Words by Ed King
I over play things. It’s a habit. And for one glorious summer Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s debut album – Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm, was the repetitive soundtrack to my earphone clad existence.
Alongside Like I Used To by Lucy Rose, and If You Leave by Daughter, these three debuts owned me for a solid six months – complicit and outright. And now with Leftwich’s follow up album poised to attack, the ‘eagerly awaited’ After the Rain set for release on 19th August, I prepare for predictability once again.
“I really appreciate that,” responds Benjamin Francis Leftwich, as I try to retain any sense of detached cool, “those two artists (Lucy Rose, Daughter) are close friends of mine and I know they’d be incredibly humbled to hear that as well. I know what you mean though; so many records of that genre were coming out then and everyone was on the same gig circuit and festivals – it was a really beautiful time and one that I’ll always cherish.”
Ah the halcyon days… But such an immediate impact can be both a blessing and a curse, with the pressures to jump even higher, especially on ‘that difficult second album’, often the antithesis to a healthy creative development. And more often than not, with the aforementioned being a triptych example, the make or break in this scenario can come down to the label.
“They’re amazing; I consider them family,” explains Leftwich – talking about Dirty Hit, his label for nearly a decade. “It’s a great home, they’ve allowed me to make the record that I wanted and needed to make. They’re just very music focused; I was almost going to say ‘tolerant’, but the people who work there have an amazing ear and ultimately they’re just music lovers who know more about how to make things work (industry) than I do.”
You do get a sense of camaraderie from the Dirty Hit roster, even from the outside looking in – like it’s more a friendly faced 4AD than a suited and booted Sony. “I’m not just saying that because we’re talking,” confirms Leftwich, “but the level of dedication goes so much further than just the music and song writing than I think people realise – it’s everything. When you’re working with an independent label like that, and you go into an office and there are five people running the whole thing… out of necessity it has to be inclusive, and song focused. And of course ambitious.”
Good to know. When my kazoo career is ready for takeoff I know where to send my demo. But it’s not all a garrulous love in at Casa de la Leftwich, as the five year hiatus between albums was the result of the illness and subsequent death of Benjamin’s father – a man the After the Rain press release describes as both ‘a parent and his number one source of inspiration’.
“…feel free to ask me what you want to ask me,” says Leftwich, as I stumble around the foundations of his latest endeavour. “There’s no question of me being offended. By ‘aspects’ do you mean things as well as the death of dad?” I do. It’s a poor choice of words, but how driven by that particular sadness was the writing process for After the Rain?
“It was hugely impactful, massively so. I’ve run through the timeline of it so much; I was with dad back in York, living in the house, and I loved that I could be there. Then I went on tour to America, which in hindsight I regret, but you know, that’s life. Then I came back and was writing in my room; me and my sister were there, sharing time.” Again the press release mentions this, how After the Rain’s opening track was ‘written in the living room opposite his father’s old house.
“We had producers coming up and setting up in the living room recording music, we had a full mixing desk in the living room at one point.” I feel like I’ve left my shoes on where I shouldn’t. But was it all about your dad?
“When something like that happens it’s more than just about that initial thing,” continues Leftwich, “it affects everything else around it. So that album (After the Rain) is massively inspired by it, and everything that followed. Not every song is about that – they cover a massive geographical and emotional range, but of course it’s a theme that runs though, and probably, subconsciously, maybe, ties them all together.”
Luckily for the sake of this conversation (and the apparent label goodwill) the first teaser from Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s new album is a superb return to form – the delicate but visceral ‘Tilikum’, which has been out in the public domain since early this year.
“The name of the song came from the name of the whale in the film Blackfish,” explains Leftwich, “and it’s a name that I was once planning on calling my baby… but that didn’t happen.” I remember ‘Tilikum’s opening six lines and choose not to ask. “And I wrote a song kind of explaining my thoughts about that and for the future. The chorus is just full of love.” The verses aren’t bad either; with a crafted sensitivity and robust pen, ‘Tilikum’ is arguably a step up from its predecessors. And that’s hard for me to say.
But there’s something else in Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s first release in half a decade, something evolved. Maybe it’s the time spent in between albums, maybe it’s the tragedy and catalyst, maybe it’s the Charlie Andrew production, or the “wider range of music than I listened to five years ago” and “sounds and textures from different records” that Leftwich references in his follow up. I honestly couldn’t say. And part of me doesn’t want to.
But with a 27 date tour before the album’s release – traversing Europe, America and Canada, and a date at our own Moseley Folk Festival, I’ll probably have enough time to find a suitably verbose suggestion.
Now someone get me Elena Tonra on the phone…
Benjamin Francis Leftwich plays at The Rainbow Courtyard on Thursday 5th May – as presented by Birmingham Promoters & Kilimajaro Live. For direct info & tickets, click visit http://therainbowvenues.co.uk/events/benjamin-francis-leftwich/
For more on Benjamin Francis Leftwich, visit http://www.benjaminfrancisleftwich.com/
For more from The Rainbow Venues, visit http://therainbowvenues.co.uk/