Happy Birthday to Rick Kemp – born November 15, 1941 | Rick Kemp

Rick Kemp (born in Little Hanford, Dorset) is an English bass player, guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and record producer, best known for his work with the pioneering electric folk band, Steeleye Span.


Kemp has been a member of Steeleye Span for around 30 years, having first joined the band in 1972, heralding their most commercially successful spell during the mid-1970s. He left in 1986, rejoined in 2000, and remains a member today.

In the 1960s he shot to prominence through his work with singer-songwriter Michael Chapman, and had a reputation within the music industry as a very strong rock and blues session bassist, before his transition into electric folk.

In 1971 Kemp played with King Crimson, shortly before the band recorded their album, Islands. However, he turned down the opportunity to join them on a full-time basis, and reportedly departed the band after just two weeks.

Kemp has played bass on a number of Maddy Prior recordings, and was a member of the Maddy Prior Band in the 1980s. The 1990 album Happy Families was officially credited to “Maddy Prior and Rick Kemp”.

He also played on solo albums by former Steeleye Span member Tim Hart in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1979 Kemp co-founded the record label Plant Life with Steeleye Span drummer Nigel Pegrum. The label was discontinued in 1984.

He has released four solo albums: Escape (1996), Spies (1998), Codes (2004) and Fanfare (2009). The line-up for his solo albums generally consists of a traditional Blues three-piece, with Kemp working alongside Spud Sinclair on guitar and Charlie Carruthers on drums, though his most recent album saw Kemp himself playing most of the instruments.

From 1997 to around 2009, Kemp was the producer for the ceilidh dance band, Whapweasel. He also occasionally played guitar (as opposed to bass) with them.

Musical style

Kemp’s fearless, melodic bass playing is admired greatly among bassists who know of his work. He is unafraid to step outside the folk rock genre to incorporate slap techniques and the use of a fretless bass in his work. Folk Roots magazine favorably compared his abilities as both a bassist and songwriter with Paul McCartney.

Although Kemp usually plays a standard four-string instrument, his playing frequently utilises the uppermost range of the instrument, stylistically similar to players of extended range basses. For many years he has played instruments produced by Overwater and has owned 22 different Overwater basses.

His musical arrangements often feature busy basslines, and ‘big’ riffs, often with the bass doubling the lead guitar line in places. Another hallmark is the use of irregular length phrases within a conventional time signature, resulting in strong downbeats in unexpected places for musical effect.

Kemp is a keen hobbyist historian, and much of his songwriting for Steeleye Span is inspired by historical events. Examples include the song “Take My Heart” about the death of Robert the Bruce, and the song cycle about the Luddite movement that he contributed to the 2006 album Bloody Men. In recent years his lyrics have also included strong Pagan influences.

On his solo albums, his lyrics are often philosophical, dealing with the subtleties and frailties of human existence and humankind’s search for meaning.

Personal life

Kemp lives in Carlisle, Cumbria and was a Music Tutor at Cumbria College of Art and Design in Carlisle in 1989.

He was the husband of Steeleye Span lead vocalist Maddy Prior, but they have since divorced. He is also the father of the musician Rose Kemp and hip-hop artist ‘Kemp’ whose first name is Alex.

He was a member of the Carlisle Pagan Society. More recently he has began to embrace Buddhist philosophy.

He was reported to be leaving Steeleye Span in 2004 and has hinted frequently that he may retire from regular touring in the near future. Despite this, he has featured strongly on all their recent albums, and has been in the band throughout all their recent tours, with the exception of the Spring 2009 tour where he was replaced by Pete Zorn due to ill-health. He returned for the winter tour that year, and despite suggesting during the tour that he would be retiring from music, he went on to play on several tours between 2011 and 2015 and is contributing to the latest Steeleye album.

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