Alistair Hulett - Live Review

Alistair Hulett live at the Harp, Tempe NSW, 5 April 2002

Just a couple of suburbs south of Newtown, where Roaring Jack made its mark in the late 1980s, is the venue for tonight’s gig. The Harp is one of those Irish theme pubs, but it’s not as O’Donald’s as many others I could mention. I had hoped to catch up with a lot of old Roaring Jack fans tonight, but I don’t see anyone I recognise. It might have something to do with the cover charge ($20), a little more than expected. Later, I will realise that Alistair Hulett’s performance tonight has been worth every cent.

Jenny Fitzgibbon kicks off proceedings with a selection of songs ancient and modern, performed unaccompanied. Jenny is based in the Northern Territory but is a regular at festivals such as last weekend’s National Folk Festival in Canberra. Her voice, she says, is a little worse for wear following the festival season, but she still manages to captivate the audience with some excellent material. I especially like the song which parodies Eric Bogle’s ‘Green Fields of France’, lamenting the way Bogle’s classic song has been done to death in folk clubs the world over.

This is the first time I’ve seen Alistair Hulett since his 1998 tour with Dave Swarbrick, and the first time I’ve seen him play solo in about seven years. He opens with an old Roaring Jack song, ‘In the Days of ‘49’ and already I remember that Alistair loves to chat between songs. He apologises for a throat infection – although his vocals sound as perfect as ever – and asks that smokers take their business outside tonight. Fine by me!

I learn a lot tonight. To be honest, I am not too familiar with the story of John MacLean (except for the Hamish Henderson song ‘John MacLean’s March’, which Alistair recorded in 1994). But Red Clydeside, the latest album by Alistair Hulett and Dave Swarbrick, is all about the life and times of this Glaswegian socialist and of other heroes of the World War I era Glasgow. Ally plays a few choice cuts from the album tonight, and explains their meaning (and the Glaswegian dialect used in his songs) in great detail. Some of these songs are truly anthemic. Already I can count ‘Mrs Barbour’s Army’ and ‘Don’t Sign Up for War’ among Hulett’s best ever songs. With their infectious and impassioned quality, I can easily imagine the hammering these tunes would have received from Roaring Jack!

And the Roaring Jack fans would not be disappointed tonight. Alistair plays solo versions of some of the band’s finest material, such as ‘Among Proddy Dogs and Papes’, ‘Destitution Road’, ‘The Ways of a Rover’ and ‘Lads of the BLF’. Played solo, the songs take on a new dimension. As does Alistair’s guitar playing, which was always drowned out by those dreadfully noisy electric instruments in the Roaring Jack days! His percussive picking style creates a decent amount of noise in itself, and I find myself virtually headbanging along to this man’s acoustic guitar playing.

Don’t pass up the opportunity to see Alistair Hulett if he plays anywhere near your town. He never fails to inspire with his fiery guitar playing, impassioned vocals and intelligent commentary.

(Only the first and last songs are listed in the correct order!)

In the Days of ’49
Don’t Sign Up for War
Destitution Road
Mrs Barbour’s Army
Among Proddy Dogs and Papes
The Ballad of 1975
John MacLean’s March
The Ways of a Rover
Blue Murder / He Fades Away
Behind Barbed Wire
The Granite Cage
The Siege of Union Street
Lads of the BLF
Saturday Johnny and Jimmy the Rat
The Internationale

Roaring Jack Home