Standing alone in the centre of the small Cavern stage, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Benjamin Francis Leftwich cuts almost exactly the kind of figure you would expect from an artist responsible for the whimsical kind of folk found on his 2011 debut album Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm. Softly spoken and reflective, his presence on stage is hushed, almost fragile, but consistently captivating.
With his first track, recent single Tilikum, he enraptures his crowd from the first guitar notes, ensuring silence with the tenderness of his voice. “I wonder what you’re thinking”, sings Leftwich, and instantly we are aware this will be an intensely intimate show, a personal tone that is entirely intentional. Leftwich has developed a dedicated following over the past few years, and nowhere is this clearer than when he launches into tracks from his debut album. Pictures inspires a muttering of excitement and recognition, before the crowd is utterly silenced by the distinctive, breathy tone of Leftwich’s voice. Despite the fragility of his voice and performance, Leftwich proves himself to be aware and present among his audience, asking some chattering audience members to be quiet halfway through a song, so that the rest of the crowd can enjoy his music in peace. In Stole You Away, Leftwich makes his first bold move, stepping back from his microphone and allowing his voice to echo out into the room in his natural state. There is a sense of indulgence here, and also a pleasing confidence; he is an artist unafraid to show the vulnerability of his talent to the attentive audience, creating a sense of community between musician and audience which is so often absent. With one released album under his belt over the past five years, you could be forgiven for thinking that Leftwich would perhaps be tired of his old material, but he manages to breathe a sense of originality through songs he has played hundreds of times on multiple tours.
In the mid-section of the gig Leftwich entwines familiar songs with a mixture of old tracks and new material from his upcoming album, After The Rain, due on the 19th of August. These tracks flow seamlessly and Leftwich retains his sense of reflection throughout the set, perhaps entangling the emotion of his songs within more entrancing images than on his debut. This is particularly evident in Frozen Moor, which he announces beforehand as being inspired by his hometown of York, and is sung with a lingering sense of nostalgia. The seamless nature of the flow between songs is somewhat of a double-edged sword, it makes for a relaxing, immersive listening experience but also perhaps hints toward a striking similarity between the two albums, a sense of stillness. However, this may be owed simply to the nature in which Leftwich plays; solo upon an empty stage, focusing on transmitting the base quality and emotion of the song toward his audience. His most recent single Mayflies possesses an electric quality, previously unseen throughout his previous work, which would be impossible to transmit without a band behind him; signalling an evolution in his sound.
In the final song and set highlight, Atlas Hands, Leftwich demonstrated just why he is so loved as an artist. He cites illness as his reason for stepping back from the mic and singing with the rest of the audience, but it is not hard to imagine that this campfire-esque end is entirely intentional. An energy of community runs through the audience as they sing quietly, some even in harmony, to the whimsical melody of Leftwich’s humble, beautiful closing song. So perhaps his new album offering won’t bring anything wildly revolutionary to the table, but as an artist, Leftwich has found his own spellbinding brand of authenticity, and with a captivating talent that commands such a presence, why should he feel inclined to be in any way different? It is rare to find such a simple, honest approach to relatable, emotional music in today’s cultural landscape, and once it is found, it is worthy of nothing less than indulgence.