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Chris Kempster Tribute Concert

Review by Kim Salisbury (June 2004) Photography courtesy Bob Bolton (more photos)

kate delaneyOn the evening of the 30th of May, New Theatre in Newtown had a full house for the Chris Kempster Tribute Concert. This concert was held to raise money for a Chris Kempster Project –possibly a CD of Chris's music or his settings of Henry Lawson's poems.

The concert was both a sensitive tribute to, and a wonderful reflection of Chris' personality and ideals. The atmosphere was warm and inclusive with no sense of distance between the audience and performers (as was obvious in the way we all joined in so comfortably in Denis Kevan's poem about 'beauuuuutiful', 'smooooth', 'grey' concrete).

The performers sat in a semi-circle on the stage, reminiscent of a pub session. In the centre of the stage hung a huge screen for the continuous slide show of photos of Chris. There were photos of Chris singing at various concerts and with various friends; Chris with the Bushwhackers; Chris head-to-head with a goat; relaxing on a chair with a cat; leaning in his easy-going, lanky way on a country fence-post. And some beautiful portraits capturing Chris' steady, sincere gaze - making it so easy to believe that Chris truly was there in spirit.

The concert was MC'd by Mark Gregory in an informal, relaxed way setting a friendly tone for the evening. All the performers were friends of Chris' and shared anecdotes about their friendship with him - anecdotes from sharing houses (and making porridge) with him forty years or more ago to meeting him only recently.

Both halves of the concert were opened with some bright, boisterous bush music from 'The Inland Navigators'. These were followed by a great line-up of singers and musicians. It was good to hear music written by Chris himself –Kate Delaney singing 'The Drover's Sweetheart' and Denis Kevans and Alex and Annette Hood singing the 'Equal Pay Song'.

Tim Malfroy and Emma StackerHighlights of the night for me were: Christine  Wheeler's sweet and sensitive singing of 'The Fields of Athenry' (apparently one of Chris' favourites); Colleen Burke's grieving, reflective poems 'Endless Blue' and 'Days Demise'; Tom Bridges, Deanne Dale, Alison Jones, Maurie Mulheron, Jeannie Lewis and the Fagans singing a very moving version of Phil Ochs' 'When I'm gone'; Jeannie Lewis' and Maurie Mulheron's rousing version of 'Freedom'; Tim Malfroy and friend's guitar and banjo-playing; The Fagans' 'World Turned Upside Down'; Sonia Bennett's 'The Wollemi'; and Jason and Chloe Roweth's fresh and unaffected 'Andy's Gone with Cattle'.

The concert finished with all the performers joining together for one of Chris' all-time favourites, 'Freedom on the Wallaby'. The encore of  Chris' 'Reedy River' was bravely led by Chris' partner of many years, Alison Jones. It was also touching that the performers asked for Silvia Salisbury, from the first Sydney production of Reedy River, to join them from the audience.

It was a well-planned concert and credit must go to Greg Bull (stage manager), Phil de Carle (assistant stage manager), Tim Vanderburg (sound), Peter Harris (lights) and Wayne Richmond (projection and video).

Chris Kempster was one of the true gems of the Australian folk music scene and I hope this concert will be one of many that help to keep his spirit with us.

australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory