History of the Horton River Band, 1980 —

The Horton River Band grew out of Chris Sullivan's groundbreaking fieldwork, 1979—. At a time when there was no serious attention being given to Australian Traditional Music, at the end of a twenty year hiatus, during which some important but sporadic work had been undertaken, Chris launched himself into the field with gusto.

The great concertina player Albert Dooley Chapman came to his attention in 1981, with Chris recording Dooley at his home in Dunedoo, NSW, including a failed attempt to get Jacko Kevans to accompany Dooley on concertina, and also took him to Armidale, NSW, for studio recording sessions at Radio Station 2ARMFM. In Armidale Richard Parncutt backed Dooley on piano, as had his sister Grace, c.1920 —. Dooley also played for a segment of a dance at the Armidale Town Hall. The aim was to provide backing and accompaniment for Dooley — IN THE STYLES AND ON THE INSTRUMENTS THAT HE WOULD HAVE PLAYED WITH IN HIS HEYDAY! — what would become the hallmark of the HRB approach was born.

In January 1982 Chris took Dooley to Sydney where he played at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, as part of the Festival of Sydney, accompanied by Chris on mouth organ and concertina, and Jacko Kevans on piano accordion. An appearance at the National Folk Festival in Sydney, 1982, followed, also accompanied by Chris and Jack. Dooley's picture appeared on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, the first and only time a 'folk' musician has done so.

Chris Sullivan & Dooley Chapman, Concert, National Folk Festival, Sydney, 1982.

(photo courtesy, Bob Bolton).

In 1981 Chris had unearthed the incomparable, Charlie Batchelor. Throughout 1981/2 recording trips were made to Charlie, increasingly from late 1981 with budding fiddler, Mark Rummery, who came as close as close can be to approximating Charlie's style. In 1983 guitarist Kevin Minchin was added to the mix, and through Mark, Jacko Kevans, Barry McDonald and a host of others were quickly brought up to speed on the repertoire. What followed was a whirlwind series of performances with Charlie and what became his Horton River Band, the Upper Horton being the locality where Charlie had learnt much of his music: Newcastle Folk Festival, 1983, Glen Innes Bush Music Festival,1983, the Sydney Bush Music Club, 1983, dance at the Armidale Town Hall, 1983, the National Folk Festival, Canberra, 1984.

Chris Sullivan, Barry McDonald, Charlie Batchelor, Mark Rummery, Glen Innes Bush Music Festival, 1983

(photo, Geoff Lawrie).

The Horton River Band, National Folk Festival, Canberra, 1984.

(photo courtesy, Kevin Bradley)

These seemingly straightforward, but in practice complex developments were recorded and documented on cassette and reel-to-reel audio tape, video, still photography and motion film, mostly by Chris Sullivan, but also, as needs be, by a range of sympathetic allies, including media professionals: David Perry, Kevin Bradley. These resources formed the basis of the LP audio recording: Kind Regards, Charlie Batchelor. Reviewed by In Dublin magazine as the best new release of 1985. In slightly re-vamped format, with two additional tracks and 16 page booklet, this appeared on CD in 1985.

The Horton River Band performing at the launch of Kind Regards, Charlie Batchelor, LP, National Library of Australia, 1985.

(photo courtesy NLA)

While this was going on Chris Sullivan was also recording other outstanding traditional musicians, two trips with john Meredith in 1983, the second of which remains the most successful field trip in the history of Australian field collection. This was the first substantive field work undertaken by Meredith in 20 years. And, with Mark Rummery, work that led to performances by the Horton River Band with Aboriginal accordionists, sisters, Rita Croker and Ivy Fernando (Newcastrle Folk Festival, 1986), and Jim French (Musicological Society of Australia Conference, Canberra, 1987).

Jim French and the Horton River Band.

Poster for a Dance held in conjunction with the Musicological Society of Australia Conference, and in association with the Monaro Folk Music Society, Canberra, 1987.

(Artwork, and original photo, Chris Sullivan)

The Horton River Band style — the unique sounds of the old time Australian traditional musicians — was disseminated widely at festival performances and workshops, such as that of the poster below. After this particular event the band travelled to South Stradbroke Is., Moreton Bay,Qld. where they stayed with Oogeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker),  with Chris Sullivan making recordings of local Aboriginal accordionists.

In 1989 the Horton River band recorded music  based on the field recordings of band member Barry McDonald. The musical arrangements for this recording were all made by Mark Rummery, utilizing his incomparable skills: a BA in music composition, and a developed understanding acquired through wide exposure to Traditional Musicians. However, soon after Barry broke away from the band, and the recording was eventually released overseas under a deal with UNESCO, thereby avoiding the important copyright issues. The unique Mark Rummery orchestration and Horton River band sound of this important recording remains, an important Australian musical milestone.

A revamped Horton River band line-up peformed and recorded at the National Folk Festival, 1997, and at the Kiama Folk Festival, 1997. Lionel O'Keefe (fiddle/guitar/vocals) one of the greats of the Australian Folk Revival, and Dave Game (fiddle), added to the core HRB accordion/concertina/fiddle sound of Sullivan and Rummery. Yet another step forward, combining the mainstream bush sounds with those of the Qld. German and Aboriginal accordionists.

The Horton River band, 1997.
Dave Game, Mark Rummery, Chris Sullivan, Lionel O'Keefe

(Photo: Bob Bolton)

The Horton River band again reformed in 2006, performing at the Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass festival, 2008. However, subsequent to the completion Chris Sullivan's controversial thesis on the Australian folk revival, and its release in book format, the band has been 'blackballed' by the major Australian folk festivals: eg. Woodford, and the National — part of an unfortunate, longstanding and sorry tale of Intellectual Suppression of Australian folklorists by the powers-that-be. 

The Horton River band, Dorrigo, 2006. Dallas Muirhead, Julie Metcalfe, Mark Rummery, Chris Sullivan, Lionel O'Keefe.

The Band has specialised in Australian instrumental music Australian Old Timey dance music. It has done this primarily by exploring the fruits of the band members own field collections. The seminal work of Chris Sullivan, with John Meredith, with Mark Rummery, and others, provides the core repertoire.


The second revival of collected Australian music (1980–) could not have come about without the profound influence of the Horton River Band and its members. The band was first to unearth, record and perform the core repertoire of Australian Traditional music. It created a 'sound' and an approach that has never been equaled.

At fourteen events, representing fifty separate concert, dance and recording performances, The Horton River Band has appeared with and alongside Traditional Musicians.

Band members were the first to collect from the following seminal traditional musicians (along with many others) Charlie Batchelor, Joe Yates, Frank Collins, Stan Treacy, Colin and Jack Charlton, Orley Benson, Leo Benson, Rita Croker and Ivy Fernando, Jim French, Albert "Dooley" Chapman, Jim Lowe, Dick Ferris, the Archibald family, the Duncan family, the Dawsons, Mick McGarry, Paddy Godden, Joe Delaney, Bill Cooper, Babs Vincent, Val Turton, Bruce Smith, Ben Cherry, Errol Rodda, Violet Endacott, Dorothy Nangle, Charlie Doran, Andy Grant, Russel Teague, John McKinnon, Basil and Darryl Cosgrove, Tom Walsh, Doddy Murphy,
Dolphy Blackert, Norm McConnell, Ernie Goodman, John Warn, Bill and
Peter Painter, Jim Wilkinson, Tom O'Brien.

The Horton River Band was first group to perform and popularise their music.