They buried Kemp Tuirirangi yesterday in the urupa just along the road from my place. I didn’t go to the funeral service; I didn’t feel I knew Kemp well enough. But my brother Paul did, and he estimated a turnout of about 200 mourners at the Carterton Events Centre.
Most readers of this blog wouldn’t have heard of Kempton Te Keepa Tuirirangi, but he was loved and admired by the many musicians who knew him. He was a freakishly good guitarist who didn’t hanker after fame but played for the pleasure and conviviality of it.
My brother, a bass guitarist, played dozens of gigs with Kemp over the years in bands that included the Red Dog Saloon Band and the Kemptones. Venues ranged from the Bristol Hotel in Wellington to truck decks outside country pubs in the backblocks of Hawke’s Bay.
Few of the people who appreciated his playing on these occasions would have recognised Kemp or known his name, but most would have heard him on record. It was Kemp who contributed the guitar solo on the classic 1972 Blerta single Dance All Around the World, still a staple on greatest hits playlists.
The last time I saw Kemp play, several years ago, was at the Bristol. He drove straight to the gig from his Masterton job as a cement truck driver and either couldn’t be bothered, or didn’t have time, to get out of his work gear before plugging in his battered Fender Stratocaster and letting rip. That was the sort of guy he was.
He was a versatile musician, happy playing rock and blues but not a purist. He wasn’t too proud to entertain the punters with crowd-pleasing pop and never seemed too fussed about learning the correct lyrics to songs. And of course he had a life away from music, being a much-loved husband and family man.
Kemp died of cancer on June 19, aged 71. You can read more about his musical life here.