Alistair Hulett 1951-2010
By Nick Everett
On January 28, 2010, singer, songwriter and socialist Alistair Hulett died from cancer at just 58 years old. I recall first seeing Hulett perform at the Sandringham Hotel, in Newtown, Sydney, in 1989. His band, Roaring Jack, which performed regularly at the “Sando”, had become legendary as one of the best left-wing political bands on the Australian pub scene in the 1980s, fusing folk and punk culture in a chorus of rebellion.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Hulett and his family moved to New Zealand in 1968. There he established a reputation on the folk circuit. Three years later, at the age of eighteen, Hulett moved to Sydney, where he continued to perform fold ballads. In 1979 he joined a Sydney punk/rock band, the Furious Chrome Dolls.
In 1985 Hulett co-founded the five-piece band Roaring Jack, which combined rocking Celtic reels with radical and revolutionary lyrics. Their first album, Street Celtabillity, was released in 1986 and reached No. 1 on the local indie charts.
By the time the second album, The Cat Among The Pigeons, was released in 1988 the band was playing all over Australia, and opened for overseas acts including Billy Bragg, the Pogues, and the Men They Couldn’t Hang.
Offering their talents for many fundraising concerts, the band performed at gigs to support the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody campaign, the NSW Builders Labourers Federation-led strike/occupation at Cockatoo Island dockyard in 1989, and community radio station Skid Row.
In 1989, Hulett and Roaring Jack played outside Sydney’s Long Bay jail in support of the campaign to free Tim Anderson. Hulett wrote a song about Anderson’s frame up for the Hilton bombing, called Framed. The campaign to free Anderson was ultimately successful with his three convictions for murder being overturned and a royal commission into police corruption in NSW being launched.
After the release in 1989 of their third album, Through The Smoke of Innocence, Roaring Jack broke up. Two years later, Hulett released a solo CD, Dance of the Underclass. Completely acoustic, with contributions from other members of Roaring Jack, the album marked a return to folk music. This CD featured the song, “He Fades Away”, describing the painful death of a Wittenoom miner from asbestosis.
The CD also featured the song “Plains of Maralinga”, telling the story of British nuclear testing on Aboriginal land. In the Backstreets of Paradise, released in 1994, returned to the punk-style of Roaring Jack and many of the songs from this album were performed in concerts and folk festivals around the country by the Hooligans, an acoustic outfit formed by Hulett.
This album featured the song “Good Morning Bougainville”, written in support of the traditional landowners of Bougainville who faced off against mining giant CRA (which owned the Bougainville copper mine), the PNG “defence” force and the Labor government in Australia.
In 1995, Hulett and Dave Swarbrick compiled a collection of Celtic folk songs in the album Saturday Johnny and Jimmy The Rat. This work forged a lasting musical partnership and the two performed a hugely successful Australian tour later that year. After touring extensively in the UK, the two returned to Australia for another successful tour and recorded their second album together, The Cold Grey Light of Dawn. The musical partnership also saw Hulett return to his birthplace, Glasgow.
The album Red Clydeside recorded folk ballads inspired by the working class unrest on the Clyde between 1915 and 1920. Most recently, Hulett joined with several Yorkshire based musicians to form a five-piece, semi-electric band called The Malkies. The band released their debut album, Suited And Booted, in 2008.
Hulett was committed to the cause of revolutionary socialism for most of his life, always willing to throw his support behind the struggles of working people. Following the Gulf War in 1991, he joined the International Socialist Organisation in Sydney. Shortly before his return to Glasgow, in 1995, he left the ISO and became a founding member of Socialist Alternative.
Upon his return to his native Scotland, Hulett joined the UK Socialist Workers Party and, with his comrades in the SWP, joined the Scottish Socialist Party soon after, remaining a member of the SSP for several years.
In December 2008 and January 2009, Hulett toured Australia with American folk performer, David Rovics. Late last year, Hulett returned to perform his last concerts in Australia. These tours provided an opportunity for Hulett to renew his links with the Australian left, playing fundraising concerts for both Green Left Weekly and Socialist Alternative.
“Ally”, as his comrades and friends knew him, will be sorely missed. He is survived by his partner of 17 years, Fatima Uygun, his sister Alison and his parents.