella called Rob Bartlett, a fine English singer and guitarist living in Adelaide, who played him ‘The Swaggies’ on my CD ‘Dance of the Underclass’ and he liked it.” Alistair was already working on a new album, which he had intended to ask Swarb to play on, but then he got a ‘phone call saying Dave had heard the CD and would like to work with Alistair. “So we call that our song!” After hearing the demos for the new album Dave said that rather than play on it for a session fee, he would prefer it to be a collaboration. “We recorded ‘Saturday Johnny and Jimmy the Rat’ and we had such a good time playing together that we toured Australia with it. Personal circumstances then meant that both of us were returning to the UK at the same time, and so the collaboration continued.” That was in 1996 and Alistair, on his return, went to live in Herefordshire where a strange coincidence led to him meeting June Tabor, due to them both using the same health food shop. “The shop owner mentioned to June, another customer, that a folk singer had arrived from Australia and told her my name. She didn’t know that I was living there, only about twelve miles from her place, but I got a ‘phone call and went over for dinner one night. She’s lovely!”
“Saturday Johnny…” was released in the UK and Swarb and Alistair toured extensively, doing clubs and festivals to wide acclaim. Several reviewers admitted not knowing Alistair’s name, and going to the gigs purely on the strength of Swarb, but all came away raving about the duo, and Hulett’s songwriting. The comparisons with the Swarbrick/Carthy pairing were bound to be made, and not without validity. “If he (Swarbrick) was to play with any guitar player, especially one who plays finger style as I do, then it’s an obvious comparison to make. I have to say that I’m quite in awe of Martin’s guitar playing – not only his playing, his whole artistry. He is definitely the business as far as I’m concerned.” But whilst Alistair readily admits to being influenced by Carthy, there is something more to it; that distinctive percussive style so difficult to define but immediately recognisable. “We use the same tuning, he (Carthy) passed that on to me. With it you can play in lots of different keys, with an obviously modal tuning. I like that modal sound. I was previously using DADGAD, C modal, and G modal, and it meant either re-tuning 6 or 7 times during a set, or carting 3 or 4 guitars around. But Martin’s actually devised a way of tuning that is as versatile as standard tuning, but where you can still get that modal sound. It’s a tricky one – you’ve got to commit to it! You can’t really go back into normal tuning again without so altering the tension of the neck that the entire guitar goes out of tune! The tuning means that strings are tuned down from standard and a fairly heavy gauge of string is required. It’s really ‘sloppy’, but I like that. Some of the strings are so slack that you get a lot of vibrato, and they also become quite ‘rattley’, but I like the sound of the string hitting off the fret – I like to yank at the strings a bit!” His playing is deceptive – understated, camouflaging his skill, but allowing him when paired with Swarbrick to produce a sound which is much fuller than would be expected from just the two instruments.
After their successful tour they both returned to other work with Alistair taking up solo work and Swarb working with other people, but they also continued to develop material together and their second CD, “The Cold Grey Light of Dawn” was released in 1998, again to great critical acclaim. “The Siege of Union Street”, the bleak “Chylde Owlett”, and “The Swaggies…” are to be found here, plus some other very powerful pieces of writing. The album also has a song written in Australia, but recalling the Glasgow he’d left behind him; “Among Proddy Dogs and Papes” is no nostalgia trip, instead it concerns itself with the sectarian violence which was endemic in the city at that time. “It has been a real joy to return and find the sectarian animosity and the violence so greatly reduced.” Other changes in the city have also been welcomed by Alistair. “I’d always thought that the buildings were made out of black stone, but they’ve been cleaned, and everywhere now is this beautiful blonde and red sandstone – I didn’t even know it was there!”
The second CD led to another tour together in 1998, but by this time Alistair’s reputation in the UK had grown, and people had picked up on the first tour and the solo work as well. Additionally, 1998 saw Hulett at the Isle of Bute, “Bute Experience!” with the debut performance of “Red Clydeside” a presentation in word and song of a chapter of his home city’s history. “Around the time of the start of the First World War, Glasgow was the home of the dispossessed – the Irish and the Clansmen.” This led to a very politically aware, and politically active, population, which resulted in a rent strike in 1915 led by a Govan housewife, and which forced the British government to legislate against wartime rent increases. “The Rent Strike was the first upheaval in a working class revolt that came to be known as Red Clydeside. Its leader was a man called John MacLean who would address meetings of workers outside the factory gates and exhort them to be true to their class not their country, and not go to war.” This was obviously unpopular with the government of the day and twice MacLean was imprisoned, but twice he was released due to the level of public pressure. “When he was released the second time he was very weak and unwell, he had suffered terribly during his imprisonment, but on his release he was taken to speak at what was possibly the largest political meeting ever assembled in this country.”
Alistair had been working on this project with Swarbrick with the intention of bringing out a CD. “All the songs are written , we’ve even got the track order for the CD, and we were due to go into the studio to record it before Dave’s illness.” Ah yes, the period spent in hospital which resulted in a glowing, albeit thankfully premature, obituary in the Telegraph, to which Swarbrick responded with a statement that he’d “died in Coventry before!” But how is he now? “He was very ill, but although he’s lost quite a lot of muscle tone, he’s getting stronger day by day and he’s playing again now.” Besides the delay on the recording of the new CD there were other rather more pressing implications. “We had a thirty date tour booked, and then Dave fell ill. I’d just taken out a mortgage and I wasn’t looking forward to seeing the bank manager. So, I went to Roy Bailey and said that I needed a big favour!” Roy, who had recorded “He Fades Away” in 1994, obliged, and eventually went out on half the dates, with the two of them essentially doing a song-swap. “Roy would do a song, then I’d follow with one which was somehow related to it, and so on – but we both kept the option of changing the subject without notice!” For the rest of the gigs Alistair was partnered by ace squeezer John Kirkpatrick. “I spoke to Martin (Carthy) about the other gigs, and he suggested John.” Despite the two pairings being quite different both came up with a successful and interesting format, helping Alistair expand his audience base – and pay the mortgage!
Alistair Hulett is a singer of intensity, integrity, and conviction, but although much of his writing is hard edged social and political commentary which challenges any hint of passivity in his audience, he doesn’t let the ideology overpower the imaginative lyricism of his writing. He combines rich vocal tonality, deceptively understated guitar style, and articulate, incisive introductions in a relaxed presentation. He is a singer and writer of stature, and Australia’s loss is most definitely our gain.
Written by Alistair Hulett
August sees the launch of the Festival of Politics at the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh. As part of this broad event, billed as being an occasion where “politics meets the people”, I will be taking part in a performance titled Them And Us — a workshop exploring Scotland’s radical song tradition and its continuing relevance.
This radical song tradition forms an important part of what is commonly called “folk music”, an often maligned form of cultural expression.
Yet folk songs, and in particular the songs that arose out of labouring class revolt against an oppressive power structure, offer us a precious window into the lives of ordinary people down the centuries. They also show the way they felt about the world they lived in and sometimes struggled to change.
Of course, not all folk songs are political and sometimes they even express points of view that are backward. But most are imbued with an innate class consciousness and hostility to oppression and exploitation that every socialist can warm to.
The best of them are as musically and lyrically developed as anything produced by those higher up the social ladder. Periods of intense political upheaval usually produce politically aware folk music.
Scotland’s volatile political history has resulted in a wealth of radical songs that span several centuries.
A protracted struggle between two opposing monarchies and forms of Christianity in the 17th and 18th centuries gave rise to some magnificent political songs, particularly the ones opposing the union with England and supporting the Jacobite factions.
“Cam Ye Ower Fae France” is a scathing attack on the new Hanoverian king George that possesses an astonishing level of vitriol.
These authentic period pieces gave rise to the use of faux-Jacobite verse as a veil for promoting egalitarian ideas in support of a universal franchise and social equality. This was at a time when Britain was a virtual police state. Many of the “Jacobite” songs of the poet Robert Burns form part of this legacy.
The authentic songs from the years leading up to defeat of the Jacobite pretender Charles Stuart at Culloden in 1746 were largely created by people from the privileged classes.
But they adopted a style and language that was remarkably close to the folk tradition. Many of these songs found their way into the repertoires of peasant singers, where they assumed a radical significance well beyond their original intent.
By the time that labourer poets like Burns were using the Jacobite cause as subject matter, the “Young Pretender” had become a metaphor for a struggle much nobler than restoring a ruling class parasite to his throne.
