Roaring Jack Articles - Robert Dunstan Interviews Alistair Hulett

Alistair Hulett and Dave Swarbrick by Robbie D [Robert Dunstan],

Originally published in Rip It Up, issue no. 470, February 1998. Thank you Robert for permitting me to reproduce it here.

In August of ’96, Scots-born singer songwriter and guitarist Alistair Hulett (formerly singer and main writer with now legendary Sydney-based folk thrash band Roaring Jack, whose motto was ‘Slam Dance Play Loud’) returned to his native land armed with a trio of solo acoustic albums and a strong musical partnership forged in this country with fiddle player extraordinaire Dave Swarbrick, a founding member of British folk rock legends Fairport Convention. The illustrious duo have now returned for a quick Australian tour before returning to the UK to promote a newly recorded album, The Cold Grey Light Of Dawn.

"We based ourselves in Herefordshire for a year," Alistair says when asked about overseas happenings over the last 12 months, "and I did a big tour with Swarbs, and we also recorded a new album just before we came away."

The Cold Grey Light Of Dawn will be on sale here at gigs - as (hopefully) will be the earlier Dance Of The Underclass, In The Back Streets Of Paradise and Saturday Johnny & Jimmy The Rat (the latter recorded in Sydney with Swarbs) - but will not see release in the UK until the pair return to tour. In fact Aly, now Glasgow-based, has a solo engagement lined up only two days after he leaves Australia.

Yeah, I do a gig in Edinburgh, and then Swarbs and I do a big UK tour which includes some folk festivals - Walton, Lincoln and Chippenham Festivals - as well as lots of arts centres and folk club gigs," he says, adding that Swarbs much prefers club gigs.

"He’s not a big fan of folk festivals," Aly whispers. "He doesn’t see them as a good platform for what we do. Dave much prefers to play ‘a venue’ rather than ‘a big tent’ [laughs].

"And we both go our own ways as well," he adds. "Dave does his own stuff and I do some solo tours, and I’m also going to be playing with some musicians in Glasgow when I get back. But working with Swarbs is likely to be an on-going thing."

As well as including half a dozen new songs, The Cold Grey Light Of Dawn also includes re-recorded acoustic versions of such Roaring Jack faves as ‘The Day The Boys Came Down’ and ‘The Swaggies Have All Waltzed Matilda Away’ along with new readings of ‘Suicide Town’ and ‘Among Proddy Dogs & Papes’ from the singer’s Dance Of The Underclass solo debut.

"Those songs are still part of my solo repertoire," Aly explains. "And as I’m now performing them in an acoustic version rather than an electric version with The Jacks, people have asked to have them in that format. They’re still my babies [laughs] and I like them to have a good home.

"’Swaggies’ was a song Dave was really keen to record with me and it’s the one we always finish off with when we play together," he adds.

Alistair, well-known for his left-wing political and social views, has now seen his compositions recorded by such highly influential folk artists as Roy Bailey ("He’s now looking at a couple of others to record and I told him perhaps I’d think about it," the singer laughs), The Irish Rovers and June Tabor, while Irish legend Andy Irvine recently recorded ‘He Fades Away’ for his next album.

"And a band called Gava which has [Irish songstress] Mary Black’s brother in the group, has recorded ‘Song Of A Drinking Man’s Wife’ but listed it on the album as a traditional piece [laughs].

"But I think that’s a compliment," Alistair concludes with a chuckle.

Don’t miss Alistair Hulett & Dave Swarbrick when they play The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel on Friday Feb 13.

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