In something of a backward nod to the ways of a bygone era, its fair to say that Ben Hemming didn’t so much find the blues… as the blues found him.
It was during a particularly troublesome period in his life, stuck in a dead end job, and having watched his girlfriend walk out of his life, that he decided the only option was to seek change. Big change. Leaving all of his emotional baggage behind, he embarked upon a musical pilgrimage around America that eventually would come to define not just his sound, but also his own identity. Picking up an old guitar in a pawn shop along the way, he played his way across the southern states in the tradition of the delta Bluesmen before him. It was Hemming’s way of paying his dues, and of understanding a cultural heritage. Yet in moments of brutal self-reflection, he himself knew that more than anything, this was about escape.
It was whilst stumbling along the main drag in Nashville one night, somewhat worse for wear, that his moment of epiphany came; he observed a crowd surrounding an old man playing an extraordinarily battered one string guitar, made from nothing more than a broom handle and a box, whilst playing drums with his feet. The rudimentary equipment belied a performance of musical integrity which touched Ben in a way he had never previously been, and in that moment he sensed he had found the inspiration he was looking for; the blues came not from the destination, but from the journey, and from the rawness of its expression.
He eventually returned to London with a collection of songs he’d written along the road, which went on to form the basis of his debut album, the aptly titled ‘Broken Man’. Recorded with nothing more than the equipment he had to hand, he self-released the album to critical acclaim; The Blues Magazine called him 'A unique musical identity’; Blues Blast Magazine described his songs as being 'of bleak beauty' and Americana U.K. placed him at the forefront of the so-called ‘new Blues’ movement.
Hemming set about relentlessly honing his craft with follow-up album ‘City Of Streets,’ and subsequently touring around Europe not once but twice, before immersing himself in the process of songwriting once more.
The resulting album ‘The Devil Beside Me’ is his boldest musical statement to date. The staple feature dark brooding remains throughout, but it is supplemented now by a drive and energy that helps take this body of work to a whole new level.
Whilst the album title implies further deep introspection, as Hemming himself relays, the outcome is actually somewhat lighter in premise. “The central theme of the album is all in the title,” he explains, “It deals with one’s inner demons and how fears and insecurities can hold you back from achieving what you believe is your life’s destiny. So what might at first might seem like quite a dark and soul searching record, is really about taking a journey that leads to overcoming those demons, and becoming a stronger and more developed person because of it.”
The result is a richly dynamic album that musically drives more than Hemming’s previous work, whilst simultaneously showcasing his trademark lyrical vulnerability. Above all, his ability to capture the rawness of emotion, as learned on the streets of Nashville, remains undiminished.
Recorded at The Blues Studios in London’s Hackney with fabled producer Mark Waterman (Depeche Mode, Elastica) behind the desk, ‘The Devil Beside Me’ is the musical showcase he has been searching for. “Right down to the instrumentation and choice of musicians, the studio sessions, were consciously harder than anything I’ve done before,” he muses, before adding with a wry grin, “I think it shows, don’t you!?”
There is no case for the defence; and with that, it seems certain then that Ben Hemming, the lynchpin of so-called ‘Nu-blues,’ has raised the bar once more. ‘The Devil Beside Me’ is set to be released on May 31st.