“Wae’s Me For Prince Charlie”, written by a Glasgow weaver called William Glen in the early 19th century, tells us much more about the plight of the labouring poor than it does about Bonnie Prince Charlie. It goes, “On hills that are by right his own he roams a lonely stranger/On ilka hand he’s pressed by want, on ilka side by danger.”
William Glen’s song can only be understood as a declaration of the misery that spurred weavers such as him to take on the capitalist class.
The current anti-war movement has produced a wealth of new, political songs all around the world. The Centre for Political Song at the Caledonian University in Glasgow is the largest archive of radical songs in the world.
Songs of 19th century weavers are preserved alongside current anti-war parodies like the wonderful Glaswegian squib sung to the tune of the Italian resistance song, “Bella Ciao”.
It goes, “George and Tony, dae ye know we’re gonnae/Stop the War, Stop the War, Stop the War, War, War!/Tell George’s crony, wee Berlusconi/That we’re gonnae Stop the War!”
Alistair Hulett looks at Seeger’s legacy as US rock musician Bruce Springsteen’s releases a tribute album to him.
When the folk boom of the 1960s brought a new crop of young, politicised singer/songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Buffy Sainte-Marie to the forefront of popular awareness, an influential critic famously referred to them as “Pete’s children”.
The Pete in question was the lanky banjo player, folk singer, civil rights and anti-war activist, Pete Seeger. Throughout the preceding two decades, Seeger had been synonymous with political folk music in the US and was, for a long time, the road buddy of the great Woody Guthrie.
The two met in 1940 at a “Grapes of Wrath” benefit concert for migrant workers – a date which the folklorist Allan Lomax described as the beginning of modern folk music.
While Guthrie’s guitar was emblazoned with the words “this machine kills fascists”, Pete’s banjo bore the legend “this machine surrounds hatred with love and forces it to surrender”.
Both were members of the Communist Party and collaborated in the famous Almanac Singers during the years up to and after the outbreak of the Second World War.
Seeger’s musical career suffered greatly during the post war years when he was identified by the McCarthy witch-hunt and hauled before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He was sentenced to a year in jail on ten counts of contempt – although that was later quashed on a technicality.
By the early 1960s, when he was finally able to resume his touring engagements unhindered, he was regarded by many of the young people who flocked to hear him as a modern American hero.
The black civil rights movement and opposition to the war in Vietnam were the burning issues of the day, and Seeger was the singing voice of the movement in the US.
Now the songs he championed alongside the compositions of old friends such as Guthrie and Leadbelly were the new anthems of struggle from the young blades they were calling Pete’s children.
Dylan’s apocalyptic song “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” became a standard in the Seeger songbook and he used it to close his triumphant We Shall Overcome comeback concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1963.
Bruce Springsteen’s latest album is a musical tribute to Pete Seeger, also bearing the title We Shall Overcome.
In the current climate of new anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles, and widespread opposition to George Bush and Tony Blair’s wars, the relevance of Seeger has not been lost on Springsteen. Nor should it be lost on us.
Pete’s own compositions “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy” and “Bring ‘Em Home” were timely broadsides against the US’s war on the people of Vietnam.
It’s great to be reminded by an album like Springsteen’s just how influential popular culture can be in shaping history.
The life of Seeger has been one of fearless commitment to the struggle for liberty and peace.
But Pete is a humanist as well as an activist, and many of Bruce Springsteen’s song choices on this new album reflect this. Pete didn’t only sing for social change.
He also had a vast repertoire of traditional folk songs and songs for children, songs like “Froggy Went A’Courtin” and “The Ballad Of Jesse James”.
Seeger is one of the great entertainers, communicators and justice-fighters. We shall overcome. Indeed we shall.
The Gallows Rant
News from the Alistair Hulett Memorial Trust (AHMT), UK
The winning entry of the Alistair Hulett Memorial Trust Song Competition is Penny Stone for her song Breaking the Silence. We would like to thank all those who entered the competition. The judges all agreed that this was a very difficult task as all the entries were of an exceptional standard. We would like to thank the judges Karine Polwart, Roy Bailey and Peggy Seeger for their expert opinions and for the amount of time they spent judging the competition. Once again many thanks to all who entered.
‘Breaking the Silence’ by Penny Stone is available to listen to on the website http://www.alistairhulett.com/2012/01/alistair-hulett-memorial-trust-song-competition-listen-to-some-great-songs/. Penny performed her winning song at the tribute concert and collected a prize of £100. She was also interviewed for our website, talking about the background to her song, what inspires her and what advice she has for budding political singer songwriters.
It was standing room only at Roxy 171 in Glasgow on March the 11th for the Alistair Hulett Memorial Trust / Left in the Dark collaborative concert. Alt country duo The Dirt provided a fine opening followed by an excellent 100 min set from David Rovics, who’s songs ranged in topics from fracking to the The Saint Patrick’s Brigade, and from Gaza to Alaska. David and Alistair toured and worked together on many occasions, and they were great friends. David is a stirring and highly relevant singer/songwriter, so take Pete Seeger’s advice and “Listen to David Rovics” whenever you get the chance!
David Rovics was awarded Artists Assistant Grant from The AHMT in 2012 to assist him to travel to the various Occupy! encampment sites across the USA as part of his, ‘Occupy Tour’ project. Details of the grant will be available on the website shortly.
2nd Alistair Hulett Memorial Concert at Celtic Connections.
The sell out concert for the second year in a row took place at St Andrews in the Square on the 28th of January on the second anniversary of Alistair’s passing. This years performers were Karine Polwart and Roy Bailey ( both back by popular demand). Also performing were Ian Bruce, Scottish singer and songwriter and renowned interpreter of the songs of Robert Burns and Scottish ballads; Alasdair Roberts and his band with a guest spot from Will Oldham of Bonnie Prince Billy. A review of the concert can be found on http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/jan/30/alistair-hulett-celtic-connections-review
For more information and video links to the artists involved in the tribute concert visit: http://www.celticconnections.com/whatson/event/118718-Alistair-Hulett-Tribute-
News from the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund (AHMF), Australia
The last few months have been particularly busy and fruitful for the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund in Australia. Having been admitted to the Register of Cultural Organisations (ROCO) at the end of 2011 and granted granted Donor Gift Recipient (DGR) status, the Fund was finally able to offer tax deductions to donors, resulting in an immediate increase in donations. This meant that we could green-light both the ‘Songs for Social Justice’ Songwriting Award and the First CD Grant Program.
Entrants to the songwriting award were given little more than a couple of months to write and record their songs, but in spite of this time pressure we received some terrific entries. The three judges – Kate Fagan, Eric Bogle and Judy Small – gave a laudatory citation regarding the quality of entries when they presented their final decision. The recordings and lyrics that the judges were working from were sent to them as blind entries so it was just as gratifying for them to discover the identity of the winner: Steph Miller, who had been a band member along with Alistair in Roaring Jack in the late ’80s.
Steph performed his winning entry, The Riverside, at the final concert of the National Folk Festival in Canberra, and received a grant towards the recording and distribution of the song.
We’re now putting the final touches to the terms and conditions for next year’s award and will be calling for entries very soon. With a closing date for entries on 31 December 2012, there will be a lot more time for the creativity to flow and for the judges to make their decision before the National next Easter. Further details will be announced on the website www.alistairhulett.com , so be sure to keep checking.
As of May 1, 2012, submissions are now invited for the First CD Grant Program, so we’d ask all of you to check out the details on the website http://www.alistairhulett.com/the-alistair-hulett-memorial-fund/first-cd-grant-program/ and think about passing this information on to any musicians you think could benefit from such support and whose music fits the criteria.
A brand new t-shirt featuring the Internationale lyrics is now available to purchase from the store and selling fast! Sizes range from small to extra extra large.
Songs for Social Justice at the Auckland Folk Festival
Over 100 people sang in solidarity with the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund at the 2012 Auckland Folk Festival ending of course with a stirring rendition of the Internationale. The gig was a celebration of Alistair’s life, music and politics, put together by the Friends of Alistair Hulett. Some of the Friends of Alistair Hulett knew him personally and all had been touched and inspired by his music. We were delighted to be joined on the day by the legendary Danny Spooner who knew Alistair from his time in Australia.
In the true folk tradition a bucket collection took place at the gig. We raised over $200 with the proceeds being shared between the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund and Auckland’s Wharfies who are striking against casualisation and for a family life.
