It’s quite clear that Benjamin Francis Leftwich is happy to be back on tour and performing in the city that he calls home.
Speaking to him at The Crescent a few hours before his first York gig in several years, the singer-songwriter tells me that he’s “loving the tour and it’s humbling to be coming out and playing sold-out shows, and the venue (The Crescent, off Blossom Street), is beautiful.”
The current tour follows a three-year hiatus from the music scene for the singer-songwriter and the production of a new album, After The Rain, which will be released on 19th August. Such a break has left Leftwich feeling “clear-minded” and in possession of a “totally different perspective on performing” after a non-stop three years of touring in his early twenties that left him feeling “hazed” and “affected everything.”
He explains, “you grow up really quickly on tour I think, occasionally the first time you go out you can be overly indulgent and it’s kind of hard to adjust your head to that kind of lifestyle straight away. Often it’s hard to adjust your head to coming home off tour as well.”
I ask Leftwich if he believes there to be negative effects associated with people become famous or well known too young, and whether he can relate to that. His answer to both questions is a definitive “absolutely.”
But there are also many positives associated with his early success. “It’s an amazing way to grow up. You meet lots of people, make a lot of new friends and see beautiful parts of the world and I’m grateful for it you know, whenever I feel like complaining or saying, “I don’t wanna get on this plane” or “I don’t wanna get on this train.”
The music in York is beautiful, but you can’t just wait at the start line and expect the finish line to magically come to you
Loss is a recurrent theme in Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm, and one that is nothing but expected following the loss of Leftwich’s father in 2013, which the singer explains to have had a “substantial” effect on him as well “so many other things” in his life.
Leftwich shows no signs of nerves as he walks around The Crescent singing lyrics from his songs. He radiates positive energy and warmth as we chat and it’s refreshing to witness. Perhaps this is because he feels so at home in York, where he has many fond memories growing up and played gigs at venues such as Cert18, (now the Fleeting Arms on Gillygate), Fibbers and Basement Bar. He reveals that his favourite bar is The Habit on Goodramgate and favourite places to eat are Il Paradiso on Walmgate and Vanilla Café by the Minster.
The York music scene means a lot to Leftwich. “I love a lot of the music that comes out of York on a really personal and spiritual level, I listen to it all the time, especially some of David Ward Maclean’s songs, I have full playlists of amazing bands from York.”
However, he dislikes “some of the attitudes and resentment towards the industry from specific parts of the York music scene” that he feels discouraged musicians with big potential and left them behind. Leftwich always wanted a record deal, a manager and to be heard by lots of people and hassled people in York and London to get that. He recalls a time when people used to call up his house where he was living with his dad offering him gigs.
“Dad wouldn’t even tell me about it and I found out years later I was offered all these sick gigs and dad had just been like “hmm, yeah no. But that’s cool, that’s what parents are there for, that kind of thing.”
He continues, “the music in York is beautiful, but you can’t just wait at the start line and expect the finish line to magically come to you.”
It feels as though Leftwich has overcome the negativity that has had a significant effect on him over the past couple of years and channelled all his thoughts and feelings into After The Rain, which, according to Leftwich is “the best music I’ve ever made so far”. Inspiration has come from constantly surrounding himself with music and wider music tastes than when he was producing Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm. Leftwich cites Kanye West as a “creative genius.”
For Leftwich, his message is a lot clearer and the lyrics more open and direct than on his 2011 debut album. “There’s certainly some moments and some messages that I had to get across where I just had to say it like it was.” However, he also sees beauty in more hidden and cryptic lyrics because he likes “people to be able to create their own stories and for their emotions to be able to flow in their own way when they’re listening.”