Leaping on stage with an acoustic guitar and a gauche stage demeanour, folk troubadour Benjamin Francis Leftwich swiftly launches into the wispy, melodic ‘Pictures’. In a nondescript khaki t-shirt, Leftwich presents an incongruous vision against the imperious beauty of Oxford’s Town Hall, while his reputedly dry sense of humour was pretty much absent as he powered on through ‘1904’ and ‘Shine’ with minimal chat in between.
Which may be just as well, for when it comes it’s hardly side-splitting fare. Of new song ‘Manchester Snow’ Leftwich mumbles “this is a song I wrote about a girl I had intercourse with eleven times”. Yolo and all that.
The delicate poignancy of ‘Butterfly Culture’ with Leftwich’s sparse and ethereal vocals, however, gives some explanation for the cult following he’s clearly amassed. Indeed, the apparent use of a typewriter as a makeshift metronome adds a dash of amusing idiosyncrasy to a performance which hinges on the understated.
Suddenly he orders the crowd to be quiet; his devoted following duly oblige and a pregnant hush settles. Unplugging his guitar and stepping away from the microphone with a self-conscious sense of ceremony, he delivers a rendition of ‘Maps’ devoid of band backing or microphones. Because he’s, like, a bona fide, none-of-this-fake-shit, singer-songwriter. OK? Huskily crooning “I named a star after you/ But that wasn’t bright enough for you” the audience’s rapt adoration belies the fact that Leftwich’s rasping voice sounds like a healthy dose of Lemsip and singing lessons would go a long way in improving this performance.
A forgettable and rather half-baked cover of Arcade Fire’s ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ further underlies how Leftwich would benefit from greater musical complexity; his stripped-back acoustic approach is humble, but a tad repetitive and certainly rather limiting at times. So while there is much to commend in the Yorkshire singer-songwriter’s evening of mellow, chilled-out folky music, the scope for refinement is significant.
The current neo-folk music climate may be teeming, but as Leftwich’s performance shows, in the wrong hands this brand of singer-songwriting can easily descend into mediocrity, banality and abject boredom.