The Friends of Alistair Hulett New Zealand 30th April
Straight from their success at the Auckland Folk Festival the Davenport Folk Club featuring Paul Brown, Tony Rickets and Jenny Kilpatrick, Jean and Andrea Reid, Bill Morrison and Chris Holland came together to celebrate Alistair’s great songs at the The event and raised $200 for the 1,000 locked out meat workers. Talley’s/AFFCO has locked out the workers in an attempt to force them and their union, the New Zealand Meat Workers’ Union, to accept changes to their collective agreement – changes which will make it easy for the company to impose individual contracts on workers and thereby to set wages unilaterally. For more information on the dispute go to www.mwu.org.nz/
Songs of Alistair Hulett Concert
Cobargo Folk Festival, Australia 2012 a review by Ken Stewart Cobargo Folk Festival 2012 was the biggest and best attended in its 17 year history. It was a joy to be there and to perform with such a great collection of Australian and overseas talent. I was charged with the task (well I volunteered for it actually) of putting together a concert as a memorial for Alistair Hulett.
I was given an hour of stage time at the main Mumbulla stage and called the session “the Songs of Alistair Hulett”. All tuned up out the back of the stage we waited primed to go. An introduction from Bob Hart and I am called to start. I talk about those wonderful days in the eighties at the Sando (Sandringham Hotel Newtown in Sydney) where I first met Alistair and where the legend of Roaring Jack began. I started with “Framed” about the attempt to stitch up Tim Anderson for the Hilton Hotel bombing. A song that Roaring Jack famously played outside the courthouse, on the back of a truck in 40 degree heat, while the trial went on inside. The audience is settling in and in good voice and good pitch. Next was “Everyone I know” a song that perfectly describes the destabilizing effect of economic rationalism on the working class. “Whose job is next for the chop?” By this time the tent was full and so for another Roaring Jack song “Yuppietown” about the gentrification of Newtown and Balmain.
I introduce Martin Pearson and he goes on to recount some fond memories of Alistair. He describes an encounter that came down to a “greenie” and a “red” arguing politics all night. It sounded a bit like how I remember Alistair and I discussing affairs of state into the wee hours. Martin reflects that at least red and green are both nice colours and begins with the “The Swaggies have all waltzed Matilda away”. Next is “He fades away”, a beautiful song about a desperately tragic part of industrial and environmental history and the safety of workers from the worker’s wife’s perspective. Then to end his set on a cheery note it’s “Suicide Town”. It’s funny how it sometimes takes a great humourist like Martin to convincingly perform the most tragic and beautiful of songs.
Now it’s time for Graham Wilson. Graham confessed to me that he had only briefly met Alistair so I introduced him as the token Scot that should be there at any memorial for Ally. Graham is a consummate performer of traditional Scottish songs and this is where he has gotten to know Alistair far better than he thinks. When you begin to learn, memorize the words, and play Alistair’s songs you get very close to the heart of the man. “Among Proddy Dogs & Papes” is the grand start to Graham’s set followed by “Sons of Liberty”, and he finishes with “Ways of a Rover”.
I then introduced the amazing Danny Spooner. Danny launches into “Destitution Road” a song that is so well written that it works powerfully in whatever accompaniment is used. It was a big favourite for Roaring Jack fans and in Alistair’s solo performances as well. Danny uses his concertina to lead the 300 or so voices of the audience to sing this song from start to finish.
Recounting Alistair’s early songwriting history and their mutual respect for a local songwriter John Warner, Danny called Martin, myself and Graham back on to the stage to sing “Bring out the banners” It was a thrill and an honour to again share the stage with these great performers. Then in respect of Alistair, and the anthem that he always finished his set with, everyone was upstanding as we listened to Alistair sing the “Internationale” from a CD played through the public address system. We all joined in and sang along. It was an emotional finish to a wonderful hour that not only remembered some of Ally’s brilliant songs, but where we had the opportunity to pay tribute to the passionate and selfless life of Alistair Hulett.
It was a great privilege to be a part of this show and proud that it would be one of the many highlights of the 17th Cobargo Folk Festival.
Still Life: Tales from the West Bank
For Glasgow folk, the AHMT will be sponsoring this song and word presentation, on Saturday 9th June at the Govanhill Baths, 99 Calder street. Show begins 7.30 and admission is via donation. The 75 minute show performed by Karen Chalk and Penny Stone is based on our experiences as human rights observers with EAPPI in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Three months, two human rights observers and countless accounts of occupation distilled into an hour of song, story and image. The two women performing ‘Still Life’ volunteered with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI – www.eappi.org), working alongside Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers for three months. They lived in the villages of Jayyous and Yanoun in the northern West Bank, witnessing and experiencing everyday life in the occupied Palestinian territories. Catch a glimpse of the struggle and humour of village life under occupation.
News from the Alistair Hulett Memorial Trust (AHMT), UK
2011 saw the launch of the annual Song of Social Justice Award and the Social Justice Festival, an initiative in partnership with the Scottish Trades Council, details below. The winners of both initiatives can be seen at the Alistair Hulett Tribute Concert on the 28th January.
Scottish Trade Union Congress(STUC) Social Justice Festival
Wednesday 26 January will see the first showcase event of the joint Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC)/AHMT sponsored schools’ Songs For Social Justice songwriting festival. We have received 13 entries from 8 different schools, which is very encouraging given the tight timescale. The event will take place at the STUC headquarters in Glasgow with a panel, including Jerry Dammers (formerly of The Specials), who will give their input to the entrants after hearing recordings of their songs. AHMT members have run a number of song writing workshops in Glasgow schools over the last few months and all of these schools have entered songs.
The STUC have organised a DJ night later for participating students and their friends in Glasgow Barrowland including a set by Jerry Dammers. We hope these events will encourage more schools and students to take part in next years festival.
‘Connecting Classrooms’ British Council schools workshops
The AHMT is involved with delivering workshops as part of the ‘Connecting Classrooms’, a British Council initiative which aims to build lasting partnerships between schools in the UK and others around the world. The Trust has been working primarily in high schools in disadvantaged areas introducing the concept of songs for social justice through music from different genres to young people and assisting them to write songs on issues relevant to their lives. The project aims to get young people to see themselves as creators, and the idea that they can make a contribution and a difference and come to the understanding of the importance of protest songs and their power to agitate, organise and celebrate.
Artist Assistance Grant
The Trust was delighted to be able to award political singer songwriter, David Rovics a grant to assist him to travel to the various Occupy! encampment sites across the USA as part of his, ‘Occupy Tour’ project. For Dave’s tour dates visit www.davidrovics.com. The Trust welcomes applications by artists who require assistance to enable them to continue their professional practice. Details of the AHMT Artist Assistance Grants will be made available on the website shortly.
Message from the Chair, AHMT
Hi All, January once again and getting everything prepared for the 2nd Alistair Hulett Memorial Concert at Celtic Connections. The concert will take place at St Andrews in the Square on the 28th of January which is on the second anniversary of Alistair’s passing.
The concert in January 2011 was a great success and a sell out gig. Performing were Roy Bailey, Karine Polwart, James Fagan, Nancy Kerr, Dick Gaughan and Rory McLeod, with an opening set from Gavin Livingstone, Phil Snell and Jimmy Ross. It was truly a memorable night.
This year, back by popular demand are Karine Polwart and Roy Bailey who have become true friends and great supporters of the AHMT. Also performing are Dave Swarbrick and Ian Bruce. Dave Swarbrick and Alistair made a number of albums together and toured the UK, Germany and Australia. Ian Bruce is a great Scottish singer and songwriter and fine interpreter of the songs of Robert Burns and Scottish ballads.
Also performing with his band is Alasdair Roberts, a personal friend of Alistair and myself. If you have not heard of him before then you must check him out on Youtube. Ally and I were big fans of his work.
This year the AHMT set up a song competition, Songs for Social Justice requesting people to write a song of social justice and the response was amazing. We had 21 entries from all around the UK and the quality of the song entries were truly exceptional.
The songs were judged by AHMT patron Peggy Seeger along with Karine Polwart and Roy Bailey. The winning song entitled ‘Breaking the Silence’ by Penny Stone is available to listen to on the website www.alistairhulett.com. Penny will also be performing the winning song at the tribute concert and will collect the prize of £100. For more information and video links to the artists involved in the tribute concert visit:
My best wishes to all, John Hamill, Chair AHMT
News from the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund (AHMF), Australia
2012 is off to a great start with the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund achieving Donor Gift Recipient (DGR) status, which means that all donations to the Fund are tax deductible. We’re also delighted to announce the first two initiatives of the Fund: the establishment of the Songs for Social Justice Award and also the First CD Grant Program.
