Tag Archives: Roaring Jack

Podcast# 68, 999 Years of Irish History (part 1)

January 19, 2013

Battle of Clontarf

The Prodigals – Boru’s March

Ceann – Blame The Viking

1014 is the best place to start Mustard Finnegan’s history of Ireland. It in that year Brian Boru defeated the Danes. For hundreds of years, Ireland was known as the Isle of Saints and Scholars – the image of monks in monasteries; smoking pot, lovingly illustrating copies of the gospels, praying and guiding the heathens in Europe outta of the Dark Ages. Though not  all of that is necessarily the true. Ireland was made up of a bunch of small kingdoms with kings more like Afghan warlords or the Bloods and Crips – I’m the king of from here to that rock over there and I’m gonna steal your cattle and run back to my ring fort. Ireland had big problem with the Vikings. The Vikings were a bunch of dudes from Scandinavia with helmets with horns sticking out of them who loved to vacation in Ireland and plunder the Irish monasteries and murder the monks. After a few hundred years of this the Vikings started to stay around and started, like all the cities in Ireland and meddled in Irish politics (bit like the EU these days).

Vikings. Horny fellows coming to rape and pillage
comely Irish maidens

Brian was an ambitious sort of fella and conquered one Irish kingdom after another and made them pay tribute to him (this is not like Michael Jackson’s Tribute, Brian would take hostage of the kid of the lesser kings and if the lesser king didn’t do his bidding and pay taxes and send solders when Brian needed them then that was the end of the young fella). Once the Irish were under his heal he went after the meddling Vikings of Dublin. Coming face to face for battle on Clontarf beach on Good Friday 1014 – the Irish warriors kicked serious Viking ass along with kicking the asses of the Dublin Viking’s mates from the Isle of Mann and Denmark – many of whom after the beat down drown in Dublin Bay trying to escape the Celtic axemen, starting the long tradition of pollution in Dublin bay. Unfortunately, for Brian, who being wicked old (he was about 73) and was praying in his tent as the battle raged so he did not notice a sneaky Viking who suck up on the big B and buried an axe in Brian’s back and that was the end of him.

The Norman Invasion

Belfast Andi – Irish Ways Irish Laws

Diarmait does the dirty deed dirt cheap
Strongbow gets the girl and the Kingdom

After 1014, Ireland went back to it petty warlords fighting with each other over this bit of bog and that sheep over there and all was good and dandy until a woman got in the picture. In 1167, Diarmait Mac Murchada (that’s Murphy in English), King of Leinster (the east bit of Ireland) ran off with Derval (the woman in question), the daughter of the King of Meath (the rich bit of Ireland in them days and these day) and the wife of Tighearnán Mór Ua Ruairc (Terry O’Rourke in English), King of Bréifne (a strip of fields and bogs that ran from Meath to Sligo these days called Leitrim). Tighearnán was pissed off of course and with the help of the High King, Rory O’Conner, they ran old Diarmait outta the country. Diarmait being a schemer and a general a-hole approached a Norman Knight called Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke also known by the name Strongbow (Strongbow is much more Knightly and Ciderish name, Richard de Clare sound more like the name of the owner of chain of ladies hair saloons). Diarmait promised Strongbow his daughters hand in marriage, who by all accounts was a pretty hot chick, as well as succession rights as King of Leinster, if he’d help him out. Strongbow not having much going on as the King of England when not hammering the Scots was beating up on his own Knights, took him up on the offer and arrived with his mates (Fitzgerald, Fitzgibbon, Burke, Butler and Prendergast) and the best in 12th century military technology gold pieces could  buy. Shortly there after Diarmait was back being King of Leinster but over old England, old Henry II didn’t like the idea of one of his knights becoming a king of anything and setting up a rival kingdom so he called up the Pope and asked for the OK to invade Ireland (of course this is the one time the Pope is a bloody Englishman) and once permission given Henry arrives and declares himself Overlord of Ireland.

The Pale and Beyond

Blood or Whiskey – Follow Me up to Carlow/Holt’s Way

BibleCodeSundays – Clew Bay Pirates

The Dreadnoughts – Grace O’Malley

We can skip ahead to the 1590’s now, the Norman Knight have gone native (more Irish then the Irish themselves) and the English rule is now pushed back to the general Dublin Area – known as The Pale. Ever heard the expression “Beyond The Pale”? Meaning being outside proper behavior, well that was where the wild Irish lived with their new Norman mates, fighting with each other over this bog and that bog and the odd goat.

Grace O’Malley telling Lizzie 1 to stuff it.

One of those Chieftains was a woman called Grace O’Malley,  the Pirate Queen who was so fearsome that she show up bare breasted in Queen Lizzy’s court in London to demand the removal of the Queens representative in Connacht.

