Friday night gigs at the Norwich Waterfront simply should not happen. By midnight, the venue has turned into the city’s most popular alternative club night; the goths, punks, emos and vamp-tramps are out in force, gathering for a celebration of metal and rock. The right ambience for a quiet folk-pop gig this does not make. It was under these precarious circumstances that Benjamin Francis Leftwich took to the Waterfront’s stage as part of his latest UK tour.
Ben’s last Norwich show at the Arts Centre was a momentous occasion featuring fairy lights, smoke machines and gorgeous support acts (including everyone’s favourite 4AD signings Daughter). Both that show and this one sold out well in advance, but I would soon find out that no matter what the calibre of the musician, Friday gigs at this venue just don’t quite work. Hell, the same thing happened with Laura Marling this time last year – luckily, her next show was at the Cathedral – so I probably should have expected a similar vibe for this night.
The songs, of course, were exceptional; tunes from debut album ‘Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm’ went down a storm (please excuse the pun), and the raucous audience even quietened down for a spell while he aired some new tracks. Maybe that’s because Ben introduced ‘Manchester Snow’ by saying it was about a girl he fell in love with and shagged 23 times in one week during his last stay up north. Lad.
Radio-winners like ‘Atlas Hands’ and ‘Pictures’ had the whole audience swaying and singing in beautiful – though noticeably still conversational – unison, while a few songs done without the aid of the backing band showed BFL to be just as accomplished solo as when his sound is complimented by other instruments.
What could have been an undoubtedly mind-blowing show was unfortunately tarnished by a Norwich crowd ready for a Friday club night, too much to drink and a curry to wash it all down. When you come back, Ben, please play on a weeknight. Even better, play for us in a church; we have more than 30 of them up for grabs in our fine city.