Rick Kemp

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Rick Kemp
Birth nameFrederick Stanley Kemp
Born (1941-11-15) 15 November 1941 (age 78)
OriginLittle Hanford, Dorset
GenresRock, blues, British folk rock
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter, record producer
InstrumentsBass guitar, Guitar
Years active1960s–present
Associated actsSteeleye Span Whapweasel

Frederick Stanley 'Rick' Kemp (born 15 November 1941, Little Hanford, Dorset) is an English bass player, guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and record producer, best known for his work with the British folk rock band Steeleye Span.


Kemp has been a member of Steeleye Span for many 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 finally left at the end of 2016.

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 rock and blues session bassist, before his transition into British folk rock.

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.[1]

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 five solo albums: Escape (1996), Spies (1998), Codes (2004), Fanfare (2009) and Perfect Blue (2018). The line-up for his first two solo albums consisted primarily of a traditional Blues three-piece, with Kemp working alongside Spud Sinclair on guitar and Charlie Carruthers on drums. His more recent albums have seen Kemp himself playing most of the instruments, with various guest musicians.

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[edit]

Kemp 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 favourably 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[edit]

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.[2] 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 begun 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 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 2016 and contributed prominently to the 2016 album Dodgy Bastards.

In October 2016, Kemp finally left Steeleye Span and was replaced on bass by Roger Carey.


  1. ^ King Crimson biography, AllMusic
  2. ^ "interrupting yr broadcast: rose kemp « wears the trousers magazine :: a women in music compendium". Web.archive.org. 18 February 2012.