5 Minutes with Benjamin Francis-Leftwich
Before he heads back on tour, successful singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich from York reflects on his music, and how it’s changed as he’s grown
Making this album wasn’t smooth-sailing though. ‘I had the idea that I wanted it to be 10 tracks,’ he says. ‘I had the title first, To Carry a Whale, and so the road was narrow in terms of what we allowed to feature on the album. I wrote maybe 20 or 30 songs for it and we got rid of some of them – because they just weren’t right, you know. To Carry a Whale means living with a heaviness (which many people do) and the songs had to reflect that. We spent five weeks making the album and I realised that it just wasn’t right – the spirit just wasn’t in the room, and we had to make the decision to scrap five weeks of work, move to a different studio and start again to create the album we wanted to make.’ Perfecting the album was important to Benjamin. ‘I want to live and create in a way that’s honest,’ he explains. ‘Deep down in people’s hearts, whether they’re an artist or not, they know when something isn’t right.’
It seems the hard work has paid off as his fans are now looking forward to seeing Benjamin perform some of his tracks live. ‘It’s going to be the kind of tour that I look back on in 10–20 years and think that was crazy, especially as things are still uncertain,’ says Benjamin. ‘It’s not plain sailing and I’m pleased we got to tour a good amount in the States and Europe before the pandemic hit, but I’m excited to be back on stage. I’ll play from my heart and try to play in a way that’s useful to others. That’s all I can do. It’s very different touring on your fourth album as a 32 year old, as opposed to a 20 year old just out of school, touring with your mates – thinking that you’re U2. That delusion is over.’
It was only when it came to writing the setlist that Benjamin realised that he has so many songs to choose from. ‘I’ve got four albums and EPs, so I just go from my heart,’ he says. ‘The ultimate compliment is always the messages from people saying my music helped them through hard times or good times – whatever it may be.’ He knows from experience how music can change lives.
It’s more than a decade since Benjamin released his debut album, and he’s learned a lot since then. ‘My heart has become more open to other ways of creating and collaborating,’ he explains. ‘I’ve climbed down from my high horse in life in general (but also in terms of what I’ll listen to). Style-wise, I don’t know, that’s not really for me to say, but spiritually my heart has been opened.’
With this new mind-set, nothing’s stopping him and he reveals he’s] tentatively working on a new album. ‘I’ve got some great songs for it and I’m working with some of the most amazing artists around and love learning from them,’ he says. ‘I’ll keep writing songs as long as I believe that it’s my purpose. I feel very lucky to be more in love with music than ever.’
See Benjamin on tour at The Foundry, Sheffield on 24th February, York City Church on 25th February and The Parish, Huddersfield on 26th February. Get your tickets at benjaminfrancisleftwich.com/tour.
Who is inspiring you?
‘Holly Humberstone! To get to spend so much time with her, and write with her, and be around her and her energy is just incredible. Lucy Blue and Bonnie Kemplay are inspiring me too. I thought the Wolf Alice album [Blue Weekend] was unbelievable. Seventeen Going Under is an obvious choice but I think Sam Fender is brilliant. I’ve had the pleasure of spending some time with him and I’m so inspired by his truth. That’s an incredible song, as are many of the others. When people admit their own brokenness they can write amazing stuff. You get people like Sam singing “that’s the thing with anger, it begs to stick around” and the whole country goes “yeah, I get that”.’
What do you love most about Yorkshire?
‘The friendliness. The beautiful countryside. The love for family. The literature over the years. I’m not surprised people call it God’s own Country because as you’re driving through the moors, it’s just unbelievable.’
How has being from Yorkshire influenced your music?
‘I grew up in a safe, quiet, slow town and it gave me the space to be inspired by nature itself.’
Your favourite artist from Yorkshire?
‘At the moment, The Howl & The Hum. I’ve been working with them a little bit and I think they’re a brilliant band.’
Could you highlight any of your favourite Northern venues to perform in?
‘Leeds Brudenell. The Crescent, York. Leeds City Varieties Music Hall is great too. I was lucky enough to play at York Minster a few years ago and although it’s not a music venue, it’s another great place to create.’