Songs for Social Justice Award (AUS)
Following the lead of the UK Trust, the Australian Fund will sponsor this national songwriting competition in Alistair’s memory as an annual event.
1. The competition is open to songwriters and musicians based in Australia and will focus on songs promoting equality and social justice.
2. The AHMF has recently been listed on the Australian Register of Cultural Organisations (ROCO). In applying for such recognition we defined social justice broadly as being “anti-discriminatory and egalitarian in seeking to achieve equal rights and opportunities for all people including the poor, the oppressed, the marginalised and excluded”.
3. Entries should be recorded on a CD with an accompanying lyrics sheet and sent to The Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund, PO Box 109, Glebe NSW 2037. Further information about the Award and conditions of entry will be available on the AHMF website at http://www.alistairhulett.com/the-alistair-hulett-memorial-fund/. The closing date for entries to be considered for the 2012 Award is 5 March 2012.
4. The entrant should be the owner of the intellectual property in both the words and the music and the song should not have been recorded previously.
5. The AHMF will appoint a select panel of judges from among experienced songwriters and singers and the Trustees will decide the award based on the panel’s advice. Several musicians who performed at the 2011 Alistair Hulett Tribute Concert at the National Folk Festival have indicated their willingness to assist the Fund by acting on a judging panel.
6. The award will include: performance of the song at the National Folk Festival (April 2012 in Canberra) to give the song profile; summary feedback from the judging panel to songwriters for all entries; a monetary grant to the award-winner for use in furthering dissemination of the song such as recording expenses; and a suitable certificate /plaque to mark the award.
First CD Grant Program
The Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund (AHMF) announces its ‘First CD Grant Program’ which offers small grants to assist musicians whose work has a social justice focus. The first round of awards begins in 2012.
• Aims: The aim of this program is to assist with the production of a first album (normally a CD) by a musician or musicians who have already written and performed but have not yet been able to publish and distribute their work. The awards are open to performers of all musical genres and cultural origins, however the music should have a significant social justice content. The music may, for example, promote equality, justice and diversity through music, it may include multi-cultural music, focus on indigenous people, asylum seekers and refugees, disabled people and the homeless or help promote other egalitarian values, consistent with the legacy of Alistair Hulett.
• Awards: The AHMF, on reviewing applications, will award one or more grants of between $3,000 and $5,000 each per year, to successful applicants. It is expected that these funds will go towards the publication and distribution of the indicated musical work, normally including the production of a CD. If this CD is commercially successful, we ask that you consider a voluntary donation to the AHMF, to help other musicians.
• Criteria & Process: Applications will be assessed by reference to their artistic quality and potential, and in relation to the values set out in the aims above. The AHMF will decide on applications after consideration by a panel which will include AHMF members and artistic advisers. Decisions of the AHMF are final. A short acquittal of the funds (accounts) will be required of each successful applicant, after their work is produced.
• Applications: Each application should include (i) a letter of up to three pages, explaining how the proposed work meets the program criteria and (ii) recorded samples (on CD or DVD) of up to three songs or performances. Applications will be received between May 1st (the opening date) and June 30th (the closing date) of each year. Decisions will be announced in August. Interested persons should send applications to: The Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund PO Box 109, Glebe, NSW 2037
Alistair Hulett Tribute Night, Celtic Connections 28th January 2012
The annual Alistair Hulett Tribute concert will be held at St Andrews in the Square Tickets can be obtained through www.celticconnections.com. Artists include Dave Swarbrick, Roy Bailey, Karin Polwart, Alasdair Roberts and Ian Bruce.
The Trust would like to thank Stewart Powles for his sterling efforts in the redesigning the new website. The site has proved to be highly popular with fans. www.alistairhulett.com
Australian Broadcasting Commission, (ABC) Radio Tribute 28th January 2012
At 5pm (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on January 28, 2012, the second anniversary of Alistair’s death, ABC Radio National’s ‘Into the Music’ will again run the hour-long tribute they first aired on November 27, 2010. More details about this program can found on Radio National’s website at http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/intothemusic/alistair-hulett-1951-2010-the-politics-and-the/3665494.
New ‘ Internationale’ T-shirts
New t-shirts featuring the international anthem of the working class, The Internationale will be available in the next few weeks. For advance orders, prices and style log onto the website www.alistairhulett.com. All proceeds go to the AHMT and the AHMF.
New pressings of old favourites
The double Roaring Jack CD featuring ‘Through the Smoke of Innocence’, ‘Cat Among the Pigeons’ and ‘Street Celtibility’ and the ‘Dance of the Underclass’ CD are now available for purchase. Payment can be made through Paypal and available from the website shop.
Donations and Benefit Concerts
Thank you to the Traditional Music and Song Association in Scotland and the Irvine Folk Club for holding a benefit for the Alistair Hulett Memorial Trust in October 2011. Thanks also to the performing artists Peter Nardini, George Boyd, Alasdair Roberts and Jimmy Ross and Findlay Alison.
Thank you to the Folk Federation of South Australia (and particularly Peter Rooke) for the wonderful Benefit Concert they held in May 2011 to raise money for the AHMF. Performers who generously gave their time and talent included: Eric Bogle, Danny Spooner, Bob & Margaret Fagan, Ken Stewart, Graham Wilson, Adrienne Lovelock and Peter Day.
From the Archives
Happy New Year and all best wishes for 2012 of course, but I am left wondering just where 2011 went! Things have been hectic indeed for the Trustees, and I have not advanced the Archive anything as much as I had hoped to do. So rather than pick a topic from the Archive, as in previous Rants, I thought I would spend a couple of paragraphs letting you know what I have in store for the coming year.
The Alistair Hulett website is looking great and working well, so my main task as Archivist will now be to establish on the site a webpage for the Archives to act as a central point of reference for all archival related content held elsewhere on the site, such as the Archived Documents page, the Song Book, and the Archived Posts area.
I also intend to carry on sorting and listing physical materials held in the archive, and to get these lists up on the Archive page as soon as possible. Please do remember to get in touch if you have any materials – in whatever format they may be – that you would like to lodge in the Archive.
During this year I want to start a programme of gathering oral testimony from people who knew and/or worked with Alistair in any area of his life. Oral testimony is being increasingly recognised as an important part of archival activity. Again, do please get in touch if you would like to be included in the project.
So, more of a manifesto of intent about plans for the coming year, rather than a look at materials in the Archive, but, unlike most of the politicians who knock out manifestos at this time of year, I will do my best to keep to mine!
Last month marked the first anniversary of Alistair’s death. In commemoration Celtic Connections, Scotland’s premier folk and roots festival, hosted a sold out tribute concert to Alistair and his music. Tribute events are being planned in Australia, see below for more details….
Celtic Connections Alistair Hulett Tribute Concert
Celtic Connections, ‘Tribute to Alistair Hulett’ concert took place at St Andrews in the Square on the 28th of January 2011. The concert was a sell out and raised considerable funds for the AHMT. The Trust would like to thank all the artists who took part and made the event such a memorable evening.
The tribute also launched the ‘Songs for Social Justice Award’. The Award for the ‘Song of Social Justice’ is open to songwriters and musicians from across the UK. The judges include Peggy Seeger, Roy Bailey and Karine Polwart. The winners of the award will perform at the 2012 Alistair Hulett Tribute Concert at Celtic Connections. Further information about the award will be posted on the website shortly.
Red Skirts on Clydeside film screening International Women’s Day, Glasgow 8th March 2011
Alistair’s song, “Mrs Barbour’s Army”, sung by Julie Anne McCambridge will feature in a film called, ‘In Red Skirts on Clydeside’ to be screened on the 8th of March at the Glasgow Film Theatre. The film recalls the year 1915, a year into the First World War, when landlords in Glasgow put up tenement rents. Women in Govan responded with a rent strike. In Red Skirts on Clydeside, the directors Jenny Woodley and Christine Bellamy chart the careers of Jean Ferguson, Mary Barbour and Helen Crawford Agnes Dollan through their involvement in the strike.
Twenty-seven years after the original film was made, Govan women reflect on their lives and roles by the Clyde in a unique collaborative women’s history film project led by filmmaker, Kirsten MacLeod, in association with Plantation Productions and the University of the West of Scotland.
