'Alistair Hulett' by Robert Dunstan (Rip It Up, February 2001). Thank you Robert for permitting me to reproduce it here.
Many years ago there was a band from Sydney town known as Roaring Jack who’d frequently come to Adelaide and blast audiences with their highly energetic, Coopers- charged blend of thrashy punk and folk. With the motto, ‘slam dance play loud’, they highlighted such fine originals as Yuppie Town, The Day The Boys Came Down, Destitution Road and Plains Of Maralinga as well as tossing in tunes by Billy Bragg and The Pogues. They eventually disbanded leaving behind assorted vinyl offerings, a couple of CDs and many, many great memories.
Lead singer and songwriter Alistair Hulett then worked with Jimmy Gregory as The Hooligans before he embarked on an acoustic solo career which eventually led him back to his native Scotland. He is now back in this country for a solo tour armed with a new album. Now Glasgow-based, Alistair has released several albums (The Cold Grey Light Of Dawn, Dance Of The Underclass, In The Back Streets Of Paradise and Saturday Johnny & Jimmy The Rat) and also linked up with English fiddle legend Dave Swarbrick (who along with Richard Thompson was a member of British folk rock band Fairport Convention).
The pair are currently working on another album which will feature the Dave Swarbrick Folk Orchestra.
"It’s a fairly ambitious project," Ally revealed. "Dave has a small home studio and whereas in the past we’ve recorded pretty much live, we’ve now recorded my guitar and voice and then Swarbs is going to overdub fiddle, mandolin, cello, bass violin and viola. So it’s taking a long time to finish.
"But we have to have it done before we go out on an English tour in May and July." Meanwhile, Alistair also has a new solo album, In Sleepy Scotland. "It’s a collection of mainly traditional ballad that presents a picture of industrial Scotland in the 19th century and is something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time," he explained. "And it was nice to record some old songs that had already been written rather than having to come up with some new ones. Some of those old Scottish ballads are also a part of my live repertoire and a huge influence on my own writing."
The album takes its title from that bygone era.
"In the 19th century there was a movement in England that wrote off the Scottish working class as being too habituated with alcohol and too against Imperialism to be of much use," Ally stated. "So it was from out of sleepy Scotland that a revolt called Red Clydeside erupted. That was led by Scottish Socialist John MacLean, so I read every book I could lay my hands on about him."
Alistair has now had his songs covered by many of the UK’s leading folk figures with no less than June Tabor having recorded ‘He Fades Away’ alongside songs by Richard Thompson and Elvis Costello.
"And [Irish folk legend] Andy Irvine has recorded ‘He Fades Away’," Ally said. "[British folk icon] Roy Bailey has also recorded ‘He Fades Away’ twice. It’s on a studio album of his - that’s a beautiful version - and also on a live album.
"And an Irish band which has [Irish songstress] Mary Black’s brother in the group, has recorded ‘Song Of A Drinking Man’s Wife’ [aka ‘No Half Measures’] and listed it on their album as a traditional piece [laughs].
"But I’ll take that as a compliment," Ally chuckled.
"And Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, Eliza Carthy’s partner, have recorded that song as well," he added.
Fans of Roaring Jack will be pleased to know that Ally still includes some of that band’s signature songs in his live shows.
"I still think of those songs as my babies," he declared. "How could I not do them?"
Alistair Hulett plays the Governor Hindmarsh on Wed Feb 28 supported by The Trade Union Choir.
For more information on Ally go to www.folkicons.co.uk and for information on John MacLean visit www.workersliberty.org/activity/fractions/scotland/maclean.html
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