The Flight Of The Earls

Black 47 – Red Hugh

Queen Elizabeth was a tough old boot in her own right and took a leaf outta ol’ Brian’s book raising the sons of the Gaelic Chieftains in her court. One of these lads was Red Hugh O’Donnell of the Tyrone. Hugh and his mate O’Neill of Ulster (The O’Neills are the oldest and biggest family in Europe, there is something like 3,000,000 descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages the original Neill running about, the O’ meaning descended from, talk about virile) played a good game with the Queen. When in her court they played along by English rules and when back home in Ulster they did what ever they bloody pleased. But Lizzie’s henchmen in Ireland keep pushing in on O’Neill and O’Donnell business and enough to piss’ em off that they stopped playing the game and rebelled. The Irish chieftains were able to push the Perfidious Albion almost out of the country but were finally defeated a the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 – Kinsale is as far as you can get from Ulster, being on the south coast in Cork. O’Neill and O’Donnell and most of the other O’s fled the country for Spain and that was the end of Gaelic Ireland.

The Plantation Of Ulster

The bollocks of Henry the Eight

Being traitors to the crown, all of the lands of the O’Neill and O’Donnell went to the crown who decided that the best way to control the Irish was to get rid of ‘em and replace ‘em with good English protestants – this was after the reformation of course.

“Here’s a health to the Protestant Minister And his church without meaning or faith For the foundation stones of his temple are The bollocks of Henry the Eight” – Brendan Behan

This plan didn’t work out so well as most of the smart English with ambitions for advancement went to the America’s and stole the Indians land so in Ulster the numbers had to be made up with low class, lowland Scots. The Irish got kicked out and the planters got the good land (and the natives the views).

Cromwell in Ireland

Flogging Molly – Tobacco Island

The Fisticuffs – Young Ned of The Hill

Ollie Cromwell, Lord Protector and general bastard. Warts’n’all

The 1600’s was an ugly time to live in Ireland. When the civil war broke out in England the Catholics of Ireland, Gaelic and Old English supported the cause of Charles I and took the opportunity to try and get their lands back from the planters – much slaughter followed. With the end of the war in England and Chuck’s head on a spike Cromwell turned his eye on Ireland and took revenge in the Irish for rebelling and waged holy war on the population. Cromwell was by far the biggest Fu#ker in Irish history, his soldiers laid wasted to much of the county, butchering the citizens of Wexford and Drogheda when the garrison of those cities didn’t surrender fast enough. When he didn’t murder you, then he transported you to Barbados to your death as a slave in the sugar plantations or worse to Connacht and eternity as a bogger. Allegedly Rihanna is descended from one of those Irish transported to Barbados…..I told you Cromwell was a fu#ker. Cromwell eventually dies (of malaria of all things) and the Stuarts are back on the throne of England. Cromwell’s body exhumed, hung, drawn and quartered.

Ollie Cromwell, Lord Protector and general bastard. Warts’n’all

 The Battle Of The Boyne

Roaring Jack – The Old Divide And Rule

Hugh Morrison – Ye Jacobites By Name

Prydein – Minstrel Boy

James II

The Tossers – Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye

William of Orange
(only one of these guys was was in Poison)
Patrick Sarsfield

The Stuarts were bad new. It would have been in everyone’s favor if Guy Fawkes had his way……BOOM! Things calmed down under Chuck II but there are problem when his brother Jimmy II replaces him. Well wee Jimmy was a Celtic support and the England parliament, Huns. They manage to live with him until a son was born and then they realism  the Catholics won’t be going away. Jimmy is given short shift and exiled to France with his daughter Mary and her Dutch son-in-law William of Orange put in his place. Jimmy II raises any army with the support of the King of France and sails for Ireland to join up with his Irish supporters.

James manages to set back peace, love and understanding 1,000 years in Ireland when he lays siege to the walled city of Londonderry. The siege is only lifted when Williams ships arrive with solders and supply’s . The two sides play cat and mouse for a little while and finally meet on the banks of the river Boyne on July 12th, 1690. James’ French and Irish army verses Willies Dutch, German, English troops. William wins and James runs away. The most ironic thing about this is the bad history that still abates- the brethren up in Ulster regard this a a victory over the Pope and Popery, yet the Pope was playing politics here not religion and supported the protestant William and most of Williams army was Catholic – the Pope was trying to stick it to the French. With Jimmy gone, the Irish fell back to Aughrim under the command of Patrick Sarsfield, defeat followed and then on to Limerick. The City of Limerick was put under siege (that it still needs to clean up after) but William didn’t want to wait it out and offered a fairly decent treaty – join me or go to France and join the French army. The Irish took the French route and spent the next hundred years dying on the battlefields of Europe for the ungrateful French. With Willie back in England and Sarfield and his men dying for France. The over loards in Ireland we left to their own devices to introduce the penal laws

“Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach!” – “Remember Limerick and Saxon Perfidy”


File:The Battle of Fontenoy, 11th May 1745.png
Irish revenge for Limerick at Fontenoy

Roaring Jack: Alistair Hulett Interview

January 29, 2005

First of all, I’d like to thank you for your time, Alistair. I’d like to ask a couple Roaring Jack questions, if you don’t mind…Is Jump Up Records still planning on releasing an album of Roaring Jack’s unreleased and live tracks, & if so what exactly will be on them?

