Tribute to Alistair Hulett 1951-2010
Singer, Songwriter and Activist
I first heard Alistair Hulett and his startling fusion of punk/rockabilly/Celtic folk in a Sydney pub sometime in 1980.
Alistair moved from Glasgow to New Zealand in 1968. where he quickly became known in the folk music scene for his interpretation of the big narrative ballads.
He came over to Australia a few years later, making his way round the folk clubs and festivals before going bush for several years. It was while in the bush that he began to write his own songs.
In 1979 the Australian punk movement was in full swing. And so was Alistair Hulett.
I had been meaning to make a tribute to Alistair Hulett for some months and, on Monday 25 January 2010, I heard he was ill. On Tuesday I started to put this page together.
Alistair died on Thursday, January 28
Alistair's first solo CD, was recorded in 1991. Completely acoustic, it was instantly hailed as a folk classic and marked Alistair's return to the folk fold. His position as one of the most influential musicians on the Australian scene was now beyond dispute. Dance Of The Underclass
In the UK his song, "He Fades Away", was picked up by Roy Bailey, then June Tabor and later by Andy Irvine. All three performers recorded uniquely different but thoroughly compelling interpretations of the song.
In 1995 Alistair compiled a collection of songs that owed little to punk and everything to the folk revival that inspired him in the sixties. Saturday Johnny and Jimmy The Rat was originally intended as a solo affair in homage to the likes of Ewan MacColl, Jeannie Robertson and Davie Stewart, as well as an acknowledgment of the time when the folk movement was a vital political and musical force.
Ballad of 75 - The Year of the Double Dissolution
I well remember that year of 1975.
It was the year I learmed that no matter for whom I voted or how I voted, it was a meaningless gesture on my part. My vote meant nothing. The Queen of England could wave her scepter and remove an elected Australian government at any time.
Versions of Alistair's song Ballad of 75 have been recorded by numerous artists in milder and more melodic styles.
I still prefer his original.
The Old Divide and Rule - Roaring Jack
The song, The Old Divide and Rule, was one of the Roaring Jack's most popular.
I can't believe that this was once thought outrageous. I can't believe that I danced for hours in smokey pubs while Alistair belted out this song either.
In the 1980s, Roaring Jack, and Alistair, were said to incite violence. Violence? How times have changed. Heaven knows what the fans were supposed to do. Bring on a revolution by dancing in the streets?
Forgotten War in the South Pacific
Bougainville is a large island to the east of Papua New Guinea - which in its turn lies due North of Australia.
It has a population of about 200,000 - and what most of the world doesm't know is that these people lived behind a cruel blockade mounted by Papua New Guinea using the Australian military for five years. Even medical supplies were stopped.
This island, once a South Pacific tropical paradise, also has an extremely rich deposit of copper.
The British company RTZ, via its Australian subsidiary CRA, mined this deposit. The pollution from the mine wrecked an entire river system.The people eventually rebelled and declared independence from New Guinea.
Good Morning Bougainville
This video clip was produced in Sydney in 1994 for 'Art Resistance'
Buy us a Drink - Alistair Hulett and Jimmy Gregory
Alistair says :
"This was originally written to be a kind of calling-on song for Roaring Jack - a political statement of intent and a wee bit of self-mockery at the same time, I guess. We recorded it on RJ's first album, Street Celtabillity, in 1986.
A short time later the song was picked up by a well-known Canadian-based Irish folk band called The Irish Rovers, who included it on their LP 'Hard Stuff'.
They changed the words in the chorus from
If you can't stand a schooner stand us a ten, we'll knock it straight down and we'll sing it again
If you can't stand a whiskey stand us a pint, we'll knock it straight down and we'll sing half the night',
which is just fine by me.
For the non-Australians among you, a schooner is a big beer and a ten is a little one. Since then, Buy Us A Drink has found its way onto the albums of a few Canadian punk folk bands, who all do the Irish Rovers' version of the lyrics. It seems the folk process has overruled me this time, at least around those parts it has".
The Horror of Wittenoom
Wittenoom, the infamous asbestos mining town, has finally been wiped off the map, but not before killing around 2000 workers and their families.
Many organisations give much higher estimates than the official Australian government figure.
It's an empty ghost town now. Don't even think of driving through, the asbestos contamination is extreme.
Alistair's moving song, He fades Away is about the Blue Death of Wittenoom.
He Fades Away - And he's not the only one
Alistair became ill very suddenly on New Year's Day 2010 and was hospitalised on January 5 with suspected food poisoning.
Liver failure was later diagnosed and it was hoped that he could receive a liver transplant, but further investigation revealed a very aggressive form of cancer which had already spread from his liver to his lungs and stomach.
Alistair died peacefully only days after the cancer was first detected.
Vale, Alistair. I'll not forget you.
Perhaps you remember Alistair Hulett?
Do you remember Alistair?
Do you remember Alistair? Or is this the first time you've heard of him? What do you think?
© 2010 Susanna Duffy