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Review: Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Pocklington Arts Centre
THERE was I, chatting post-gig with York singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich, thinking he would agree that audiences should cut out the incessant chit-chat at standing-room-only gigs.
Quietly spoken young Ben is so mellow, however, he is just happy that people are coming out to see him, and they are coming in increasing numbers in the wake of last year’s sublime debut album, Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm.
The discussion was in part a reaction to Pocklington Arts Centre –the opening night of his tour last Sunday – being the only date fixed up for a seated venue.
His lovely, languid songs are made for sitting down or gentle swaying at most, or maybe even getting horizontal, and so they suit such a location, where everything can be heard, from flowing guitar arpeggios to the click of a typewriter (an unexpected percussive aid at one point).
This was a reverent Sunday night gig, the nearest to his home city, frequented predominantly by the kind of nice girls that John Betjeman would have loved, accompanied by their beaus who wish they could sing about young love like the 22-year-old York boy in the bobble hat and plain T-shirt.
The show was billed as Ben’s first with a band, and although that was true, he rightly retained solo acoustic numbers too, kicking off with re-issued single Pictures: only Ben and his guitar, stood away from the microphone, as he sang in that sweet, keening voice that plucks the heart strings.
His slow, coiling songs could have benefited from more varied instrumentation on the album, and so Ben’s decision to hitch up with a band is another step in the right direction.
Drummer Simon Lea, from London, and bassist Paul “Foda” Fothergill, from York, both enhanced the likes of Shine and Box Of Stones, but the key addition was Londoner Paul Sayer’s keyboards, guitar and especially pedal steel.
Leftwich’s beautiful melancholia and drifting dreamscapes are already lyrically fully formed, and the new Manchester Snow points the way to more gorgeous songs ahead.
He has an appealing slacker charm to his between-song patter too, introducing his band members by their first name only, revealing how he “likes Audrey Tautou a lot” and recalling a past girlfriend not so fondly after she cheated on him.
Stage confidence growing all the time, he will be better still by the time he plays the Grand Opera House on home soil in October (on a date yet to be confirmed).