The album of live recordings and studio demos is still in the pipeline and Jump Up still want to release it. It’s not them that’s causing the hold up, it’s me I’m afraid. There is a mixed down collection of live tracks, a couple of radio sessions and some rough demos that got left off albums, that Bob our guitar player and Rod, one of the drummers put together. They sent it to me a few years ago, and I suggested we put out all our proper albums again first, on a double CD, then use what that fetches in to pay for producing the out-takes album.
Since then we’ve got The Complete Works Of Roaring Jack out via Jump Up Records, and the working title for the roughie is Ever So Humble. I keep meaning to get onto doing a cover and booklet, work out a running order and also to add some more tracks that have surfaced in good nick since Bobby and Rod put the first version together. Somehow, what I’m involved in now keeps pushing Ever So Humble onto the back burner. It will eventually get done, honest. The unreleased stuff is quite good, but it was rejected first time round for one reason or another, so I find less enthusiasm for doing this than getting out something current. I’d imagine the rest of the guys would feel like that too.

Your old band, Roaring Jack seems to have a whole new generation of followers worldwide, 13 years after breaking up. (Myself included!) Any plans for another reunion?

No, there’s nothing like that afoot. Rod Gilchrist our last drummer died suddenly a few years ago, as did Steve Thompson, who he took over from. Any real reunion would need to involve playing what we did back then, and the notion of rehearsing up a drummer for one gig seems kind of unlikely to happen. The drums were a big part of the arrangements, and anyone dong the job would need to know all the accents and stops and feel changes. I don’t see a reunion on the cards anytime soon. Actually I haven’t spoken with anyone from the band in years, till quite recently when I began chatting on the Internet with Steph Miller. He’s got a new solo album out, or coming out soon, so I sent him a note to wish him luck. Out of that has come a joint gig in Sydney during the tour I’ll be doing around Australia in Feb/March. That’s not us getting back together or anything, just a shared billing for old times sake. We hope to do a few songs together at the end, just acoustic guitar versions of some of the old songs from long time back. Veranda stuff. Pickin’ and grinnin’. We did invite Bob and Dave to join us but they didn’t fancy it. I’m sure they’ve got good reasons not to do it, but I don’t know what they are. Probably best that way. If Steph and me heard the reasons we’d maybe agree and not do it either.

Roaring Jack were one of the first celtic-folk punk bands around. Who were your influences back then? What do you think of the celtic-folk punk bands of today?

Most of the RJ band members were people who had always liked folk music but we were not really involved in the folk scene. I got into folk when I was just a kid in the late sixties. All sorts of folk music, everything from blues and country to traditional Scots and Irish ballads. Dylan was a huge influence of course. Davie and Steph and Bob were probably coming from the same melting pot Id guess. Back then the Communist Party was heavily involved in organising venues for this music. There was even a folk record label in Britain called Topic Records that was set up by the CP. Most of the leading lights of what they called The Folk Revival were communists or anarchists, people like Woody Guthrie, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, Leon Rosselson. All these wonderful singers and writers and players were active in left wing politics to some degree or another. This was the folk music I knew and followed as a nipper, alongside all the other stuff that was happening then. For me, the music and the politics came as a single entity. Even though I kept on listening to these musicians and buying their records, the folk scene they were working in got kind of side tracked into becoming part of the antiquarian movement, part of the Heritage Industry. I got less involved, and when I met up with the other guys who went on to form Roaring Jack, it was like discovering fellow fugitives, meeting other refugees from a folk scene that had been taken over by beardy tankard wavers. I guess it was really the Pogues and Billy Bragg who brought it back to life again for me. They brought the fire back into the belly of folk music. The Clash had kind of showed the way a few years earlier with English Civil War, and then all that punk blues and rockabilly stuff on London Calling. But a whole layer of bands emerged in the early eighties that were fusing the political wing of the folk movement with that DIY ethic from punk. In Australia there was Weddings Parties Anything in Melbourne, Roaring Jack up in Sydney, songwriters like the Koori singer Kev Carmody, and a whole mob of other folk-based bands at the time springing up around Australia that were in there mixing it in the punk and indie scene. In America too, Jason and The Scorchers were doing it with country music, an English band called the Mekons as well. Shambolic english country and western. Sid Griffin had a band called The Long Riders that sounded like the Clash doing country rock. Every so often there needs to be a bit of a shake up and we were part of that process back then.

