Socialist Worker

Alistair Hulett, 1951–2010: musician, activist, socialist

by Jimmy Ross
Issue No. 2187

Alistair Hulett died suddenly last week after a short illness.

He was an acclaimed songwriter, guitarist and singer, and a committed socialist, anti-war campaigner and community activist.

His songs demonstrate not only his passionate loathing of a system that kills and maims its way to profit but also his delight at the resistance that springs up in response.

One of his best known songs, recorded by June Tabor, Roy Bailey and Andy Irvine, is “He Fades Away”, about a former blue asbestos miner who is dying of asbestosis.

In “Don’t Sign Up for War”, Alistair celebrated the anti-war stand of the Scottish revolutionary John Maclean with the lines “Betray your country. Serve your class. Don’t sign up for war my friend. Don’t sign up for war.”

His two lifelong heroes were Bob Dylan and Ewan MacColl.

Alistair was born in Glasgow where he discovered folk music in his early teens.

But just as he was about to take the Glasgow scene by storm, he reluctantly accompanied his parents as they emigrated to New Zealand.

At 18, Alistair, who by then had a growing reputation on the folk circuit, escaped the sedate town of Christchurch for Australia.

After some years of solo performing he threw himself into the emerging punk folk scene, fronting the Roaring Jacks band.

Alistair said of them, “We took the very hard-edged political tone that was characteristic of punk at that time.

“There was an anger and a vitality in punk that reminded me of the folk music that I fell in love with way back in the 60s, when folk music was at the cutting edge.”

During this period he wrote songs about the Australian labour movement past and present, the struggles of indigenous peoples, anti-racism, yuppie gentrification, miscarriages of justice, love and having fun.

Alistair joined the ISO (the then sister organisation of the SWP in Australia) during the first Gulf War. His band sang against the war at demos and benefits.

He remained a committed and articulate revolutionary for the rest of his life.

After the Jacks folded he had both a successful solo career and a fruitful partnership with the celebrated Fairport Convention fiddler Dave Swarbrick. They made three albums together.

Alistair arrived back in Glasgow with his partner Fatima at the end of the 1990s where they continued their political and cultural activity.

This encompassed both the international campaigning against the war and the G8 summit, and local campaigning to welcome refugees and to save local services.

I had the pleasure and privilege to work with Alistair writing and performing shows on Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl and Songs of Irish Rebellion at the Marxism festival, Socialist Worker’s fighting fund events and at festivals across the country.

In his last few years he also joined with three other musicians to form a new band, The Malkies.

As well as their album Suited and Booted they also produced a special edition EP for Socialist Worker.

Our thoughts and condolences go out to his partner Fatima, his sister Alison and his parents in Queensland.

He will be sorely missed as a friend, comrade and cultural inspiration.

Article information

Tue 2 Feb 2010, 19:19 GMT
Issue No. 2187
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