The screenings will be followed by a panel discussion on women and the shipyards. For more information on the film contact the Producer & Director Kirsten Macloed on firstname.lastname@example.org. The original song, written and performed by Alistair, is featured on the album, ‘Red Clydeside’.
‘The Lassies of Neilston’
Women in East Renfrewshire, Scotland are organising an exhibition to celebrate the
100th International Womens Day on Saturday March 5th. The famous strike by women mill workers in Neilston 1911 will be celebrated along with Alistair’s song, ‘The Lassies of Neilston’, written in honour of the strike. For more information contact Rhona Leith email@example.com
‘Best Song of Social Justice’ -National Folk Festival Canberra Australia 21st-25th April 2011
In April, the National Folk Festival will inaugurate the Alastair Hulett Memorial Award for Best Song of Social Justice performed at the National Folk Festival. For more information contact the festival office www.folkfestival.asn.au
Folk Federation of South Australia’s Tribute Concert to Alistair Hulett 28th May 2011
The Folk Federation of South Australia will be staging a tribute concert to Alistair on the 28th May 2011. The legendary Eric Bogle will be headlining the concert along with other musicians including Peter Hicks, Danny Spooner (tbc) and the Fagans (tbc). Proceeds from the concert will go the AHMF. To find out more about the concert, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
From the Archives – Remembering Alistair
Tempus fugit indeed! It seems hardly possible that we have just marked the first anniversary of Alistair’s death. For this Gallow’s Rant piece I want to take a brief look at the archive materials mourning Alistair’s passing and celebrating his life. What is interesting is the wide range of media formats present, together with the sheer amount of materials generated; all of which bears testimony to the high regard and esteem in which Alistair was held.
It is of course entirely appropriate that many formal obituaries appeared in the mainstream press, such as the Scotsman and the Guardian, and also in music and politics related papers and magazines, both nationally and internationally. Very considerable and diverse materials have also been created on the internet, from Fatima’s brave e-mails charting Alistair’s illness and passing; to quite formal and full appreciations like that from David Rovics, Alistair’s friend and fellow singer/songwriter and activist; to streams and threads on social networking sites and websites such as Mudcat. All of these materials have been captured and stored. Then there are sound recordings and videos of concerts, such as, to highlight just a few, a recording of the magnificent memorial concert held in May last year at the Vanguard in Sydney, the Music Deli programme of Alistair’s music broadcast on Australia’s ABC National Radio just a week after his death, and Lea Redfern’s documentary about Alistair’s life and work broadcast last November also on ABC National Radio.
To this collection has now of course been added materials relating to the Memorial Concert held at St Andrew’s in the Square, Glasgow on the 28th January this year, including a soundtrack of the concert, a poster advertising the tribute CD Love, Loss and Liberty launched at the concert, and a copy of the CD itself.
It is clear that Alistair was deservedly highly respected and much loved. For me a quote from the internet site of LINKS : the International Journal of Socialist Renewal speaks volumes when it defines Alistair as “A truly great singer, songwriter, activist and socialist”.
John Powles, Archivist, Alistair Hulett Memorial Trust
Love, Loss and Liberty Tribute CD Out Now!
The Tribute CD featuring artists from across the world covering Alistair’s songs is out now. Featured artists include Sigaro/Banda Bassotti, June Tabor, David Rovics, Roy Bailey, Niamh Parsons amongst others. CD orders can be made via the www.alistairhulett.com shop.
The Folk Singer for Alistair Hulett (1951 – 2010)
He holds his guitar like a revolutionary banner He sings for the memory of martyrs in chains He sings for the truth with his eyes set on freedom He’ll sing for us all while injustice remains
Come brothers and sisters there’s a new day tomorrow The warm wind of freedom is sweeping the land The bosses and scabs have no power to defeat us Our line will stay strong if we all make a stand
He sings for the workers, oppressed and mistreated He sings for the innocent victims of war He sings on the streets and when there’s trouble you’ll find him On the picket line and the factory floor
So hold fast to the line and let’s link arms together We’ll sing out our message – we’ll fight and stand tall Here’s a song for a world where all people are equal Where there’s peace and respect and a fair go for all Where there’s peace and respect and a fair go for all
by Lance Walker
To stop receiving The Gallows Rant, just send us back a cheery ‘Please Delete Me, Let Me Go’. If you’ve had this newsletter forwarded by a friend and want future copies sent directly to your own inbox, send an email message with the subject line ‘Rush Me A Rant’ to email@example.com and be sure to include your country of residence for the sake of keeping the mailing list nice and tidy.
Please also visit the two Alistair Hulett websites at www.alistairhulett.com and www.folkicons.co.uk then drop into The Roaring Jack Archives on www.roaringjack.com
Next month on the 28th of January will mark the anniversary of Alistair death. In commemoration Celtic Connections, Scotland’s premier folk and roots festival, will be hosting a tribute to the Alistair and his music.
Celtic Connections, January 28,2011, Tribute to Alistair Hulett
Artists confirmed to appear are Roy Bailey, Dick Gaughan, James Fagan & Nancy Kerr, Karine Polwart, Rory McLoed plus special guests. Concert will be held at the Star Folk Club, St Andrews in the Square, G1 5PP, Glasgow. For tickets contact www.celticconnections.com.
We are delighted and proud to announce that Peggy Seeger, the legendary folk icon, has agreed to become the Patron of the Alistair Hulett Memorial Trust and Fund.
Alistair’s version of The Internationale performed by Alistair Hulett and Jimmy Gregory is now listed by the Australian National Film and Sound Archive, ‘for reasons that include its uniqueness, cultural significance, and as a record of Australian creative and technical achievement’.
Alistair Hulett 1951-2010: The Politics and the Poetry, was broadcast on November 27th on Into the Music, Radio National, ABC Radio, Australia.The show was produced by Lea Redfern and will shortly be available as a download from our website.
The revamped Alistair Hulett website, incorporating the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund and Trust will officially be launched on the 1st of January. Thank you all for your patience during this process. We are grateful to Phil Snell for his work on the site.
T-Shirts, Bags & Tea Towels on Sale
A ‘Roaring Jack Tribute to Alistair Hulett 2010′ t-shirt, a “Smoke of Innocence” cotton tote bag via the website.
Tea towels of Alistair’s adaption of Robert Burns song, ‘A Man’s a Man for a’ That’ for the Govanhill Baths campaign is available Money from the sale of the tea towels will be divided between the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund and the Govanhill Baths Community Trust.
Tribute CD to be Launched at Celtic Connections
A tribute CD of Alistair’s songs recorded by other artists will be launched at Celtic Connections at the Alistair Hulett Tribute Concert on January 28th 2011,‘traditions of resistance through struggle and song’. The CD includes covers from Sigaro from Banda Bassotti, June Tabor, Niamh Parsons, Handsome Young Strangers, Irish Rovers, Roy Bailey, James Fagan and Nancy Kerr, Rory McLoed amongst others.
Advanced orders can be made by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Archives
‘From the Archives’ will appear in each Gallows Rant and will focus on all aspects of Alistair’s work as captured in all sorts of ways – sound, vision and print.
Swimming Pool Carols!
A topical theme for the first dip into the archives curated by the Alistair Hulett Memorial Trust!
Songs were a very important tool in the campaign against the closure of Govanhill Swimming Pool, as indeed they are an integral part of any political campaign or activist movement; songs inform, educate, inspire, motivate, and help build solidarity.
I have selected from the Archive a copy of an e-mail media release dated Saturday 22nd December 2001, headed “Glasgow’s Govanhill Pool: Southside Against Closure”; the release advises that the “The Campaign Choir completes its Carol Singing sessions outside the Buchanan Galleries Shopping Mall on Sunday 23rd December” the lyrics for seven “carols”, all based on well known Christmas carols, are attached with the release; like so many good campaign songs they take a well known tune and adapt the words to suit the cause, so everyone can immediately join in from a lyric sheet – and the songs stick in the mind! The same technique had been used in creating songs throughout the campaign, starting with a basic handwritten sheet of 3 songs for the first vigil outside the Pool, followed by a more elaborate songbook of 17 songs published in April 2001, culminating in the publishing in September 2001 of the “Save Our Pool” CD with 24 songs (all of these items are held in the Archive).
