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GUEST,Tom Bliss Obit: Alistair Hulett (1951-2010) (83* d) RE: Obit: Alistair Hulett (28 Jan 2010) 10 Feb 10

Here it is in full - a fine piece of writing for a mighty fine man.

Robin Denslow:

Alistair Hulett, who has died of cancer aged 58, was an outspoken, staunchly leftwing singer and songwriter who built up a dedicated following in his native Scotland and in New Zealand and Australia, where he spent much of his life. His colourful, wildly varied musical career included work with the Australian folk-punk group Roaring Jack and a series of albums recorded with Dave Swarbrick, Britain's finest fiddle-player. For Swarbrick, Hulett was "committed, uncompromising and passionate, and the best songwriter since Ewan MacColl. I've worked with wonderful songwriters like Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny, but Alistair was spectacular."

Born in Glasgow, where his father was an aircraft engineer, Hulett attended Ralston primary school and then the John Neilson institution in Paisley. He became fascinated by the folk scene while still a teenager and, his sister Alison recalls, would "climb out of his bedroom window at night when he was just 13 so he could go off to see the Incredible String Band". He was given a guitar by his uncle and studied the songs of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.

The following year he was horrified when his parents decided to move to New Zealand. He initially regarded Christchurch as a cultural backwater, and was furious at being forced to wear a uniform at Christchurch boys' high school, though he soon became something of a sensation at Christchurch folk club because of his interpretation of MacColl songs and knowledge of British traditional music.

After leaving school he studied at Canterbury School of Fine Arts and worked as a carpet designer. He was determined to return to Scotland, but after leaving home he travelled to Australia, where he met his first wife, Jane McDonald. They settled back in New Zealand (where Hulett formed the band Croodin Cant, which included his sister and specialised in British folk ballads) before moving to northern Australia and then, in 1977, to India, where they were based in the Himalayas.

Hulett's strong political commitment was formed, his sister believes, during the two years he spent in India, "where he saw the huge divide between the poor and the wealthy". Returning to Australia without his wife, he dramatically changed his image and musical style and formed the Sydney-based band Roaring Jack, who were seen as Australia's answer to the Pogues, with a line-up of electric guitar, drums and accordion.

They played at concerts, benefits and demonstrations, and Hulett's angry, highly political new songs included The Old Divide and Rule, Framed (a song about the activist Tim Anderson, who was wrongly accused of placing explosives outside the Sydney Hilton hotel), and The Swaggies Have All Waltzed Matilda Away, which includes the line "blood stained the soil of Australia". According to his sister, "Politics put him at odds with the authorities. I'm sure there's a big dossier on him in Australia."
hulett2 In 1992, Hulett, above, began a solo career exploring his early folk roots.

In 1992, Hulett changed musical direction yet again, moving from folk-punk to an exploration of his early folk roots with his first solo album, the acoustic Dance of the Underclass. But there was no change in his political stance, and the album included an angry lament for the suffering of Australia's asbestos miners, He Fades Away, which was covered in England by June Tabor.

His collaboration with Swarbrick began in 1995. The fiddle player, best-known for his work with Martin Carthy and Fairport Convention, was living in Australia at the time and was eager to meet Hulett after hearing The Swaggies, a song he describes as "a masterpiece". The duo recorded the album Saturday Johnny and Jimmy the Rat, which included traditional songs, political songs, and compositions based on stories of Glasgow that Hulett had been told by his grandfather. It was well received and the duo successfully toured Australia together. The following year they both decided it was time to return to the UK. Hulett was now remarried, to Fatima Uygun, and he and his wife stayed with Swarbrick in Herefordshire, where the album Cold Grey Light of Dawn was recorded.

In 1997, Hulett fulfilled his teenage ambition at last, and moved back to Glasgow. His collaborations with Swarbrick continued, but were curtailed when the fiddler became seriously ill in 1999, and in 2000 Hulett recorded another solo album, In Sleepy Scotland. In 2002 he was reunited with Swarbrick on the album Red Clydeside, which told the story of John Maclean the Scottish revolutionary who campaigned against conscription during the first world war, called for a communist republic of Scotland and was imprisoned on several occasions.

In 2005, Hulett recorded a final solo album, Riches and Rags, which included his own political songs, traditional songs, and a reworking of The First Girl I Loved, by Robin Williamson, a song that appeared on the first album by Hulett's teenage heroes, the Incredible String Band. In partnership with the singer Jimmy Ross, he also gave historical word-and-song presentations on the lives of Seeger and MacColl, or the history of Irish political song, and in 2008 he recorded with the Yorkshire-based band the Malkies.

Although brought up in a strongly Protestant family, he was a staunch supporter of Celtic football team.

Hulett became ill on New Year's Day, and died only days after being diagnosed with cancer. He is survived by Fatima.

Alistair Hulett, singer, songwriter and political activist, born 15 October 1951; died 28 January 2010

and with pictures

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