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28 October 2014
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HEM
HEM

Review: HEM

By Linda Serck
21 South Street's mini festival, held over three gigs in June, ended on Thursday 23 June with Brooklyn band HEM headlining. With two Reading bands supported the Americana band, was it a fitting end to a superb festival?


The organisers of the South By South Street mini country/Americana/roots festival must have realised the sedentary nature of their gigs (judging by people sitting cross-legged at the last two gigs) as tonight 21 South Street has something of the restaurant feel about it - the front is lined with tables and chairs would you believe.

Opening act, the wonderful Wire Jesus, aren't too sure what to make of it all. Playing on a high stage before a bunch of people sitting by tables with arms folded isn't exactly conducive to a crazy night. The melodic folk troubadours, who look the part with their modern slant on Victorian dress (yes there are bloomers involved) give it their all, breezing through their hauntingly beautiful harmonies with verve. They are certainly one of most spellbinding bands in Reading - the uplifting Jenny's Ghost in particular magics the air, twizzling its own wand over the audience to spread the glittering gospel of Wire Jesus.

The Mark Smith Band comprises two thirds of cult psychedelic garage band Coley Park and one third Man The Aggressor, an alt country band with a maniacal twist. Fronted by Coley Park's bass player, Mark Smith, this amalgam moves away from their own rockier noodlings and plumps itself into the traditional country genre. It doesn't work. For starters, Mark Smith's faux American drawl makes them sound insincere, and the fact that he prefers to stand at the side and let Ben the bassist take the central spot, serves to strengthen the notion that he's not a natural frontman.

The band's music is very traditional country, which itself is fine, but it also just blends into the country music wallpaper you'd hear on some obscure American radio station. Kevin Wells's lap steel sounds great but isn't used on enough songs - hence it just floats away into an ether of obscurity. Sorry chaps.

When HEM take to the stage it's as though you've been transported to some smokey American saloon. The graceful Sally Ellyson's lush lullaby voice effortlessly entrances the audience while the pedal steel's golden rays drift over heads like a warm sunset. Their first ever UK tour, the band sing tracks off their latest album Eveningland, choosing mainly sultry numbers but punctuating their set with a few beat-laden toe-tapping tunes. They manage to wend through the backroads of Americana while maintaining a contemporary veneer over their songs.

Ellyson's kind words about Reading, how she went for a walk and saw many houses she'd like to live in, highlight this Brooklyn band as extremely affable as well as superb musicians. Their laidbackness seeps through their music, even during their haunting soundscapes with its achingly melancholia. An excellent dusky cover of Radiohead's Black Star closes their beautiful set. Those with seats had to unrecline themselves, those who were standing had to be shaken back into the land of reality. Superb.

last updated: 11/07/05
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Dave
You can keep that T-shirt Ben. It's all stretched and sweaty now. Thanks alot.

M.Abley
I was at this show, and found the whole evening highly enjoyable! I have nothing but admiration for people who can get up onto that hot stage and "play their hearts out". I know I would simply fall into a quivering wreck if I had to do it. So don't worry Ben, I didn't notice any mistakes, and that t-shirt was small, and if I may be so bold, in this case good things really do come in small packages. Is there a "Mark Smith and Band" web site?. It would really help me get through the day at my desk if I could have a sneaky peak at those young lads now and again. Anyway, well done to all and I hope to see some more top quality music at South Street again soon!

Ben
I am not related to Mark Smith, but I am related to the bass player of the Mark Smith Band. In fact, I am more than merely related: I AM him. I made seven mistakes in that gig, so you should feel priviledged because during our 5 rehearsals I made countless errors. What's that I hear you say? '5 rehearsals?'. Yep, that's right. Oh, yes, that's so right. And I had to borrow the drummer's t-shirt. Did you see the size of the drummer? Pint-sized is roughly about how big he is. And I am huge! I had trouble breathing let alone perform an extended bass solo (which, by the way, was in the set before we found out we only had 25 minutes). Oh Phil. Poor, poor Phil. Where were you at the gig? Were you on the stage? Performing? No? I was. And I was really ill. In fact, I was so ill I had to have the next day off work. And I was really ill over the weekend as well. Man, I was ill. I watched the whole of the Andy Murray game at Wimbledon. THAT'S how ill I was.

Laurie Needleman
Having been out of the country for a couple of weeks, this is my first chance to check a review of the Hem "performance". I went to the gig as a friend off mine is a big fan. She'd promised me sensitive songwriting and a "beautiful show". What I got was a band that seem to have an ambition to be a bar band on a T.V show like Ally McBeal or Dawson's Creek. Very well played, very tight performance, but so dead. I'm not sure even the band enjoyed it. The highlight for me was watching the keyboard player mouthing all the words like a special needs child. I think his obvious unrequited love for the singer had driven him to this, poor boy. I don't know what the first two bands were like as I missed them both, but I can tell you this, when I arrived at the building (before Hem) everyone was inside watching the show. When Hem were playing, I had to leave (I feared that had i stayed any longer I'd have gone on a rampaging murder spree, just for some excitement), I found a good twenty or so young people that had come outside. They seeemed to be having more fun than those inside. I think they had the right idea.

Phil
Are you related to Mark Smith, or one of the band members by any chance? They were by far the weakest link in that show and quite frankly, the fact that by the end of their set absolutely no-one, other than you by the sounds of things were paying any attention, kinda says it all. 1st and 3rd band on, top class, second, although by no means bad, have a long way to go before the general audience will take them seriously.

Jon Wilson
"Their first ever UK tour?" That would be in 2002: http://home.earthlink.net/~allabouthem/tour2002.htmPhotos here if you're interested: http://www.toastboy.co.uk/photos/gallery/11

Herve PamMcCrigle
what a rubbish review, although I missed the first band I did wonder who'd left the dresssing up box on stage for the drama students to rummage through. Bloomers indeed, what's this town coming to? I will agreee that Mark Smith's band were purely country, and that's not to everyone's taste, but as far as tunes and a good melody goes, it was a real treat. People are allowed to sing in a fake American acccent of they wish, he's hardly the first to do it, heard of Mick Jagger? As for your glowing review if Hem, I suggest that if tjis is your bag that you run off straight away to your nearest record shop and buy Celine Dion's back catalogue. You'll love it. I don't.

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