Benjamin Francis Leftwich @ Bath Komedia 21/02/12 Live Review

Yes, this is a Bristol-based website so excuse us for a brief deviation to Bath but the reason for such a defection was a triple-bill of music at Bath’s Komedia that looked too good to pass up – The Fossil Collective, Ren Harvieu and Benjamin Francis Leftwich.

I do love Bristol’s many and varied gig venues but I have to admit that the Komedia is a pretty nice room. Once a cinema, apparently the conversion of this Grade 1 listed building to its current form is “award-winning”. There are essentially two tiers of standing room – the stalls area and a raised area further back with a conveniently placed bar (serving a reasonable range of local tipples alongside the usual mass-produced staples) – and then a seated balcony right at the back. Unlike some of Bristol’s larger venues there’s not really anywhere in the audience with a restricted view (unless you happen to get stuck behind some lanky indie-kid) and, though this gig was sold out, there was still a good amount of space for everyone. Anyway, that’s more kind words about Bath than are appropriate on a Bristol website so on to the music…

Perhaps because Bath lacks the plentiful nightlife and laid back attitude of our fair city, when I arrived a little before doors time (having taken a few wrong turns around Bath’s crazy road system) there was already a queue stretching right down the block. On the other hand, perhaps for them, as for me, the draw of Fossil Collective was worth turning up early for. This guitar-led indie-folk trio took us through a tight set with all the necessary instrument-swapping antics of any self-respecting folksters. It’s always nice to see a melodica and overall this was a solid performance and fitted well with the music to come.

Next up was hotly-tipped, BBC Sound of 2012 longlister Ren Harvieu who is very much on the way up again after her first assault on the world of music was brought to a halt by an accident that left her with a broken back. Walk on stage carrying a crutch but not using it, Harvieu instantly silenced the (rather chatty) Bath crowd applying her Northern soul vocals to a select few MOR style songs that sit somewhere around a miserable Dusty Springfield or Shelby Lynne. There’s an element of channelling the same 60s revival as Lana Del Rey but there’s a bit more of an edge here and purer, less affected vocals.

A cover of Roy Orbison’s “Cryin” captivated the crowd and was one of the highlights of the evening and overall her set was disappointingly short. Perhaps she’s still recovering or perhaps she just doesn’t have the songs yet but considering her album’s due out soon and then she’s off on a headline tour, I hope she can step up to that. Unfortunately that tour is not coming closer to Bristol than Birmingham or London so you’ll have to travel if you hope to catch her live anytime soon.

Finally taking to the stage was whispery-voiced, thrice-named, singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich with his mid-tempo songs about girls. What he does, he does well and there is clearly a lot of affection in the room for Ben with both sexes getting in on the cries of “I love you Ben!” between songs. I think it’s that his songs are the kind of songs that girls would like to have written about them and that guys would like to be able to write about them.

There was a lot of guitar swapping between songs – I’m not sure he played even two in a row without changing – but there was plenty of momentum and some good crowd banter with BFL clearly appreciating the reception he received. I saw BFL play The Fleece last year and the highlight at that gig was an unplugged rendition of Atlas Hands with the Bristol crowd providing quietly appreciative backup vocals. Not so for that song this time round, perhaps to save his voice for the rest of the tour, but there was one song for which he stepped away from the microphone, a trick that brings a certain intimacy even to a large room like this one as the crowd is brought on-side a conspiracy of quiet (though on this occasion the quiet was broken by an unfortunately timed sneeze from near the front).

Overall, Leftwich’s songs are musically both catchy and pretty and speak of love, life and loss and you can’t really go wrong with that. Here’s Atlas Hands…