Alistair had been critically ill and in hospital since the New Year, but it was largely kept quiet from friends and fans alike as he waited for a liver transplant for what was mistakenly diagnosed to be liver failure.
It eventually became clear he was actually suffering from an aggressive metastic cancer that had already spread to his lungs and stomach. Unfortunately for Alistair, and all of us, he didn’t make it, dying only days after the cancer was discovered.
Unlike many others on the revolutionary left, in the folk scene, and in Sydney’s glorious alternative underbelly, I’d only known Ally personally for a little under two years. Having spent the 80's in Upper Nowhereville, NSW, (save for 6 months in Enmore/ Newtown in 1988), I missed Sydney in the 80’s, Roaring Jack, and all that went with it.
I’ve been a fan of his music for years, however, ever since I first heard the great Andy Irvine's cover of He Fades Away (a jarring exposé of the deadly impacts on workers of asbestos from the Wittenoom mine in West Australia). From there it was short jump to Roaring Jack – Sydney’s premiere political punk-folk-thrash band of the 80s and all that Ali's recorded since.
Born in Scotland (in the fine old city of Glasgow), Hulett moved to New Zealand with his family as a teenager. In 1971 he moved to Australia, playing the folk circuit for a couple of years before going bush, then a couple of years in and around India. When Ally returned to Australia he formed Roaring Jack, supporting acts like The Pogues and Billy Bragg.
I could spend pages talking about his musical collaboration with Dave Swarbrick, Jimmy Gregory, Jame Fagan & Nancy Kerr, and others; the lyrical celebration of the socialist working class struggle of “Red Clydeside” in Glasgow in 1915-20; or his recent impressive work with his new band, The Malkies, but others can tell all of those stories better than I.
It would be outright criminal, however, to write about Hulett without mentioning his politics. During the 70s, 80s and 90s in Australia, he was a radical political activist, eventually joining the International Socialists (part of the International Socialist Tendency) - and his political dedication never waned, remaining a member of the Socialist Workers Party while living back in the UK.
During the 80s, Roaring Jack could be relied on to offer up their services for political causes (one of their most memorable was in helping in the Campaign to Expose the Frame-up of Tim Anderson), and when, more recently, Ally toured Australia, he has performed at fundraisers for both Green Left Weekly and Socialist Alternative.
The last time I saw him, Ally made the point that - despite coming from different traditions of revolutionary socialism - he regarded as comrades those associated with Green Left Weekly as much he did those from the International Socialist Tendency tradition. In this, at least, he exhibited far more maturity than much of the left, which puts abstract programmatic demands ahead of the practical struggle for socialism, workers' power and genuine social justice.
Having parted on the note “I’ll see you next time you’re out”, I think I’ll forever regret missing that last gig at the Bald Faced Stag last December – Ally’s last in Australia, and one of his last ever.
For those who haven't heard the music of Alistair Hulett or Roaring Jack, I strongly recommend the selection of music videos here: http://www.youtube.com/user/AlistairHulett, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHkZspRVOfo, and here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSYPecZI_AI.
My love and sympathy are with Ally’s partner Fatima, his friends and family. Here's a red-fisted socialist salute to a great musician and revolutionary. Ally, when we kick capitalism over, I’ll kick extra hard in your memory.