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Chris Kempster Tribute Concert

Review by Mark Gregory (June 2004) Photography Bob Bolton (more photos)        concert flyer

The New Theatre in Sydney was jam packed for the Chris Kempster Tribute concert on Sunday May 30. Jam packed with audience and jam packed with singers too, the concert proved to be an occasion of magic. For two and half hours the New Theatre resonated with the great variety of music that Chris loved, Australian songs, Appalachian songs, Bush songs, Lawson songs, Protest songs and poetry.

inland navigators
The Inland Navigators

The singers spanned the generations as did the audience. With the Inland Navigators, Alex and Annette Hood, Jeannie Lewis, Tom Bridges, the Fagans, Tim Malfroy, Emma Stacker, Phyl Lobl, Denis Kevans, Chloe and Jason Roweth, Kate Delaney, Sonia Bennett, Maurie Mulheron, Colleen Burke, Deanne Dale, Alison Jones and Chris Wheeler on board we knew we had a great line up, but as the concert proceeded we came to realise this was something very special.

The stage was set up with a horseshoe of singers to free up more seats for the audience, with a large screen in the middle for projection of photos of Chris over the years. The sound was fabulous and the theatre responded beautifully.

The Fagans
Kate, Margaret and Bob Fagan

New Theatre was in any case a venue with a special connection to Chris who, as part of the Bushwhackers, had trod its boards in Reedy River in 1953. Even before that he had rehearsed with the Unity Singers in New Theatre. So echoes of the past were there in abundance. New Theatre, one of the longest running theatres in Australia, generously offered to host the concert free of charge so that the money would go to the Chris Kempster Project.

Echoes of the past were there in the songs too, reflecting as they did the many times the singers had performed with or alongside Chris over his more than half century of public performance; Weevils in the Flour, Oh Freedom, Bertha, The Big Muddy, Freedom on the Wallaby, The Night Train, Brisbane Ladies, The Butchers' Wife, Wollemi along with poems from Colleen Burke and Denis Kevans illustrated a great tradition in bloom.

This tradition we call the folk revival has its special connections. To New Theatre of course with Reedy River, but more broadly to the community of dissent and striving for a fairer Australia and more peaceful world. The causes of labour, women, environment, anti-apartheid, peace, aboriginal rights, so dear to Chris' heart and work, all got a most entertaining airing and enthralled audience and singers alike.

Denis, Annette and Alex
Denis Kevans, Annette Hood and Alex Hood

Denis Kevans stole the show with his magical performance (with eager audience assistance) of his surreal poem "Concreto" and Alison Jones capped the wonderful night with the encore song Reedy River.

The concert that so many had so freely contributed to, was a great financial success too, providing a very handsome kick off for the Chris Kempster Project.

There are two projected outcomes from the Chris Kempster project. The first is the production of a CD to record Chris' musical compositions and preserve them for future generations. The CD will include at least one or two old recordings of Chris himself singing the songs. The second is the reprinting of Chris's seminal book, "The Songs of Henry Lawson". The Project fund is being managed by the Folk Federation of NSW.

Donations should be made out to "Folk Federation of NSW Chris Kempster Project" and posted to

Chris Kempster Project
Folk Federation of NSW
PO Box A182
Sydney South
NSW 1235

australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory