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Just A Song Man

10 July 2012 | 8:00 am | Michael Smith

Now 21, English singer/songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich has known he wanted to be a singer/songwriter since his was ten, though he admits to Michael Smith that he’s still not sure it’s a career.

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Things have exploded pretty quickly for singer/songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich, whose debut album, Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm, is finally getting an Australian release and a quick visit our way to perform it. As it happens, while Leftwich might be coming to Australia to perform for the first time, he's no stranger to Sydney at least, where's he's spent a couple of Christmases in the past, with his mother having been born in the city.

However, despite all the accolades of BBC Radio 1 airplay, top 20 placings in the UK album chart, high profile support slots such as Noah & The Whale and downloads that run into the tens of thousands, Leftwich isn't so sure he's got a career in music just yet. “The word 'career' I still find funny,” Leftwich admits, on the line from his kitchen in the city of York. “It is my job, and that's amazing – and I'm so grateful to be touring and getting to see all these new places in the world. But for me, music is a totally spiritual thing and the songs come when they're ready to come, and they don't come if they're not ready. I'm proud of the album and proud of the first couple of EPs and I feel lime I'm in a good headspace creatively.

“It's funny because when I was writing the first couple of EPs and the album, I didn't think anyone would listen to it, which was a good thing for my songwriting because I could just write what I really cared about and not think about anything else. Which is still what I aim to do, but it's harder when you know there are people that are ready to listen. But it feels good, you know.”

Like a lot of kids, Leftwich did the school rock band thing, joining his first at 14 and quitting his last band at 17 in order to concentrate on being what he felt he was; a solo singer/songwriter. “I just started playing gigs straight away,” he explains. “I'd literally book a gig in, get to the venue early, write some songs in the soundcheck and go on the stage and play them, 'cause I kind of wanted to just get doing it. I'm pleased I did that. I consider myself a singer/songwriter, if anything. I don't particularly like to put myself in a genre or a box. Music's a spiritual thing, so you write songs and you release them… Singer/songwriter's probably the most accurate description. In England it seems to have a couple of negative connotations, but, you know, that's what I do and that's what I love.”

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As a songwriter, Leftwich works more on the level of an impressionist than a storyteller, bringing together disparate images to create an ambience. “I think there's definitely a level of ambiguity to the first album, which was kind of my intention. I don't have the answers to everything and I'm still figuring stuff out for myself.”

Leftwich turned to producer Ian Grimble – whose CV includes Manic Street Preachers, Beth Orton, Mumford & Sons and Texas, among others – to make the record. “We asked a couple of people but me and Ian are kind of on the same wavelength and, you know, he's a great friend now. He always had the same vision, especially sonically, going into the album that we wanted it to be fairly minimal, but also have little moments of other things coming in and hinting at stuff. I think he did a great job.”