I couldn’t say I listen to much of the current punk folk stuff. Its very flattering that someone today thinks enough of what we did then to want to try and adapt it as a useful influence. I do think things need to move on and develop though. I sometimes go over to Germany and there’s loads of young kids there with Mohawks and Crass tee shirts, kind of doing a retro-punk thing. This is not the point, in fact its exactly the boring hippie conservatism we were trying to get rid of at the time. I don’t want to say that there’s anything wrong with liking music that’s been around a while, I mean I like ballads that were written several centuries ago, but whatever art we make today should have something to say about the world we live in now. For me to go resurrecting Roaring Jack would be daft, its my past but I don’t live there any more. On the other hand if a young kid today hears what we did fifteen years ago and finds something in it that speaks to them, and makes something new out of it, then of course I’m delighted. Especially when there’s a royalty cheque involved.

I know your current recording partner, Dave Swarbrick has been ill, how’s he doing? Any upcoming tours? Any possible US gigs?

Swarb has suffered from a lung condition called emphysema for many years. Its one of those things that get gradually worse as time goes on. Three months ago he got put on the list to have a double lung transplant, and a few days later the hospital called him in to get it done. Since then he’s been wearing them in and getting used to breathing without a ventilator again. Its going to be a long recovery but he’s on the mend and given time there’s no reason why he won’t batter on for years. He got let out of hospital on Xmas Eve and knowing he’s home and tucking into plum pud and turkey is very reassuring. Hospitals are no place to be without an immune system, and his has had to be switched off to stop it going for the new lungs. We set up a website and a support network called Operation Swarb Aid that has regular updates on how he’s doing, with a link to his official website as well. http://www.swarbaid.org gets you there.

For the foreseeable future I’m a solo act, unfortunately. Swarb will be back as soon as possible, but there’s a lot of recovering and resting up to be done first. In the meantime I’ve got a tour of New Zealand and Australia kicking off in a few weeks, and a UK and European mainland tour to follow later in the year. The elusive US tour is still on the wish list for now. A tour promoter needs to be found who can be plied with intoxicants and persuaded to do me a tour of Canada and the USA. Santa wasn’t listening this year it seems. Maybe a couple more candles for St Anthony.

Your last solo album, “Red Clydeside” had plenty of Glaswegian history, & being that my entire family is from Glasgow, it really struck home. What subjects are you currently writing about? Any new solo album plans?

I’ve never been a compulsive kind of songwriter. Some people write everyday, it’s their release, their outlet. For me song-writing is a difficult, uncomfortable thing to have to do. Songs turn around in my brain for ages before they finally get written down. There has to be a lot of gestation involved. So I tend to turn the writing on when I need songs and off when I don’t. Getting started and stopping are both tricky for me. Since I finished Red Clydeside I haven’t written much at all.

This set of songs called Red Clydeside was my anti-war statement, but instead of looking at the current war in Iraq I used the history of the anti-war movement in 1914-18 to say what I wanted to say. John Maclean, the leader of Red Clydeside said in 1914, ‘It is the task of socialists to build class patriotism to convince workers not to slaughter each other for a sordid World Capitalism.’ For me that is still the central principle for our anti-war movement today. Ordinary people in Britain and the US have everything in common with ordinary people in Iraq, and nothing in common with warmongers like Bush and Blair, and the rich thugs they represent.

Most of what I’ve been working on since Red Clydeside has been songs of a personal nature rather than overtly political songs. Red Clydeside covers that aspect of my world view well enough to be going on with for now. At the moment I’m midway through recording an album of traditional ballads and some fairly non-political songs of my own. It should be out soon, but the songs seem to be calling out for more instrumentation than I originally expected to use, so there might have to be a band again.

I’ve been listening to a lot of early 20th century American music, blues and hokum bands from the thirties like the Mississippi Sheiks, bluegrass players like the Stanley Brothers, the Blue Sky Boys, stuff like that. I want to see if there’s ways to use that kind of loose way of arranging to back traditional Scots music. Once I find the sound I want I’ll try writing more songs of my own to carry it forward. Right now the balance is fifty/fifty between traditional songs and original compositions, but that might have to change. So far it’s me on guitar and whistle and Gavin Livingstone on bottleneck slide guitar. There’s going to be more though, I fear. I can feel it in my waters, as we say in Glesga.

Speaking of Glesga, how’s the folk scene doing nowadays? Any local political news?

Glasgow rocks along as it always does. Edinburgh is the place where the folk scene situates most of what it does. A bit like a huge Tartan Theme Park really. Glasgow is where the gritty side of life gets lived. We just had a festival here in Partick on the west side of the city. The first Partick Folk Festival, and right good it was too. I got to be on a concert with my good mate Mick West and a wonderful band from the ’60s called The Clutha. My all time favourite Scots folk band, The Clutha so they are. The concert was called Glesga Belangs Tae Me and it was great! There’s a review of the gig on a website called Roots Review at http://www.rootsreview.co.uk

The Celtic Connections Festival kicks off in Glasgow just before I head off to Oz, so I’ll miss that one this year. That’s a massive event, acts from all over the world on a string of concerts that runs for nearly a month. Shane MacGowan is one of the headliners this year. But I’ll be over bronzing the limbs in NZ and Oz. Still well worth checking out the Celtic Connections website though.