The songs on the “carol sheet” range from This Cooncil Most Dreadful based on O, Come All Ye Faithful, via In a Posh Pairt O’ Glesga using the tune of Away in a Manager, to Twelve Days of Closure from Twelve Days of Christmas.
The media release makes clear that funds raised by the carol singing sessions will be used, in the true spirit of Christmas perhaps, more widely than solely for the Pool campaign – “fund raising with a particular aim at providing a soup kitchen in Govanhill on New Year’s Eve as well as helping to fund the continuing fight for Govanhill Pool.”
My own favourite – Storm the Doors based on Deck the Halls – illustrates the fact that the campaign was always about more than the swimming pool closure, and that it had a wider, very laudable, agenda of campaigning for social justice and reform; the song, without ever losing the all-important touch of humour, stirs the spirit with its evocations of days of Red Clydeside (which of course Alistair also did so much to make known to people via his Red Clydeside CD and concerts with Dave Swarbrick). I leave you with a couple of verses – sing along, and Season’s Greetings!
Fill the Square with waving banners
Teach wee Cherlie Gordon manners
Count the days to the election
Gie his mandate oor rejection
Kick the Cooncil up the backside
Celebrate the new Red Clydeside
John Maclean is here in spirit
His tradition we inherit.
Archivist, Alistair Hulett Memorial Trust
Folk in the Foothills, Sunday, October 17, 2010, Tribute to Alistair Hulett, starting at 5pm in the restaurant at Jamberoo Valley Lodge.
Celtic Connections, January 28, 2011, Tribute to Alistair Hulett
Artists confirmed to appear are Roy Bailey, Dick Gaughan, James Fagan & Nancy Kerr, Karine Polwart, Rory McLoed plus special guests. Concert will be held at the Star Folk Club, St Andrews in the Square, G1 5PP, Glasgow. For more information contact Celtic Connections.
Alistair’s version of The Internationale as recorded on ‘Dance of The Underclass’ will be used on an exciting new website based on the Paris Commune of 1871. The Internationale was originally written in that same year by Eugene Pottier in the aftermath of the Commune. Alistair’s version with more than 86,500 hits, can be viewed on YouTube. The Paris Commune site will contain a section on Pottier and specifically The Internationale. For more information contact Alan L. Stewart email@example.com.
Dave Swarbrick together with The Jason Wilson Band have recorded, ‘Proddy Dogs and Papes’, for their upcoming album. For more information contact http://www.jasonwilsonmusic.com
The band, Triskelion, have recorded a version of ‘Buy Us A Drink’ on their new CD, ‘Music on Fridays’, which is available for purchase and download from their website at www.triskelionmusic.com.
Pit Baeuml, of Heilbronn, Germany has translated Alistair’s song ‘New Age of the Fist’ into German and an MP3 recording is available from: www.kraniche-musik.de or www.alice-dsl.net/klaus-peterbaeuml
The Alistair Hulett Website is currently being reworked. Thank you all for your patience during this process. We are grateful to Phil Snell for his work on the site and to Linda Leib who was the previous designer.
Syndey, Memorial/Tribute at the Vanguard, 2 May 2010
The Memorial/Tribute to Alistair Hulett, organised at The Vanguard, 42 King Street, Newtown, was a magnificent event and a fitting tribute and celebration of Alistair’s life and musical legacy.
We wish to thank: Roaring Jack, Kate Fagan, Urban Guerillas, Sydney City Trash, Handsome Young Strangers, Hunter Owens, Martin Pearson, Wheelers & Dealers and Kate Delaney, Blind Man’s Holiday, Martin Pearson, Andy Carr and Tim Anderson. Special thanks to Steph Miller and Kate Fagan for their help in making the event possible.
A great review of this concert has been written by Gordon Mignot for Michael Hunter’s newsletter, Fiddlestix. In case you haven’t seen Fiddlestix before, it’s a terrific email newsletter, produced in Australia and aimed at fans of Fairport Convention and other related bands. For information contact Michael Hunter on firstname.lastname@example.org. The article will also appear shortly on www.alistairhulett.com. A DVD of the event will be also be available shortly to view and download from Alistair’s website.
Glasgow, Star Folk Club, 13 May 2010
The concert was a personal tribute to a man who was a dearly loved friend of the club. The event involved a group of people who have a long association with The Star – and who were also Alistair’s pals. Thank you to the Star, Mick West, Gavin and Claire Livingstone, Jim King, Ken & Trish Caird and John McCreadie, Toni Woods and Peter Nardini. The event raised £550 for the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund (see below).
German-speaking fans can find various articles about Alistair written by Eckhard Franke by logging onto: http://www.nuemmes.de/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogsection&id=14&Itemid=86
Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund
The Fund was officially launched at the Sydney Memorial/Tribute held on May 2 at The Vanguard in Sydney, Australia.
The Trustees of the Australian Fund are: Tim Anderson (Chair), Alison Hulett (Secretary), Ralph Rogers (Treasurer), Margaret Perrott and Bob Fagan. Contact:email email@example.com or write to The Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund, 3/2 Glen Street, Milsons Point, NSW 2061.
The Trustees of the UK Fund are: John Hamill (Chair), Fatima Uygun (Secretary), John Powles (Archivist) and Jimmy Ross. Contact: The Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund, 2/1, 66 Kenmure Street, Glasgow G412NR, Scotland.
The aim of the Fund is to:
· support, develop and nurture musicians involved in social justice issues; and
· support musicians in need.
This will be achieved through grants, donations, the presentation of concerts and recitals, and the production of recorded and published music. All future proceeds from the sale of Alistair’s CDs and merchandise, as well as royalties from his music, will go towards this Fund.
If anyone is interested in donating to this registered charity, please email Fatima Uygun at firstname.lastname@example.org. Further details of the Fund will shortly be available on www.alistairhulett.com.
A big thank you to Attila the Stockbroker, David Rovics and the Punters on their May tour and at Glastonwick for their donation of £200 towards the UK Fund.
And a huge thank you to Margaret Perrott, fan and friend of Alistair’s and Trustee of the Australian branch of The Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund for her donation of $20,000.
Merchandise on sale
A ‘Roaring Jack Tribute to Alistair Hulett 2010′ t-shirt is available for $20/£14 and a “Smoke of Innocence” cotton tote bag for $10/£8 by emailing email@example.com . Payment can be made via cheque/bank transfer or PayPal. Price includes postage.
Tea towels of Alistair’s adaption of Robert Burns song, ‘A Man’s a Man for a’ That’ for the Govanhill Baths campaign is available for $10/£8 including postage. Money from the sale of the tea towels will be divided between the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund and the Govanhill Baths Community Trust.
Alistair’s music on iTunes, Amazon and other download sites
Full albums and individual tracks from all of Alistair’s CDs (including some rare and out-of-print) are available for purchase/downloading on iTunes. All proceeds will go towards the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund.
There will be a documentary produced by Lea Redfern on Australia’s ABC National Radio on the life and music of Alistair Hulett. The program is due to air in November 2010, but the exact date will be published on www.alistairhulett.com as soon as it’s finalised.
Solo CD of unreleased tracks coming out soon
A solo CD of Alistair’s unreleased tracks spanning the last 10 years is currently being produced and will be available by early 2011. Check on www.alistairhulett.com for updates.
Tribute CD coming soon!
A tribute CD of Alistair’s songs recorded by other artists will be out early next year with a launch at Celtic Connections at the Alistair Hulett Tribute Concert on January 28th 2011, ‘Continuing traditions of resistance through struggle and song’. The CD includes covers from June Tabor, Niamh Parsons, Handsome Young Strangers, Irish Rovers, Roy Bailey, Rory McLoed, Sheena Wellington, Swing Guitars, Kate Fagan and more.
Advanced orders can be made by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
All proceeds will go towards the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund.
Alistair’s friends John Powles and John Hamill are compiling an archive of all audio, video, photographs etc. If you have anything you would like to add to this archive, please contact email@example.com or send to: John Hamill, 19 Millar Grove, Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland ML3 9BF, United Kingdom.
Thank you to Andy Carr from Roaring Jack Archives for his unstinting support and hard work on behalf of all Roaring Jack fans (www.roaringjack.com).
