There just aren’t enough acts like Benjamin Francis Leftwich about at the moment, brilliant artists who deliver credible folky-pop love songs with a bit of grizzle and roughness round the edges (new track ‘Manchester Snow’ is a testament to that, a song about how many times he had intercourse with a girl in one week (twenty three). First up, Ben’s ability to hold a tune isn’t what’s going to make him a massive success, his ability to perform a track as if he’s lived through every elated or earth-shattering moment is. Which is why early on in Stoke on a Friday night in a venue that usually sells better with a generic indie four-piece pumping through its speakers, it’s refreshing to see a sizeable audience turn out to see the York-born twenty-three-year-old.
Watching Leftwich on stage with just a guitar to keep him company initially is a brilliantly pure experience; he looks out onto the audience he is going to have to prove himself to for the next sixty minutes with a noticeable but likeable vulnerability. Opening with his new single ‘Pictures’ as a solo performance is brave, with no big introduction or fanfare, he simply strolls subtly onto stage and starts playing, it’s mesmeric. Needless to say the performance is near flawless and when joined on stage by his band comprised of good friends, the whole atmosphere is that of group of mates jamming at an open mic night. Throughout the gig Ben seems genuinely overwhelmed at the response and frequently thanks the audience for turning up. His naivety towards his talent is charming, yet at times can lead to a performance that could perhaps be more enthusiastic and intriguing than he delivers.
If anything could be tweaked with Leftwich’s performance it would easily be the pacing of the show. All his songs speak for themselves and it’s obvious he has found a musical style he is comfortable with and excels at, tracks like the uniquely titled ‘Butterfly Culture’ are a testament to that fact, but it would be nice to have something more. A bit of background to his songs, some more audience engagement or even just some more visible energy would assist greatly with his live show. Mid-set, either side of his hits and in the midst of trying out new songs it would be easy for an audience’s attention to stray, as he understandably struggles to pace a gig when a majority of his songs flirt with a similar tempo.
The highlight of the performance is undoubtedly the moment he un-amps his guitar, silences the audience, stands aloft a speaker stack and just bursts into ‘Maps’. Normally at these moments you expect a flurry of mobile phones to appear to capture the moment, at this venue the opposite happens, looking across the sea of adoring fans everyone (including this reviewer) just stands truly engaged. If he was losing any of the audience they are re-awakened by this genuinely fantastic moment of musicianship.
Benjamin Francis Leftwich should be huge, he fits in the market gap very neatly between Ben Howard and Ed Sheeran, although his appeal is possibly more honest, his songs are less based around hooks and he is perhaps less easily marketable. His gorgeously raspy voice and his lack of learned stage presence are two of his charms as is his bold song writing. However, a touch of visible charisma to match his lyrical content could pick him up a few more followers where perhaps they are currently looking away.
Words by Kevin Angel