The big upcoming political event on the horizon is the G8 Summit in Gleneagles. This is a meeting of the eight major capitalist states, right here in Bonnie Scotland. Its in July, from the 6th to the 8th, and the eyes of the world will be watching. I’m helping organise the acoustic music stage for the G8 Alternative. Some big names are already down to appear, and the expectation is that around 30,000 anti-capitalists will be heading for Gleneagles this July. Lovely!!

I’d like to talk about the pre-Roaring Jack days, could you tell us about the time when you lived in New Zealand and Australia?

Cor, you don’t half give the old memory bank a good working over, do you Brian? I emigrated to New Zealand in the late 1960s, in my teens and a somewhat reluctant little camper I was. I spent the mandatory two years in NZ, (that was one of the conditions of receiving an assisted passage), then high-tailed it over to Australia in about 1970. I was playing around the folk clubs and festivals in NZ, and continued the habit in Oz for a few years, till the lure of better drugs and sex sent me off on the Hippy Trail for most of the rest of the decade.

You had a couple of “nomadic” years for a while there, what exactly were you doing in India?

To the degree that anyone was doing exactly anything at that time, I suppose I was trying to find the meaning of the universe and subsidising the exercise by peddling drugs around Goa. I played a lot of music and met a lot of interesting people. Eventually Mother India put me in touch with some members of the Communist Party Of India, and they set me on the road I’m still travelling down today.

How was the early Aussie Punk movement when you returned?

Well, not entirely thrilled to see me, initially. At least not until I got a decent haircut and lost the flares. Actually, the punk thing didn’t make a great deal of sense to me in 1979 when I first got back. Australia was in the middle of a prolonged economic boom that continued till Paul Keating put the brakes on it in 1985 with ‘the recession that we had to have.’ The punk revolt in Britain was a reaction to the winter of discontent in 1976, followed by the onslaught of Thatcherism. All this didn’t start to bite in Australia for a few years, so early Aussie punk seemed more like a dress code to me than a gut reaction to the news that the future’s been cancelled. All that changed in the mid-eighties though. Yellowcake Bob and his ACTU lackeys saw to that, thank you. I seem to recall that’s where Roaring Jack came in.

For people interested in your work, are there any websites, publications, events, etc. that you’d like to promote?

Okay, self-promotion time is it then? There’s a website called Folk Icons that regularly updates what I’m up to. Folk can find that at http://www.folkicons.co.uk On the Roaring Jack side of things, there’s a site called the Roaring Jack Archives which can be located at http://www.angelfire.com/folk/roaringjack My UK agent is AMP World Music and that’s where to go for bookings etc. That’s at http://www.ampworldmusic.com For anyone who wants onto the email newsletter mailing list, The Gallows Rant, send me an email to a.hulett@btopenworld.com There then, that’s more than enough of that shite.

Alistair, thank you so much for your time! Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’d just like to say thanks to Shite ‘n’ Onions for helping keep the flag flying for the music we love. These days there’s so much good stuff flying about, and no one really knows what to call it anymore. Punk Folk was always a totally inadequate label, but even more so now that the influences are coming in from all directions. If folk music means anything these days, it’s music that belongs to the people who make it and the people who listen to it, and the line between those two groups should be kept as blurred as possible. Keep the corporations out and we stand a chance of keeping creativity alive.

Bonus question: What the hell is wrong with Scotland’s football squad?

A serious question at last!! As the great Jock Stein once said, ‘Fitba’s no’ a matter of Life and Death, it’s much more important than that.’ What’s wrong with Scottish fitba is what’s wrong with Scotland all together. Massive under-funding in health and education, totally inadequate training facilities at every level, a disparity between rich and poor that almost beggars belief and turns huge swathes of our young people into junkies, and so on and so on. Even Celtic, who finished last season a few seconds short of winning the UEFA cup don’t have a proper indoor training facility. There’s some great young players coming through in spite of this though, and I’m delighted to say that most of them play for Celtic. Sean Maloney, Aidan McGeady, John Kennedy to name but three. McGeady has come in for a huge amount of sectarian and racist abuse from the Hearts and Rangers fans because he has elected to play for the Republic of Ireland instead of the Scottish side. Given the ongoing bigotry against Irish Catholics in the West of Scotland, I think McGeady’s decision is perfectly understandable. It also highlights why as socialist and anti-nationalist I don’t support the national side. Scottish nationalism has only ever existed as an aspect of British Imperialism. Even disengagement from the British Union would not alter the fact that a huge number of the pillars of the Establishment are in fact Scots, and this has been so for the entire duration of the Union itself. But that’s a story for another day.

Thanks for you time Alistair, Happy New Year!

A grilling by Gillispie

In Memory of Alistair Hulett

January 29, 2010

Alistair Hulett, 1951-2010.

