Live review: Benjamin Francis Leftwich at Manchester Academy 2
22 year old Yorkshire crooner Benjamin Francis Leftwich hit Manchester's Academy 2 on February 23rd 2012. Michelle Lloyd went along to find out what all the fuss is about...
Date published: 28th Feb 2012
Male singer-songwriters seem to be ten a penny at the moment with the likes of Ben Howard, Michael Kiwanuka and James Vincent McMorrow all riding high having captured both the media and public‘s attention.
Benjamin Francis Leftwich has similarly garnered his own attention and that of many young girls it would seem judging by the amount of doe-eyed girls excitably meandering around Academy 2, ready to be serenaded by the young Yorkshire man.
It’s fair to say I didn’t really have a strong opinion either way on Ben prior to the gig, having not really paid much attention to him, perhaps a little hastily branding him “another Ed Sheeran”. That which I had heard of his debut album ‘Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm’ I liked, but it didn’t blow me away. It all seemed much of a muchness and in-different to everything else I’d heard. The cynic in me was intrigued to see how he’d cope with a hefty audience, and how his harmonic tones would resonate live. A raw talent or an average voice with a multitude of production and lashings of reverb?
Recent single ‘Pictures’ saw Ben stand alone basking in a ray of light for his opening number, and it wasn’t long before I had my answer. A hauntingly melodic voice that appears to come effortlessly. He now had my attention, along with that of the giddy girls and the sickeningly smoochy couples.
Whether it’s his Northern roots or general character, there’s something very down to Earth about Benjamin Francis Leftwich. He’s a very agreeable character. Given he’s only 22 you could forgive him for still being a little shy and awkward with commandeering a crowd; a somewhat fervent crowd at that. There seemed to be a fair few smart Alecs in the audience as well as incredibly vocal girls proclaiming their love between every song.
He dealt with it all in his stride, my favourite quip being his response to a young lady’s “Ben I want your babies!” he very coolly replied “well you can’t have them, they belong to Kim Kardashian alone”. Raucous laughter naturally ensued as it did when he remarked on the vast quantity of Ugg boots in Manchester. There’s nothing audacious about him and I’m sure this is one of the reasons he’s acquired an army of fans already.
Album tracks ‘1904’, ‘Shine’ and new song, aptly named ‘Manchester Snow’ saw him joined on stage by his three band members. The overall sound was much more imposing and encompassing but still didn’t deter from the simple melodies and rich vocals. Lyrically his songs are very striking and in some places a little shocking (listen to ‘Manchester Snow’ and you’ll catch my drift) which gives him an edge over some of his peers. ‘Hole in My Hand’ he tells us is a song about war, a subject very rarely broached by popular artists. He goes on to tell us that it was inspired by the film ‘The Very Long Engagement’ which features “hot actress” Audrey Tautou. It’s markedly mature and full of vivid imagery. “I’d draw a line through the sand to be with you” he sings, and for a minute I believe he would.
Having wooed us with his raspy voice and story-telling he then proclaims that his next song is written about “men that work for record labels, half man, half dick”. Having encountered many such people myself I admired his honesty. ‘Snowship’ was delivered simply and sincerely and saw him advise us to “be careful what you wish for when you’re young” suggesting that the road to stardom hasn’t necessarily always been a smooth one.
Set highlight was without doubt ‘Maps’. Gone were the band and gone were the microphones. Silence engulfed the room, which is no mean feat at any gig these days. Completely un-plugged, a sea of mobile phones appeared and his layered, rough around the edges voice filled the painstakingly quiet room. Any shred of doubt in my head that his talent might be ‘enhanced’ in any way vanished. Here was a voice that literally gave you goosebumps.
Arcade Fire have been cited as one of Ben’s influences, but it still came as a surprise, a welcome one mind, when he covered ‘Rebellion’. Covering songs is always a risky business, especially a song from a current band, but he gave it his own spin and made it his own. Unless you were familiar with it, and many people there were perhaps not old enough to know of Arcade Fire pre The Suburbs, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t one of his own. The lyrics appeared far more prominent and stark when delivered in such an acoustic fashion.
‘Atlas’ and ‘Don’t Go Slow’ provided an encore to what was an ear-pleasingly commendable gig. The mixture of his brooding voice and proficient guitar playing, which at times was so effortless it looked like he was merely stroking the guitar, made for a very cogent ensemble.
Benjamin Francis Leftwich hails from the ‘less is more’ camp, and it works. He’s not another Ed Sheeran; he’s far more likeable.