John Barrett Hasted
Born February 17th 1921 inWoodbridge, Suffolk, and educated at WinchesterCollege and at NewCollege, Oxford, where he read chemistry and won a choral scholarship. Interested in Marxism, he visited the Workers’ Music Association offices in London (led by Alan Bush) and then subsequently launched the Oxford Workers’ And Students’ Choir. Having joined the Communist Party as a student, this also led to a long participation in the WMA.
He was to serve in an artillery company in the Second World War as a Second Lieutenant and worked with the Telecommunications Research Establishment. Back in Oxford, as a science academic, he specialised in `dielectric constants’. He decided that his politics would hinder his promotion, and in 1948 became a UniversityCollegeLondon lecturer, while researching atomic physics.
In 1946, he heard the New York based Almanac Singers on record and arranged cyclostyled tuition in banjo and guitar from Pete Seeger. He spent years with the WMA Singers, the Topic Singers and the London Youth Choir. As a key figure in the latter, Hasted was noted for braving US army patrols, that tried physically and violently to stop his choir and others at Innsbruck on their way to the World Youth Festival in Berlin.
Before folk clubs proliferated, Hasted was providing singarounds at UCL and Cecil Sharp House, London home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. He popularised the use of five string banjos and twelve string guitars. He wrote “Go Home Yankee”, a popular song in the 1950s.
He cut 78s for Topic records. His Streets Of London (not the later Ralph McTell work), gained currency through the songbook `New City Songster’ (1955). By 1956, Hasted had realigned the Ramblers Folk Group and the John Hasted Skiffle & Folksong Group emerged from the cellar of 44 Gerrard St, soon to be named the 44 Skiffle Club. In the late 1950s came his accompaniments for Dominic Behan’s `Irish Songs Recalled’ and Shirley Collins’s `Sweet England and False True Lovers’. In 1958, he visited the US to meet scientists, and Woody Guthrie.
His second wife persuaded him to focus on science, and from 1968 until his retirement he was head of experimental physics at BirkbeckCollege for 25 years. He was, in fact, a pioneer in his subject. He had tested out radar in the war, using microwaves to cook winkles from a Welsh beach! He published widely in science. In 1964, his Physics of Atomic Collision was published. “Aqueous Dielectrics” was published in 1973 and in 1981 “The Metal Benders” (1981) looked at Uri Geller’s tricks. His autobiography was “Alternative Memoirs” (1992) and Hasted died on May 4th 2002, aged 81.
Morning Star 22nd May 2002; Guardian September 9th 2002