Schooldays over and I was working Saturday nights in a lowlife outer suburban bar as bilge monkey still far from fully grown – a scrap of a kid, I was – when I discovered the great Roaring Jack of Sydney City. I spend most nights playing tin whistle along to favourite on a scratch-built stereo and was well pleased to bring home a 45 single I found in Parramatta, ‘The Swaggies Have All Waltzed Matilda Away’ by Roaring Jack. As The Pogues’ iconic ‘If I Should Fall From Grace With God’ rarely left my turntable, I was delighted to learn of an original folk rock act at large in my home city. So there was the 45, with yesteryear’s vagrant on the cover with his sad hurdy-gurdy slung over him and the Mighty Boy Records athletic logo on the disc. The song drew a shuttle across the loom of Australian history, a song written by a Glaswegian migrant, one Alistair Hulett. He reiterated popular sentiments of The Powers That Be fucking people around and the ironically resentful-yet-malleable nature of the colonial-gone-capitalist Australian psyche. ‘Swaggies’ culminated in a call to “raise the red flag” but I’d listened to enough Billy Bragg to not find the radical politics overtly stark (I was left by nature anyway). What I really liked was the raw, strong melody, a tune that bespoke of sincerity. The song had the feel of a march about it and it was not hard to imagine a colliery brass band playing behind it.

And so, consulting the street press, I sought out the band in question. Only just old enought to get into the pre-sterilized, pre-wankerfied pubs of Newtown (that change being addressed, prophetically, by Alistair in a couple of his own songs), I followed Roaring Jack from the rabble of The Sandringham Hotel and its bubbling mosh, like a tavern built into a ship’s dungeon, to The Harold Park Hotel near the racetrack at Glebe, and back again.

Alistair Hulett was the lead singer and main songwriter of Roaring Jack and he cut a mean, neat figure with his electro-acoustic six string and John Lennon specs. He was fit and sharp and direct in speech, delivery and stage presence. Multi-instrumentalist Steph Miller was like a quartermaster or First Mate at his side and Alistair would slice through set after set without missing a beat. I have never since heard such a quality and quantity of songs from a pub band. One Roaring Jack set would put most Sydney’s bands’ entire repertoires to shame and there was no shortage of these sets, they’d just play all evening and right into the night.

I could not believe that I got to be amongst it all. Leaping from bar and stage with the drinking songs, ‘Lights Of Sydney Town’, ‘The Lass Behind The Beertaps’ and the blazing, fatalistic ‘Buy Us A Drink’. Alistair made fond nods to tradition with the waltzy ‘Wild Rover Again’ and ‘Polythene Flowers’, and then there was the boozey reggae of ‘Ball Of Yarn’. And the defiant Union songs, ‘Days of ’49’, ‘Lads Of The BLF’ and ‘Cat Among The Pigeons’, a four segment folk-punk epic that took in everything from Steeleye Span to hillbilly hoedowns to Marxist prose.
From the first time I heard ‘Proddy Dogs And Papes’, I considered it Alistair’s finest work. A sad and pretty melody in Scottish cadence, he ong is one of those rare gems that sounds equally powerful in slow ballad form or as a flatknacker punk rocker. It follows the theme he explored in ‘The Auld Divide And Rule’; the futile, self-thwarting machismo of sectarianism. You want to physically turn away from the infantile, deluded automatons that are the football fans described in the song, it is emotive stuff.

Alistair was a prodigious writer of no-bullshit folk ballads who played like a crusader. He did great justice to his influences; Billy Bragg, Woody Guthrie, Dick Gaughan and Shane MacGowan. Roaring Jack were electrified Celtic punk before Flogging Molly were a glint in Dave King’s eye and were always undaunted in their own powers of expression. Alistair was the sharpest edge on a sharp band that gave me something to look forward to seeing at least once week, and listening to on the days and nights in between shows.

… Goodnight, and joy be with you all.

Will Swan
Sydney, Ought Ten

Alistair Hulett: Riches & Rags

“Imagine a Scottish Billy Bragg, playing folk songs on the same level as Woody Guthrie, with the lyrics (almost) on par with Robert Burns.”

To put it as blunt as possible, when I think of modern Scottish folk music, I think of Alistair Hulett. There, I’ve said it. I can now take a deep breath and continue on. The former frontman of Roaring Jack has produced yet another stunning album that continues to define the way folk music should be played. “Riches & Rags” is Ally’s seventh acoustic album. That’s not counting the (3) Roaring Jack albums. Many of you have probably heard a few of those Roaring Jack tunes by now, so now is as good a time as any to pick up an Alistair Hulett solo album. I’d start with this one.

