Rick Kemp once planted a row of trees, something like 13 in number, he recalls – one for everyone who had played in Steeleye Span.
Now he would need at least 20, he reckons.
But change has always been part of Steeleye Span, a band well into its sixth decade.
Rick joined in 1971, he recalls, partly because he wanted to play with Martin Carthy. By the time he turned up to the first rehearsal, Carthy had left.
And it’s that flexibility perhaps which explains the band’s longevity, Rick believes.
They are on the road again with a tour taking in Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal on Saturday, October 8. With the departure of Peter Knight, they now line up as Maddy Prior, Rick, Liam Genockey, Julian Littman, Jessie May Smart and Andrew Sinclair. Past members have included as Carthy, John Kirkpatrick, Tim Harries and Bob Johnson.
When Rick joined the band, he had already retired and was settling down to a future mending cars and spraying cars at his brother’s garage. But he was persuaded to play on an album, and then on the last day was told of a vacancy in another band. His dearest hope was that it would be Free; it turned out it was Steeleye Span, and he stayed with them for the next 15 years, during which time they had their monster hit, All Around My Hat.
“We didn’t expect that! There are certain things you can’t plan. It just happened, but actually it was Mike Batt that produced that album, and he had a great pop sensibility. He used to produce lots of hits, and he took the view ‘OK, this is Steeleye Span, but let’s get something more out of them’, and he did.”
It opened plenty of doors for the band – not least working with David Bowie, again something they could never have predicted.
“So I did 15 years with the band the first time, and then I had 15 years off for good behaviour. I had had enough. I retired again. I have retired quite regularly. I am not very good at retiring. But I am pretty good at writing a song and I know my way around a bass, and so I came back in 2000. I was asked by Tim Harries who was playing bass. He wanted to play guitar, and so I came back in. And I was very glad to come back. But it was a very different band. The only person who had been in the band before was Peter. Gay Woods was singing. Maddie wasn’t there. She left for a little while…
“Most bands split up because they get bored or because they have had a row about who is writing what or who is getting the attention, and your only veto is to walk out. That’s what tends to happen, but then if you come back you have got to be flexible. But if someone comes into the band, you have got to accept their skills. You ask them to come into the band because you like what they do, not because you want them to do something else.
“I can’t remember what it was like when I first joined. I was a very different person then, as I suppose we all are after all this time. But I didn’t really understand what the band was about for the first year.
“I thought they would all be wearing smocks and chewing grass but they were actually very sophisticated Londoners! It was quite a shock. But I loved it. It was all so quirky.”
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