This time I have the advantage of knowing who Bemis are before I start. Actually the Portsmouth band have gone through a change of line-up with Nathan Shervill stepping aside again for the return of drummer Kayleigh Thomas and vocalist/guitarist Ian Scarbro coming in to expand the line-up. The After Hours is their ninth album and the changes seem to have brought a new subtlety. Bemis is still a string band but with four acoustic guitars and acoustic bass available they can show their softer side.
Take the opening track, ‘Machismo’, which you might expect to be a hard-hitting rocker but it’s quite the reverse. The singer is made of “straw and sticks, not concrete brick” and it’s the big bad wolf who is the macho man. Guest flautist Gavin Thomas has a big part to play in the sound as does organist Dominic Elton and the second track, ‘This Ain’t Love’, ventures into the territory of nightclub jazz – or is that a bossa nova we can hear? Ian Scarbro’s first writing contribution, ‘To Be There’, an unashamed love song, is next but Bemis are always there to build up to the song’s climax however simply it begins.
The title track is by chief songwriter Gareth Howells and I do wish I had the lyrics at this point. It’s a typical Bemis song: strong melody, catchy hook and a great arrangement but it will take several more listenings before I can figure it out properly and that’s a shame. I’m sure it’s a matter of budgets and that may be an even bigger shame but don’t get me started on the iniquities of the music business or we’ll be here all day. Brother Louis Howells strikes out alone with ‘Drown’ – great bass part from Dillon Hughes and acoustic lead guitar which might be Louis or Mark Finn but I’m not sure – and ‘Jess’, which is an almost-solo guitar instrumental. I wasn’t expecting that. Two more songs that deserve special mention: ‘Gaslight’ is openly political and ‘Stay Where You Are’ is rather more nuanced and with more jazzy flute but they bring The After Hours to a satisfying conclusion.
Bemis deserve wider exposure so buy their albums, go to their gigs, write to your MP…whatever it takes.
Artists’ website: https://www.facebook.com/Bemisuk/
‘Written With Love’ – official video: