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The Malkies: folk music that brings hope of a better world to come

This article is over 15 years, 7 months old
The Malkies are a new folk band whose music captures the struggles against the system. Lead singer Alistair Hulett spoke to Matthew Cookson about folk’s radical tradition
Issue 2108
The Malkies (with Alistair Hulett centre)  - making music about dissent and rebellion
The Malkies (with Alistair Hulett centre) – making music about dissent and rebellion

Suited and Booted is the first album by the new band The Malkies. It’s a collection of old and new songs that chronicle the struggle of ordinary people against our rulers.

The Malkies’ lead singer and songwriter is Alistair Hulett, a Socialist Worker supporter and an internationally renowned folk music artist. I asked him about the role and appeal of folk music.

“Over the centuries folk music has been a vehicle for the sentiments of the struggle of the poor against the rich,” said Alistair.

“Folk music is the expression of the labouring classes, from the time of the peasantry through to the industrial workers. It’s a window into the lives of ordinary people, describing how they felt about the events that their lives were part of – that’s invaluable.

“It’s a music that the bosses don’t own. Often a band will control its own output and how their recordings are distributed.

“I think of punk, reggae, bhangra and hip-hop all as urban folk music. At the progressive end of folk music all these influences are being thrown into the melting pot. Artists such as Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy, Paul Weller, Billy Bragg and others combined with bhangra artists to produce the Imagined Village album last year.

“It’s a wonderful cross-fertilisation of all the different forms.

“Of course you can get right wing folk songs, but folk music is generally left wing. And it is a form of music that lends itself well to the writing of contemporary songs.

“I don’t set out to be a political songwriter, and I do write love songs and ones about having fun. But I look at the world from a Marxist perspective and many of my songs show that.

“We also cover some songs from the past that have something to say today. One of them, ‘High Germany’, dates from the late 18th century. It is an anti-war song that argues against the idea there’s something glamorous in getting dressed up in uniform to fight a war and to kill. It’s a song that still resonates today.

“We have also covered Pete Seeger’s ‘Quite Early Morning’ and Woody Guthrie’s ‘Pastures of Plenty’. I love these songwriters and always come back to them. ‘Pastures of Plenty’ came out of the struggles of migrant workers in the US during the 1930s.


“One of the lines is ‘We stand in the fight and we fight till we win’. Migrant workers were the most downtrodden and exploited section of the population who responded to the song and took it up themselves.”

I asked why, after so many years working as a successful solo artist or in a duo, had Alistair set up a band now?

“I have been working as a solo artist or in a duo since Roaring Jacks, the last really committed band I was in, split up in 1992,” said Alistair.

“In some ways, it is easier to work as a solo artist but it’s not as much fun or creative. It’s not that I didn’t want to be in a band in all that time, it’s just that it’s taken this long to come across the players I wanted to work with – and who wanted to work with me!”

The term Malkies is 1970s Glaswegian slang for a cut-throat razor, named after the former right wing prime minister of Australia, Malcolm Frazer.

“Up here in Glasgow a Malkie is now a ‘rascal’ or a ‘likely lad’,” says Alistair. “I’m fascinated by the transformation of words.

“In Yorkshire, where the rest of the Malkies are from, a Malkie is a cross between a Yorkshire Terrier and a Maltese Terrier. It also has a connection to Australia, where I have spent a lot of time. Frazer came to power in a coup in 1975. I wrote a song about the coup that the journalist John Pilger quoted in the hardback edition of his book A Secret Country.

“So it’s a good name for us – and it sounded a bit punk.”

I asked Alistair why the Malkies had produced a new, very different, version of “The Internationale”.

“Because I don’t think it’s a hymn that should be sung like a national anthem,” Alistair replied with a laugh. “It was written for the barricades by Eugene Pottier, who had just been involved in the Paris Commune of 1871.

“He was inspired to write a song that expresses the hope that we can create a better world. It’s also a great song. It should be sung anywhere – at the bus stop or in the factory when the boss goes past.”


Alistair is performing with collaborator Jimmy Ross at this week’s Marxism festival in London. “This is the third time we’ve performed at Marxism,” said Alistair. “We’ve previously done the songs of Pete Seeger and Ewan MacColl, and this time we’re going to do songs from the history of Ireland’s struggle against imperialism.

“There is a wealth of material about the hundreds of years of dissent and rebellion. These rebel songs are part of the warp and weft of Irish history.

“Anyone who comes along who likes music, and who is interested in songs of resistance and insurrection, will be delighted with what we’ve got to offer.

“If you take an old song and reframe and renovate it for the modern day, it reminds us that the system that we want to change has been doing us over for centuries. It also says that, in our lifetime, we might be the ones to achieve that change.”

The Malkies are offering a sample CD of three tracks from the album to everyone who signs up to the Full Spectrum Resistance subscription deal for Socialist Worker, Socialist Review magazine and the International Socialism journal in July 2008 (while stocks last).

The CD contains the songs “Are There Honky Tonks In Heaven?”, “High Germany” and the Malkies’ new version of the socialist classic, “The Internationale”.

Suited and Booted by the Malkies is available for the special price of £11 from »

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