There’s one final Scottish gig to do before I leave Blighty behind for now though, and it’s this coming Saturday 15th at the well-loved and ever so small-but-friendly, Wee Folk Club at the Royal Oak in Edinburgh. I always really enjoy this intimate little venue and it generally fills to capacity most nights during Edinburgh Festival. That’s around 30 souls if everyone hudges up, so ‘wee folk club’ means exactly what it says in this case. The show kicks off at 8pm but it pays to be there early to beat the house full sign. Thirty in is ‘maximum numbers’ at this venue, and being part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it will probably manage to get that many along on Saturday.
The trip over to OZ isn’t exactly a ‘tour’ as such this time, more an extended visit with a few weekend gigs chucked in here and there. First of those is at The Harp Hotel in Sydney on Saturday 29th August. My ‘welcome back to Oz show’ this will be and I’m hoping to see a goodly bunch of Gallows Rant readers and Roaring Jack veterans along at this one.
Other booked dates include two festivals, Majors Creek Folk Festival (NSW) in October and Folk in the Foothills, near Jamberoo (NSW), in November. There is also a three gig stint in Melbourne in November too, beginning with a night at the Lomond Hotel in East Brunswick on November 19th, ‘Traditions Of Resistance’ at the University of Melbourne’s 1888 Bar on the 20th and Melbourne Folk Club at The Grand View Hotel in West Brunswick on the 21st.
Hopefully some other venues in towns around the place will be added to this list before long, but the cut-off date for the schedule is already locked in, with a couple of Early December ‘Farewell Shows’ in cahoots with the excellent Sydney band Wheelers And Dealers. We will be performing twice as a double-header show, doing one set apiece before we join forces for a longish bracket of songs together, culled mostly from the latest album with my UK band The Malkies, ‘Suited And Booted’. That one’s out on Limbo records and available by mail order worldwide from www.themalkies.co.uk or from Four Dogs Music at www.fourdogsmusic.com by the way.
The first of these ‘farewell gigs’ will be on Saturday 4th of December at Hotel Gearin in Katoomba up in the Blue Mountains. Next day, on Sunday Dec. 5th, we are at The Harp in Sydney – and that will almost certainly be my last show in OZ before I head back to Blighty in time for Xmas. You can check out the mighty Wheelers And Dealers via their website at www.wheelersanddealers.com.au
Details of these gigs and others will be appearing ASAP in the gig list on my own website at www.alistairhulett.com Anybody wanting to set up a gig in their locality can contact me via that site as well. Hopefully we can work something out, but it’s a ‘weekends only’ affair on this visit for the most part. From Monday to Friday I’ll be pursuing my ‘other vocation, as a ‘Bush Regenerator’ with the National Trust. That’s a sort of professional woodlands preservation worker, for anyone unfamiliar with the more colourful, Aussie name for the job.
So, that’s an up-to-the-minute summary of what I’ll be up to musically over the coming months, folks. Hoving into view on the horizon next year will be some touring with The Malkies in Britain and Ireland and a solo tour of Italy, well Rome and nearby surrounding parts really, as well. And I’ll also be taking part in a full-cast performance of the word and song tribute ‘Ewan MacColl And The Politics Of The British Folk Revival’ at Plockton Song Festival here in Scotland. But I’ll write more of all that closer to the time. For now, Australia beckons and my last gig in Scotland for a few months is just one day away, on Saturday night. That’s the morra!!! Jings, crivvens, help ma boab!!!! ‘Sufficient unto the day’ and all that kinda thing…
That’s it for now, folks!!
Orra verra best,
Welcome to another Gallows Rant, and sadly once again, it feels mandatory to begin by offering up some condolences and concern. After such a fine time recently touring round Australia with my musical comrade and pal, David Rovics, I’ve been watching with alarm as parts of that country where we so recently enjoyed wonderful warmth and hospitality are being televised in flames and no sign yet of much respite. To all in our folk music community, who’ve been affected by this tragic wave of bushfires, please add mine to the many other expressions of sympathy that have been flowing out from all parts of the world over the past few weeks.
Meanwhile back here in Britain, yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the NUM-led Miner’s Strike in 1984. There’s been loads of great archived newsreel coverage, interviews on the wireless and telly with veterans of the picket lines and a general media consensus that Thatcher and her mob of Tory thugs were bang out of line with all the boundaries of basic human decency. Strange though, seeing a BBC that was so biased and hostile at the time, swinging right around now and painting itself as the champion of ‘the common
folk in struggle’. The footage of the police bashing unarmed strikers at Orgreave still sends a chill of revulsion through the brain. As one old boy said on the telly yesterday, the cops have much to be forgiven for. Twenty-five years ago, maybe, but it feels like yesterday!
Sure, it ended in defeat at the time but the effect it’s having in the present is to further fuel the growing anger. Once again workers and their families are being made to pay for the bosses’ recession. State owned enterprises that show a profit are privatised while private institutions that go belly up get nationalised. Let’s hope the lessons from that don’t go unnoticed by our side!
A few weeks ago I was performing with fellow Malkie muso, Phil Snell, at The Oak Folk Club in Wiltshire and we heard a fantastic song about the Battle Of Orgreave, performed by its author Henry Clements. Henry has a Myspace site with the ballad in question posted up on it. Here’s the link if you want to hear the song and a bunch of other fine compositions as well.
I’ve got a number of gigs coming up soon that need the customary heads-up, although nearly everything on the gig list is in or around the Scottish Central Belt in the coming months, with one notable exception, of course. Apologies to those who can’t overcome the tyranny of distance to be there, but in order of occurrence nevertheless, here we go…
On Wednesday 11th of March I’ll be doing a solo stint at thon infamous home of cocktails and aperitifs, The Scotia Bar right here in Glasgow. This is a folk venue with a long and distinguished history, much of which you can discover on the pub website at http://scotiabar.net/history.html I think you’d have to agree that not many ‘howfs’ around the world promote themselves as having been a refuge from ‘famine and landlord’s brutality’ but Glasgow’s kinda good like that, I guess. The show kicks off at 8pm and will hopefully conclude with a come all ye, open mic session before last orders. Best of all, its free to get in! Directions for pilgrims and visitors appear on the aforementioned website, but it’s just around from The Saltmarket, nearby to the Gallowgate, if you’re coming by Shanks’s pony.
Later in the month, on March 26th, I’m back in harness with my comrade in politics and song, Jimmy Ross, at the startlingly named Water Sports Club in Irvine, Ayrshire, for the a performance of the most recent in our series of word and song, social history extravaganzas. Complete with PowerPoint images (it was called a magic lantern show back when I was a nipper) and a swag of much loved songs on the set list, this episode is titled ‘Ireland – A History Of Struggle In Song’ and it does precisely what the moniker suggests.
From the Rebellion of 1798 and the Easter Rising and the Troubles in the early part of the 20th century to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and finally up to the recent days of ‘Reconciliation’, we’ll be singing from the canon of wonderful resistance songs and celebrating those who made them famous. The Clancys, Behans and Dubliners all get a ‘ganzie’ of course, but some more recent troubadours of the struggle, including The Pogues and Stiff Little Fingers, don’t go unremarked upon either.
As usual, it’s an 8pm start, with the show proudly sponsored by the Third Thursday Ayr Session, the Campaign To Welcome Refugees and Ayrshire CND. All your other details and directions can be found at The Footstompin Celtic Music forum via
Onto April then, when The Mad Nanny Folk Club in Letchworth will be presenting a scaled down version of my current band The Malkies, with Phil Snell on mandolin and lap steel and myself on vocal and guitar duties. It’s mainly stuff from the latest band album Suited And Booted we’ll be doing, of course, and we go by the subtitle ‘The Wee Malkie’, just to distinguish ourselves from the big, full, five piece production. It still sounds dead good though, I reckon, and Phil and I always have a thoroughly brilliant time playing together.
The date for that is April 8th and all your necessary fab fax ‘n’ info can be found via the club’s website at www.madnanny.co.uk or else, of course, by visiting The Malkies Official Website at www.themalkies.co.uk where you’ll also find sample tracks from the album, short biogs, reviews, posters and some nice snaps of the band onstage. There’s a link to some video clips up there as well and a magic box to click on for ordering mail order copies of Suited And Booted, out now on the Limbo Label.
On the subject of The Malkies, we are delighted to announce we have proper representation at last; so more gigs for the whole band will hopefully be getting flagged up fairly soon. Jason Smith is our lovely agent’s name, proud presenter of the JMS Concerts at the Fraser Centre in Milngavie near Glasgow and a fearless champion of fine acoustic music. Visit JMS Concerts at http://www.myspace.com/jmsconcerts or contact Jason Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org to book either The Malkies (five piece) or The Wee Malkie (Ally and Phil).
