Leftwich gives new life to a tired genre

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

THERE IS no other term in music that will instantly send people eyes-rolling into a stupor than the dreaded ‘singer-songwriter’ tag.

THERE IS no other term in music that will instantly send people eyes-rolling into a stupor than the dreaded ‘singer-songwriter’ tag.

In this country we have had more than our fair share of whiskered troubadours, while the UK - latterly - has seen something of a ‘Brit-Folk’ movement spring up in recent years, aided by the likes of Mumford and Sons, whose folksy, strummy tunes have invented dozens of bastardised guitar-slinging offspring seeking to write the next version of ‘The Cave’.

Thankfully, although his name is a bit of a mouthful and won’t be well known to very many people in these parts, 21-year-old guitar slinger - yes, singer-songwriter even - Benjamin Francis Leftwich, does not slip comfortably and annoyingly into that tired genre.

His dreamy, blissed, gently hypnotic album ‘Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm’ has just been released, and is currently riding high in the UK album sales charts at 19. But think less James Blunt or Morrison and more James Blake, without the schizophrenic electro-rhythms, but that same minimalism.

A buzz has been building about Leftwich for some time, with the supremely annoying, but no less influential Jo Whiley, Zane Lowe and Dermot O’Leary inviting him to perform live on their UK radio shows, showering him with praise.

He comes to Ireland next week for his first Irish tour, one that includes a stop in Limerick for a quiet gig Upstairs in Dolan’s. Such gigs won’t stay quiet for long, given the upward trajectory of this young man’s career.

Leftwich is taking it all in his stride, despite being in the middle of a massive string of dates on both sides of the water, and was remarked upon furiously in dispatches from Glastonbury, strong word of mouth following his every move.

“I am really busy, but all good, I am enjoying it,” says Leftwich over the phone from a car speeding him towards Glasgow for an ‘in-store’ appearance.

“The album came out on Monday and it is all going really well, it seems to be doing well so far and people are into it and are coming to the shows.”

The faint suspicion that this young man might be choosing his words carefully is forgotten when the subject of a recent interview with the BBC comes up. In the interview he said he doesn’t really “get” the comparisons heaped upon him to other contemporaries.

“The stuff I play, it’s easy to make comparisons because it’s acoustic guitar,” he said. “It’s nice to be compared to people but I don’t really get the comparisons.”

Asked about this, he is in no way reticent to pick up the discussion again.

“To be honest I understand why that happens, especially in the media, people feel like they need to do that and compare it to someone or something, but the majority of people who listen to my music are those who love music and don’t have an agenda like the media would,” he says.

“When I listen to a record, if it sounds like someone else, great, but if the songs are amazing I am gonna love it, and if not, I won’t. All that stuff, putting people in a box or genre or scene or whatever - people are into what they are into, and that’s it.”

If comparisons were to be made, there are elements of Paul Simon, Sujan Stevens, Arcade Fire and Bon Iver in his work, which is distinctive, but deliberately understated, not showy - something he worked on with producer Ian Grimble, who has himself worked with Manic Street Preachers and Mumford and Sons.

“I always try and do right by the songs and if I ever write a song that I think needs a big rock sound and key change, then I will go with it, but for now the songs didn’t need that much and a lot of them are acoustic guitar based,” he explains. “A couple of the songs are a little bit bigger in terms of their presentation, but I didn’t feel they or the production needed to be anything more than minimalistic.”

Asked if he is prepared for the focus that may come with any success he might achieve, he says simply: “I don’t mind at all, I love talking about music, I could do that all day”.

“I suppose it is kind of hard to be objective about my own music, talking about my stuff, or how the media or other people talk about it. I am enjoying what I am doing, I am getting to meet a lot of cool people and talk to different people about it,” he adds.

Prepare to hear a lot more about this young singer-songwriter.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich plays Upstairs in Dolan’s on Monday, July 18.