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.
“I’ve got the new Bemis album for you”, said the boss. ‘Fine”, I said wondering what he was going on about. I Googled them and it turns out that they make toilet seats. Ah, not them, then. Bemis are a folk-rock band from Portsmouth and A World Of Difference is their sixth album and they have been playing support slots to some big names and festivals up and down the country for years. The point of the above silliness is that I hadn’t heard of them despite living in the same county – I suppose that’s the way the music business is these days.
Actually, rock-folk is a probably better description of what Bemis do. On the one hand we have banjo, mandolin and bouzouki but there is also a solid foundation from Dillon Hughes on bass and Nathan Shervill’s drums. Guest musicians include Gavin Thomas on harmonica and flute and Sam Jenkins’ brass. The songs are written by Gareth Howells, some in partnership with son Louis, and embrace a range of styles.
The opening track, ‘Age Of The Paranoid’, is a bit of classic rock introduced by wailing harmonica. As a festival song it’s a great singalong, wave your arms in the air anthem. The title track, which follows, is a little lighter with Mark Finn’s electric guitar leading the way and Dillon’s banjo adding a folky element. It’s a song that embraces diversity and is another great festival tune. Bemis take their foot off the loud pedal for ‘From The Inside’ with its flute and acoustic guitar but there is nothing weak about the song. ‘Wartown’ brings in Louis’ bouzouki and I’m guessing that living in Portsmouth has some bearing on the lyric. It’s also a chance for the Howells to show off their harmonies.
By now you’re going with the flow because A World Of Difference is one of those albums that sweeps you along – catchy tunes and great lyric hooks and arrangements that never get dull. Straight after the guitar driven ‘Keep On Going’, the brass comes in to decorate ‘What You Are’ and keep you alert. We frequently talk about bands who slog away for years without ever really getting their turn in the spotlight. Bemis is one such – turn on the radio and you’ll hear stuff that doesn’t hold a candle to this.