Actually, The full title of the album is: “Riches & Rags; Modern Music for Wireless and Gramophone” Performed by: Alistair Hulett and several of his friends. (Friends include Gavin Livingstone, Nancy Kerr, & James Fagan) “Riches And Rags” is the first album without longtime collaborator Dave Swarbrick since the mid-nineties. It’s an album that mixes everything from his self penned hard-hitting political songs, to some traditional material, to a couple of blues numbers. Out of all the Alistair albums I own, “Riches & Rags” cover the most ground. It contains four originals, (Two of them reworked Roaring Jack tunes!) four covers, and three traditionals. I’ve had “Riches & Rags” in my CD player for over a month now, and after playing it a few dozen different times, I can promise you this: the album is absolutely brilliant from start to finish.

1. The Fair Flower Of Northumberland. (Traditional)
An 18th century border ballad. Alistair interprets the Scots version. The song is basically a warning to all the young Englishwomen to avoid any romantic endeavors with the Scots border reivers. If you ask me, it’s a perfect song to play while you ask some English lass for a dance, & give a wee wink to your Scottish ancestors when she’s not looking!

2. Criminal Justice (Words & Music by A. Hulett)
Originally recorded with Roaring Jack. It’s a song about the derailment of the justice system by the powers that be. I enjoyed listening to Alistair’s acoustic versions of all these old Roaring Jack songs.

3. Riches And Rags (Words & Music by A. Hulett)
For those keeping score, this song is the most recent Hulett original to date. According to Ally, this is a song about remembering not to forget.

4. The Recruited Collier (Traditional)
More or less, a song about recruiting the poor, to fight the rich man’s war. Something’s never change eh?

5. The Dark Eyed Sailor (Traditional)
One of my favorite tracks on the record! A Nautical tune! Alistair gives new light to this “dark-eyed” traditional number.

6. Stealin’ Back To My Same Old Used To Be (Will Shade)
This song was originally written and recorded back in 1926, by Will Shade & his The Memphis Jug Band. Alistair makes a great point, the jug band tradition of using household utensils and DIY ethic is similar to 70’s punk music. A bluesy number that surprised me the first time I heard it.

7. Shot Down In Flames (Words & Music by A. Hulett)
Another Roaring Jack song about those not-so-happy moments at the end of a relationship. Fantastic lyrics, Mr. Hulett…Yet again!

8. Militant Red (Words & Music by A. Hulett)
A fantastic love song about a woman who wants to overthrow a certain “you-know-who” This song was originally on my favorite Alistair album “In The Back Streets Of Paradise” (Think acoustic Roaring Jack) Alistair originally recorded it with The Hooligans after Roaring Jack disbanded, and before he moved back to Scotland.

9. Old King Coal (John Kirkpatrick)
John Barleycorn moves to the city, if you will. I’d love to track down the original.

10. The First Girl I Loved (Robin Williamson)
Let’s be honest, sometimes you need to sit back and reflect on things. Sometimes an image of an old girlfriend pops into your head when this happens… If I were a guitar player, I’d love to learn this beautiful song. I’m not a guitar player and I’d still love to learn this beautiful song. (Just don’t sing it around your wife) The dorbo resonator guitar playing in the background completes the mood perfectly.

11. Trouble In Mind (Richard M. Jones)
What a great blues song! It’s even greater to hear Ally covering it. (Yet another song to track down.) The perfect track to end a perfect album on.

In other news, Alistair Hulett will be touring the USA this April. If you are in the Northeast/Midwest part of the country, consider yourselves lucky. (Can I sleep on your couch?) More details to be posted on Shite’n’Onions soon! Also, in Roaring Jack news, there may be another album coming out this year! A Live/Rarites album is the rumor. We’ll keep you posted.

For more information check out: http://www.folkicons.co.uk/alistair.htm and for anything Roaring Jack related check out Andy Carr’s excellent site http://www.roaringjack.com (Tell him I sent ya!)


Review By Brian Gillespie

Roaring Jack: The Complete Works of Roaring Jack

The secret from Sydney is finally revealed.

Back in the mid-80’s when pop music had become more heartless than ever, at a time when that disgusting tsunami of “New Wave” was at its peak of commercial success, two bands from London, were busy developing a unique sound by combining Irish/Celtic folk songs to rock’n’roll songs. Then adding the attitude of punk rock in for good measure. It was 1985, and the first band was The Pogues, who had finished recording the greatest album of all time, (Rum, Sodomy & the Lash. You may have heard of it!) and The Men They Couldn’t Hang were busy with “Night Of A 1000 Candles”. Little did we know about a third band that was forming within the inner city wastelands of Newtown, a slum district in Sydney, Australia. Roaring Jack they were called, and roar they damn well would. They gave a little bit more than a simple nod to left-wing politics, it was more like a clenched fist in the air. Roaring Jack were mixing traditional songs into their own and adding some highly intelligent and political lyrics on top of them. Mostly supporting the working class, they also had songs about the highland clearances, the English policy of “Divide and Rule”, and even Communism. For the next five years they left a startling impression on the Australian music scene. With their first EP, “Street Celtability” (1986) they tore up the local indie charts, going all the way to #1. The band describes themselves as “A Celtic folk band, spiked, gelled, and electrified using the traditional forms and playing styles of Scots and Irish music to carry tales of class struggle and ordinary madness.” Two years later, they released “The Cat Among The Pigeons” (1988) and the band was now headlining major Australian rock venues as well as opening for overseas acts including Billy Bragg, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, and the mighty Pogues. “The Cat Among The Pigeons” was nominated for an Australian Music Industry Association (AIRA) award. The third and final album “Through The Smoke Of Innocence” (1989) also received another (AIRA) nomination.

