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Benjamin Francis Leftwich interview and live review

Katie Slade talks to the singer/songwriter at the Deaf Institute on the last night of his UK tour

Written by . Published on June 7th 2011.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich interview and live review

SO it’s Monday night, and I’m waiting in the doorway to the main lounge of The Deaf Institute to meet up and coming British solo artist Benjamin Francis Leftwich.

I’m not left standing for long before he appears with his tour manager and we’re introduced. Aside from the elaborate title, which makes him sound like the heir to a grand inheritance, a warm handshake is about as formal as it gets. Talking to Leftwich is just like having a drink with a close friend. He speaks openly about his deep-rooted love of ‘good, pure music’; there’s no presence of a pre-packaged image and certainly no rock-star persona. In fact, Leftwich apologises for remaining quiet and reserved throughout our interview. “I’m very tired,” he tells me.  

IMG_1681.JPGAnd so he should be. With tonight’s performance in Manchester the last of six UK shows - Liverpool, London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Middlesbrough – the 21-year old looks set for an extremely busy year. His debut album ‘Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm’ is not up fo release until the summer, but already Leftwich has proved a huge success in the UK with more than 400,000 video hits to date on YouTube and enthusiastic support from Radio 1 and XFM.

“I don’t have an image and I don’t want to be commercialised. I’m just trying to do my own thing. I write the songs I feel like writing and I make the music I want to make. I don’t want to be put into a box.”

Jo Whiley was so impressed by his 2010 EP ‘A Million Miles Out’ she invited him to play at her Little Noise Sessions gig, and the title track from more recent EP ‘Pictures’ was Zane Lowe’s ‘Hottest Record In The World’. His cover of Arcade Fire’s Rebellion’ has also been downloaded more than 30,000 times. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also set to spend the next few months performing at festivals across the country, including Green Man, Bestival and Glastonbury.     

“The gigs have all been really full,” says Leftwich, referring to his recent UK jaunt. “Liverpool was great and Glasgow was my favourite in particular. This is the first major thing I’ve ever done and I’m really enjoying myself. I’m just slucky to be doing what I’m doing at the moment.”

A self-taught guitarist at the age of ten, and a songwriter by the age of seventeen, music really has been with him his whole life. “All the influences for my music and lyrics come from life experiences and childhood. My mum is from Sydney and I guess I subconsciously I get inspiration from that side of my heritage, but it really just comes from anywhere and anything I go through.” Asking him if writing ‘A Million Miles Out’ in isolated Southern France helped with creativity he says he was helped by the ‘calm environment.’ “Sometimes it’s nice to get away from your comfort zone.”

IMG_1689.JPGThe moment Leftwich steps on stage with his acoustic guitar, it’s easy to see where his comfort zone is. Serenading an overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming crowd with eyes closed, knees bent and hauntingly beautiful vocals, Leftwich gives a performance that is genuine, honest and sincere.

Wearing casual jeans, white t-shirt, trainers and with tousled hair, each song echoes personal, heartfelt lyrics and paints a background ripe with the themes of love and longing for connection. At times Leftwich even steps away from the microphone and stops strumming for a moment, allowing his sublime yet strong voice to do all the work without any adornment, a quality highly sought after by Leftwich himself when speaking of his influences.

“I think people like Adele are great because her voice in particular is amazing, which proves that pop can still be good,” he says. “With her, the song is the main thing. The song is everything.”

Leftwich continues to stress his opposition to what he calls ‘commercialised’ music and his aversion to being categorised. “I don’t have an image and I don’t want to be commercialised. I’m just trying to do my own thing. I don’t market myself in any particular way. I write the songs I feel like writing and I make the music I want to make. I don’t want to be put into a box.”

Having said this, the influence of the likes of Elliot Smith and Bon Iver come through strongly in Leftwich’s performance, and his vocals are strikingly similar to Iron and Wine. Claiming in previous interviews that his favourite artists include Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, Sigur Ros, The Beatles and Bruce Springsteen, it would be unfair to call his style completely original. Yet this hardly matters.

IMG_1701.JPGLeftwich has made something special using the bare essentials of musical composition, and the way he interacts with the crowd, blending down to earth humour with intimate banter. At one point, he draws attention to the scribbles on his guitar. “They’re supposed to be mountains but a lot of people think they’re boobs. I just want to clear that up.”

As the 45-minute set draws to a close, the mainly young audience cheer and clap as Leftwich tells us he can’t think of a better place to play. “I always have a good one in Manchester,” he says.

Finishing with the title track from ‘Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm’ followed by an encore of ‘Is That You on That Plane’, Leftwich gives a thumbs up before disappearing backstage, completing the charming portrait of a real, homely, easy-going guy with a pure simple passion for doing what he loves.

“I’m looking forward to playing with Fleet Foxes and Elbow,” he says of his summer. And with his huge likeability factor and magnificent natural talent, something tells me that very soon, younger bands and artists will be saying exactly the same thing about Leftwich. Watch this space.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s debut album ‘Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm’ is available for pre-order on http://itunes.apple.com/gb/preorder/last-smoke-before-the-snowstorm/id434715862(iTunes)


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