Back to the gig list and forward to the Merry Month of May, when there’s four shows in the diary to help keep me sane. First up is May 3rd at Girvan Folk Festival in Ayrshire, where I join with Jimmy Ross and fiddle maestro Finlay Allison to celebrate International Pete Seeger Day with our word and song tribute ‘Which Side Are You On? – The Life And Times Of Pete Seeger’.
Pete turns ninety on the day and his fans and friends all over the world will be waving the red flag and cheering him on as he heads for a century of living a life devoted to the struggle for peace and equality – and all the while winning successive generations over to his wonderful music and songs. We are doing our bit to Celebrate Pete Seeger at 2pm on Sunday 3rd May ‘doon the watter’ in sunny Girvan, ‘home of the truly spectacular fish supper’ – and http://www.girvanfolkfestival.co.uk/ is the festival link for bookings.
Wednesday April 20th finds me in concert at The Centre For Political Song at Caledonian University in Glasgow, with visiting legends of political poetry and song Attila The Stockbroker from Brighton UK and David Rovics from the USA. Also joining us on the bill is Fiona Keegan. This is an early evening gig and the best way to be sure of getting in okay is to email the Centre manager John Powles at email@example.com and visit the website at www.caledonian.ac.uk/politicalsong/global/contactmaps/index.html for directions. This gig is being provided free of charge by The Centre For Political Song, by the way, and is just one more reason for giving this great facility all the support it so richly deserves. Details for becoming a ‘friend’ of the Centre For Political Song are on the website, too.
On Saturday 23rd May I’ll be on my lonesome again for a solo set at The Edinburgh World Justice Festival Book Fair. This all-day event takes place in St Augustine’s Church and there will be talks and poetry sessions throughout the day and evening, with musicians, including yours faithfully, from 5 till 9pm. And of course, there’ll be lots of great books to buy and excellent food to enjoy as well. Visit the EWJF Website at www.ewjf.org.uk to watch that one grow.
Finally on April 30th, with generous support from the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland (TMSA) I’ll be at Partick Folk Festival in Glasgow for a trio performance of ‘Ewan MacColl And The Politics Of The British Folk Revival’. This will be part of a whole afternoon dedicated to the seminal work of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger at Partick Festival.
Opening up will be Peter Cox, author of ‘Set into Song – Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker, Peggy Seeger and the Radio Ballads’, a wonderful new book about the making of these trail blazing social and musical documentaries in the1960s. For more information about Peter and his book, visit www.setintosong.co.uk or better still, come along and here him speak about the Radio Ballads at Partick Festival from 2pm.
John Powles, manager of The Centre For Political Song is the nephew of Sam Larner, principal informant for the best known and most highly awarded Radio Ballad, ‘Singing The Fishing’. Ewan’s song The Shoals Of Herring was directly based on Sam’s life and he was a devastatingly fine singer of traditional songs in his own right, as well. John will be delivering a short profile of his uncle, the great Sam Larner, to compliment Peter’s exposition on the Radio Ballads. Both these performances are not to be missed!
To finish off the afternoon, Peter Cox, standing in as co-narrator for the absent Jimmy Ross (Jimmy’s away on holiday) joins Finlay Allison and myself for a performance of ‘Ewan MacColl And The Politics Of The British Folk Revival’. MacColl was a life-long, committed communist and was kept under surveillance for much of his artistic career by MI5. His political views and affiliations had a huge influence on the songs he wrote and performed along with his partner Peggy Seeger, and this show focuses on the politics behind some of Ewan and Peggy’s best loved compositions and celebrates their immense contribution to the Folk Music Revival in Britain.
I am greatly indebted to Peter Cox for agreeing to deputise for Jimmy Ross in the narration of this tribute show and to Finlay Allison for providing fiddle and mandolin accompaniment. Thanks as well to the TMSA and Partick Folk Festival for making the performance possible.
So, there you go folks, that’s me up to date for now with the springtime bookings. All these gigs are listed on my website, of course, at www.alistairhulett.com Do please pay it a visit and be sure to say hello if you make it along to any of the venues and shows I’ve been banging on about.
Mind how you go and orra best,
Just one last Gallows Rant and quick news update before Me Onma Lonesome and my good chums in The Malkies and David Rovics (USA) launch our frail and tiny crafts onto the stormy waters of Showbiz together once more. It’s a howling blizzard of gigs we have ahead of us, me hearties, and there’s no let up till we hit 2009. This is a situation I’d surely love to be much more accustomed to than I am!
But right now though, there’s little time for anything but what’s in store, so without further ado, this is the low down…
Next weekend, that’s September 20th and 21st I’ll be down in West Yorkshire at the Otley Black Sheep Music Festival www.otleyfolkfestival.com just outside of Leeds. On Saturday 20th I’ll be doing my solo thing on an afternoon concert at The Civic Hall along with fab young blades Kerfuffle and the wonderful Chumbawumba.
On the very next day, Sunday 21st, I’ve got a couple more festival gigs with my lovely new band The Malkies, also in Otley Civic Hall. In the afternoon we’re on with Coope, Boyes and Simpson and that night with Vin Garbutt. So, there will be plenty of good times in Otley for us over that weekend, by gum. Our very dear, special guest harmony vocalist extraordinaire, Rachel Goodwin is doing a solo set at the Festival as well, in Korks Cabaret Bar on Thursday 19th. Do get along and see why the rest of us Malkies rate her so very highly. Miss that gig at your peril! Rach also joins us on stage for our evening show on Sunday 21st at The Civic.
On October 4th I’m back down Yorkshire way to team up again with The Malkies (including Rachel) for a gig at The Red Shed in Wakefield. This venue does exactly what its name implies. It IS red and it IS a shed! The Red Shed is in fact the official home of all progressive groups and tendencies in militant Wakefield, a town that shone like a beacon during the Miners Strike in ’84. The venue has two websites, one being in its official capacity as Wakefield Labour Club at www.theredshed.com and the other is the unofficial anarcho/commie punk and folk site at http://redshedbootlegged.bravehost.com/gigs.html I played there a while back with Jimmy Ross and it’s a cracking good shed for a night out, so it is.
On the following night, Sunday 5th, The Malkies (full squad) will be at The Cumberland Arms in Byker, Newcastle for a gig that promises to be a pure stoater as well. Organized for us by the bold Craig Wilson from the Anarchist Festival ‘Projectile’, we began speaking ages ago about getting the band on at the Star And Shadow Cinema where that fine festival took place a few months and a couple of newsletters ago. With no suitable dates available there, Craig has relocated the whole cunning plot to The Cumberland Arms, so huge thanks to him for doing that. Visit the pub’s website at www.thecumberlandarms.co.uk for all the details and directions you need.
Hot on the heels of those two gigs, I’ll be heading out with fellow Malkie, Phil Snell, for a string of gigs around Germany. The first of these is at The Weltruf in Kiel on October 9th and it all winds up on the 18th at The Kulturbahnhof in Moerfelden. All these gigs are listed on my website at www.alistairhulett.com and I’m hoping to see a fair few dear pals from previous jaunts in Germany at some of the venues coming up over there.
Of particular interest to me, as a big fan of Glasgow Celtic FC (fitba’ club), is our gig on Oct 10th at The Jolly Roger Bar, home-fans’ drinking howf of Celtic’s sister team in Hamburg, the legendary St Pauli FC. I’m already brushing up on my arrangements of some auld Parkheid Classics for that night, even as we speak. Seriously though, folks, the gigs are looking great and huge thanks to my good friends and staunch comrades Hubert Barteska, Chrischan Berg and Eckhard Franke for working so hard and selflessly to set this all up for us.
Not long after we get back I’ve got just one solo gig in Glasgow, on November 5th starting right after the Celtic v Man U home game, just down the road from Paradise at the famous Scotia Bar (celebrated nerve centre of political folk music in Glasgow during the 1960s) in the Saltmarket. A few days later I’ll be heading out with David Rovics (USA) for a six-week tour of New Zealand and Australia, beginning in Katikati in ENZED on November 14th. Really though, that’s all a full Gallows Rant on its own, so just let me say for now that the NZ and Oz gigs are displayed on the website and I’ll send more details in another newsletter closer to the time. ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’, as our cheery brethren of the cloth and book are fond of reminding us. I’m out for here, so tatty-bye for now!