Then suddenly, the band called it quits and the inferno Roaring Jack had lit dimmed into smoke before it could leave the shores of Australia. Silence prevailed. It was 1991, and on the other side of the globe, The Men They Couldn’t Hang had also basically quit, and The Pogues gave Mr. MacGowan the boot. (Or the other way around, depending on whom you ask!) The creators of this new sound of Celt-folk-meets-punk came and went…….like a breeze in the air. Roaring Jack went into relative obscurity, a secret the Aussies kept to themselves. Luckily, the seed was already planted. The music these three bands created would continue. Within a year or two, bands such as The Mahones, The Tossers, The Real McKenzies, and others would begin to turn up their amps, and tune up those mandolins.

As I reached into my mailbox, I grabbed a CD package. I tore it open within a second or two, and had in my hands a copy of The Complete Works of Roaring Jack. It was judgement day. I had heard all about this band for months, so I stormed into the house toward the CD player. The double album has just been re-released by a small German label, Jump Up Records. I grabbed a seat as I turned the volume up. Within seconds my eyes lit up, and a smile grew upon my face. I usually don’t go out a buy an album based on a whim, let alone an album recorded in the late 1980’s. So when I heard a few songs I gave a huge sigh of relief! The best way to describe Roaring Jack, is to look at who they opened up for on gigs across Australia. Pretend for a moment that Billy Bragg had a Glaswegian accent, and he sang for The Men They Couldn’t Hang. That’s how I’d describe it. The band actually sounds a bit harder than TMTCH, and I’ll admit, on a song, or two, it’s slightly dated in an 80’s kind of way, but I will also say this, Roaring Jack is the real thing! I place them right up there with the best bands of this genre. (What the hell is this genre, anyway?) RJ is also one of the most political bands to rise from this genre. (With a nod to The Tossers, Devil’s Advocates, etc.) Lead singer, Alistair Hulett is an absolute amazing songwriter. Check out his solo folk stuff. http://www.folkicons.co.uk/alistair.htm/

The Complete Works have all three albums Roaring Jack recorded, dating from 1986 to 1990, plus a few outtakes. The back cover actually says 1978 on it instead of 1986, but don’t be fooled. I’m sure a typesetter down at the record label knocked back a few prior to printing the sleeve notes. Even some of the songs are spelled incorrectly, (but I can’t really complain about that ’cause we here at S’n’O are guilty of that offense every other review, except for Sean.) The first album was called “Street Celtability” (1986 (tracks 1-6)) I feel it’s the more raw and unpolished out of the three. It is also my favorite section of the entire double album. Second was “The Cat Among The Pigeons” (1988 (tracks 6-19)) It captured RJ in it’s prime. Containing some of the most top-notch lyrics I have read in a long, long time! Finally we have “End Of Innocence” (1989 (tracks 1-12 + B-sides13-16)) and features a change in the overall sound of the band. It sounds the darkest of the three. It’s almost like the celt-meets-folk-meets-punk feel is not quite gone, but more in the background on this one. Almost like the band was stretching in uncomfortable positions. It still has some gems on it, but not as quite as golden compared to the previous two. I’m not going to describe this entire album track by track because, that would take too long. There’s simply is just too much information, and too many topics to explain. If you are even slightly interested in this CD, I highly suggest buying it. The lyrics in the liner notes alone are worth the money. I know a few people who bought it online at http://www.musikfolk.com/ (should be available through S’n’O soon) I have heard a couple of bootlegs, and they should have released a live album. Those bootlegs sound EVEN BETTER than the studio works! I wish I could have witnessed it live. I’ve heard about these legendary performances, and dream that it was 1987, and that I was a drunken Aussie living in Sydney, watching Roaring Jack play live every weekend!!

Out of the Pogues, TMTCH, and Roaring Jack, each and every one reunited for a spell or two. After a long rest, (hangover?) The Pogues as we all know, reformed in 2001. What comes from that I can’t tell you, but I’d love to see them together for good. TMTCH also reformed, and currently have some projects to release sometime soon. Even Roaring Jack had a lightning quick Australian reunion tour back in 1995, so it could happen again folks, and it should happen again! So get the album, crank up the volume, read the lyrics, and hope that they will reunite again. This time we are in on the secret! There’s not much information on the net, with the exception of Andy Carr’s fantastic Roaring Jack site, located in the links section of Shite’n’Onions or if your a drunken lazy bastard click here, http://www.angelfire.com/folk/roaringjack/

February 2003

Review by Brian Gillespie