Live Review: Benjamin Francis Leftwich at Newcastle Riverside – 7th October 2011

By on Monday, 17th October 2011 at 2:00 pm

Benjamin Francis Leftwich takes the stage with only three guitars and a bundle of delicate acoustic songs for company. Considering the crowded singer/songwriter market, he’s gathered an impressive, not-far-from-capacity crowd for this early Friday night slot. Comprising mainly the plummy Southern-counties students that are somehow attracted to the Universities of rough Northern cities, BFL’s posh accent fits right in. Close your eyes and you could be in a trendy Cheltenham bar rather than a cavernous live venue within spitting distance of the Tyne Bridge. There’s a smattering of dolled-up locals, too, killing time before the regular Friday night Quayside alcohol binge, but like oil and water, the students and locals don’t mix.

He plays most of recent album ‘Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm’; notably ‘Butterfly Culture’ gets a rapturous response. There’s the bizarre choice of a Springsteen cover in the middle somewhere. It doesn’t work: a fey English boy can add nothing to anything the Boss recorded, and it comes off as limp and trite. The challenge for solo singer/songwriters is that they have to do something really special to grab the attention: either have a world-stopping, beautiful voice, a party-trick virtuoso guitar technique, or stunning songwriting. Benjamin Francis Leftwich is perfectly competent, with his breathy vocal and pretty strumming, but there’s nothing special here, nothing to set him apart from the crowd. If he didn’t already have a middle name, it would be “Mainstream”. His voice is just ‘nice’; guitar-wise he sticks to root chords and doesn’t bother with effects or loops or any other of the other paraphernalia that resourceful solo performers use to try and stand out.

And the material is at some points breathtakingly mediocre – think as low as James Blunt, but not for too long or your brain might stop working in protest. One song is written apparently about the trials and tribulations of a train journey to London to meet with representatives of a prospective record label – hardly a common cause in a working-class area struggling to make ends meet. Without apparent irony, he blithely announces another song is about “being really chilled on a nice beach” – nice work if you can get it. Some dreadful rhyming couplets later (“face / place”, “share / there”), and the banal sickliness of ‘Don’t Go Slow’, and it’s all over.

He must be doing something right because the audience lap it up, but Leftwich really needs to up his game on all levels before he can mix it with the greats of singer/songwriting. The question is: does the young chap have it in him? Only time will tell.

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