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Roman Candle Presents Benjamin Francis Leftwich

Friday 15th November 2024, 7.30PM.
 
£16 Adv.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich
 
St Mary's ~ A Creative Space

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Roman Candle is thrilled to welcome Benjamin Francis Leftwich to St Mary's Creative Space, Chester, on Friday, November 15th. Special guest to be announced.

Tickets: £16 in advance on sale from Grey n Pink Records or See Tickets.

BENJAMIN FRANCIS LEFTWICH

Artistic transformation is often associated with a blast of fanfare – the dramatic unveiling of a new look, or lofty announcement of the revelation that prompted such a change. In the case of Benjamin Francis Leftwich, reinvention transpires with significantly more subtlety on his latest album, Some Things Break.

“It feels like a new voice, in a way." the York-born artist says. "I guess a more human and perhaps a more surrendered voice. Learning to hold on to certain things and let go of others with as much grace as possible…I feel like I’m hiding less on this record. Ultimately I think it’s a record about a kind of slow acceptance that some things break and for me - sometimes that’s necessary for healing”

Fans of Leftwich’s earlier work will associate him with a rich but pared-back acoustic singer-songwriter sound. Hit songs such as “Atlas Hands” and “Shine” – both from his Top 40 debut Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm – were infused with a charming wistfulness, and the yearning for sweet escape. Fans and critics alike were struck by this new artist’s disarming honesty; his lyrics were lauded for their candidness and vulnerability.

On Some Things Break, Leftwich’s fifth album, it’s as though you’re hearing his mea culpa in real time. This is the soul-baring of a man who’s been through it all, and lived to tell the tale, now with a brand new perspective on the things that matter. Leftwich is now five years sober, having struggled with substance abuse following the death of his father, before meeting someone who helped him turn things around. “We fell in love, she came on tour with me around America,” he says. “She was the kindest person I’ve ever met.” When that relationship ended, he booked himself in for treatment and got sober himself.

Through the darkest times in Leftwich’s life, he’s been lifted by the people who taught him to hope. “Any day now, I swear, the sun’ll come up/ Broken heart’s gonna beat again,” he sings on gorgeous lead single “Break in the Weather”. As the track builds, so too does his resolve: “Don’t you give up/ The light’s gonna shine on everything.” There’s a timeless, expressive quality to Leftwich’s singing style, redolent of Frank Sinatra or Edith Piaf; each piano note lands like those rays of light bursting through clouded heavens, bright and full of promise.

“I feel like there’s nowhere for me to hide on this record,” Leftwich says. “I’m proud of so much of my earlier work, but trying to replicate that now would feel very obsequious and fake. I’m proud of this – it’s from the heart.”

Indeed, on many of these songs, it’s as though the words are being wrenched from his body. He’s weary on “Moon Landing Hoax”, a Billy Joel and Randy Newman-indebted ballad on which he sings over filigrees of piano (performed by The 1975’s longtime keys player Jamie Squire). Mingling sentiment and cynicism in a sandpaper rasp, Leftwich sings: “I try to forget who I thought I should be/ I’m burning it up at a thousand degrees/ If time is a healer / It’s patient with me.” He wrote it while “feeling fried” during a session with Squire: “I was thinking about how young men can get into all sorts of mad shit, which is something we need to be aware of.”

Perhaps the most surprising moments on the record come from the more pop-leaning tracks, such as “God’s Best”, with its swift melodic undercurrent and vocodered backing vocals, and “A Love Like That”, taking its cues from the Bruce Springsteen pop-rock school of euphoria. Leftwich credits his willingness to experiment on his collaborations with emerging talent, such as The 1975, Nick Mulvey, Holly Humberstone, CMAT, Jasmine Jethwa, and Rachel Chinouriri.


“Working with so many brilliant young artists has been so inspiring to me,” he says. “They’re all so switched on, so every session is like opening a chest full of treasure.”

When he began writing for this new record, Leftwich was keen to sing from different perspectives than his own. Some Things Break opener “I’m Always Saying Sorry” is a cri de coeur, like nothing he’s done before, told through the eyes of a student caught up in a cycle of nihilism and self-destruction. “It was a story I’d heard of this lad at uni in damage mode, living in a shared hall,” Leftwich says. Finding himself buried in classic tales such as Anna Karenina and The Count of Monte Cristo, he realised he was being drawn towards a new lyrical style. “I’d been caught up in this thing for so many years thinking every song needed to be about me,” he says. “But then I started making up stories about other people – I loved it.”

Listeners will also notice a newfound immediacy in Leftwich’s writing. The title track, “Some Things Break”, was written just a week after the end of a meaningful relationship. “I think the catalyst for this entire album was an engine of heartbreak around my life,” he says. You hear it in the music – the tender piano notes that rise and fall like cresting waves onto the shore – and in Leftwich’s low, accepting lament: “That’s alright, some things break/ We gave it time, we gave it grace… And if it helps, I’m always gonna be in love with you,” he sings in the hushed refrain. “And if it helps, I’m always gonna be in love with you.””

It’s a song of both grief and acceptance; the pain of letting someone you love go, tempered by the knowledge that it’s the right thing for both of you. “There have been times I’ve held onto something because I’m scared of being alone,” he admits. “You need to be careful of that.”

Longtime fans will recognise this determination in Leftwich to face his demons. Following the death of his father in 2013, he found himself holed up in his old house, embarking on a period of self-annihilation. This ultimately led to the release of some of his best work, 2016’s After the Rain, praised by The Guardian for its “fragile, precious” songwriting. “Tell me why you’re picking up on everything that's going wrong?” he questioned over the trembling synths of “Kicking Roses”, then: “Shooting for the moon, the gravity is hanging on/ You try to deny what’s inside/ But the beat of your heart is paralysed.” He swam into the murky depths of “Cocaine Doll”, enveloped by strings emulating mournful whale cries, and wintry guitar notes, bitter as frost settling over sand. On the devastating “Groves”, he uttered a final farewell to his father, unable to prevent the heart-rending plea: “Don’t go/ I need you to be waiting for me/ Every time I’m home.”

On Some Things Break, we hear him speaking to his father again, now with time soothing the sting of his grief. “Spokane, Washington” is a Dylan-esque trip down memory lane, intertwined with love and surprising moments of humour. “Hey Dad, how you doing? We ain't spoken for a while,” Leftwich begins, “Nothing much to tell you, but I think I’m doing fine/ Maddy’s getting married to a woman that I like/ London’s still the same, nobody smiles.”

Written out in Nashville with renowned songwriter Mikky Ekko (Rihanna, Chloe Bailey, Olivia Dean), it was recorded with the bare minimum of studio equipment, resulting in its endearing and unpolished live demo sound. The memories, too, aren’t brushed over with a flattering filter – they’re raw and real. “I’m always trying to get back to that childlike, wide-eyed thing that I had on my first album,” Leftwich says, “where I was a kid and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was less jaded. There was an earnestness there.”

By closing tracks “Only You” and “Don’t Give Up On Light”, no one will be able to doubt Leftwich’s sincerity. On the former, we find him wandering the streets of London, set against a soundscape of sprawling acoustic Americana. “Don’t Give Up On Light”, meanwhile, is a message of hope for whoever needs it, sung with the conviction of a man who’s found his own way out of the dark. “This album is me saying I’m no longer scared of saying ‘I love you’,” he says. “I can finally ask someone to be patient with me. I’m more honest, and less afraid.”

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