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Nestled amongst the hustle and bustle of King’s Cross is the Lafayette, a small and intimate venue perfect for Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s return to the London music scene after over 2 years. The atmosphere was perfectly set by the soft acoustics of his support acts Wounded Bear and Elanor Moss. After their performance, the singer-songwriter spoke softly about his nerves regarding his return to live music, before launching into his set.
Starting with songs from his most recent album, To Carry a Whale, which was released last year, Leftwich created an atmosphere of such peace that only the plucking of his guitar strings could be heard. No one watching dared even move as they stood mesmerised by his soft and raspy voice. Despite the shakiness at the start of the set, given Leftwich’s nerves, he eventually came into his own when he played his single ‘Pictures’ from his 2011 album Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm. An excited hush started to travel around the venue, but Leftwich’s vocals embodied so much soul that the audience had no choice but to quieten down once again.
Alternating between his biggest hits, which he deliberately softened, and ones lesser known, which he riffed up as a means of making up for a small stage presence, Leftwich’s melancholic tone transported the crowd to an otherworldly place. The tugs of his guitar strings acted as a means of navigating the complex themes of love and loss in his songs. As the gig continued, he began to open up more to the audience, rather than just allowing his music to take the lead. He reflected on funny anecdotes that have influenced his stage presence, or ones that now leave a certain memory of a song with him. He reflected on a past performance of his song ‘Butterfly Culture’ in a church several years ago, where despite his music being something of a tonic for stress and frustration, a fight broke out in one of the pews. This is something which he now jokes about as a reason for his newfound love of quiet venues and peaceful audiences, especially without his band (Covid made it difficult to bring them along, so he performs solo with just a guitar and an amp).
The stories Leftwich began to tell alongside his songs, almost as a means of curating a narrative for them that was separate from his albums and setlists, gradually got more personal; there was little secrecy left on stage for an audience to pick apart and put together again. He dedicated the songs from To Carry a Whale to his friend Sam, who he met on a whim in London Fields and who eventually became a co-creator for the album. This was off the back of Leftwich’s 7-month trip to Australia to focus on writing songs and delving into his own personal creative process. During the trip, he almost got married twice—these were turning points which led him to move away from abstract songs about life's big questions and turn in on himself more.
Following a very brief exit from the stage as a means of gathering some enthusiasm for an encore, Leftwich launched into a monologue about one of the songs from To Carry a Whale, ‘Tired in Niagara’, which was about him travelling with his band on a tour in North America and missing the familiarity of home. Leftwich spoke about a side of musicians we rarely get to see: he mentioned feeling drained by the travelling and the constant work as a means of financially surviving, as well as the absence of love, as he often went through long stretches without seeing any friends, family, or partners. These themes are dealt with in many of the songs in To Carry a Whale, in Leftwich’s staple layered-acoustic style. Eventually, he brought the set list to a close with arguably his biggest hit, ‘Shine’, and left the stage with his guitar, allowing a markedly less calm atmosphere to take over the Lafayette once again.
Edited by Talia Andrea, Deputy Music Editor