In something of a backward nod to the ways of a bygone era, it’s 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’ was a brake through moment in his career, as reflected by the music press: “One of the best things I’ve heard this year.” – Music News, “his boldest musical statement to date.” – Rootstime “[a]…visceral and gut-wrenching musical experience.” – Blues Matters.
It was this success that has set him on the path to record the follow up album ‘Broken Road’. Although slightly lighter in tone than it’s predecessor it still follows Hemming’s dark and cathartic songwriting, developing a maturity that marks his fourth album to date.
As implied in the title the album is about journey and progression and the troubled paths in which life can lead us. “I guess the journey is as important as the destination” he explains. “With this record I really wanted to develop my style while keeping faithful to the music that has taken me this far. I suppose the album is about the twisted path life can take you on, you can have an idea where you want to end up but getting there is often a different story. The songs deal with the range of emotions that can accompany you on that journey, isolation, despair, loss of self, but also relfection, evolution and ultimately, hope.”
The result is a collection of songs that have developed to a new level of musical maturity from previous albums. A land mark recording full of the lyrical poetry and imagery that stands Ben Hemming apart from others, while still retaining the rawness of emotion of past releases.
Returning to Velvet Recording in Norway, the scene of 2017’s ‘City of Streets’ and working again with producer Nick Terry (The Libertines, Ian Brown, Klaxons) Ben Hemming has tried hard to keep his roots close at hand while pushing out into new territory. “I feel I’ve surrounded myself with people who understand what I’m trying to achieve in my music. It’s a safe environment that has really helped develop my songwriting to the next level. I guess I found the self-belief I’ve been looking for.”
Ben Hemming, at the forefront of the U.K. Nu-Blues scene, is continuing to bask in the limelight with his new album ‘Broken Road’ set to be released on June 17th.