James Morrison and Benjamin Francis Leftwich, live at the itunes Festival London, Camden Roundhouse, 30th July 2011
It’s the penultimate night of the itunes festival in London; the staff and organisation run like clockwork, and the 30th packed night at the Roundhouse is ready for a night of acoustic and soul. First up is newbie Benjamin Francis Leftwich, who enters the stage sheepishly like a nervous schoolboy. Benjamin seemed rather overwhelmed by the prospect of playing in front of all the hoop-la of cameras and worldwide viewers on the live stream. But there’s not much he needed to be nervous about, his sumptuous voice and undemanding guitar strumming accompaniment sensationally captivated the audience. Leftwich appeared very vulnerable with just his acoustic guitar accompanying him on the stage, he went through his latest single ‘Pictures’ and ‘Box of Stones’ which although sounded beautiful, his vulnerable demeanour made it difficult for the audience to really connect with him. Every song moulded into the next, as it was hard to tell whether Leftwich even changed key. As individual songs, they sound gorgeous and perfect for montagse in American shows like Gossip Girl, but when played in succession, it is hard to tell one from the next. Having said that, towards the end of the set Leftwich invited a drummer and harmony vocalist onstage, and that’s when the whole performance truly came to life. With sparse drums, using oceanic tremolos of the cymbols, and complementing vocal harmonies, Leftwich finally seemed comfortable. New single ‘Atlas Hands’ was saved for his finale and showed, that if Leftwich does change it up a bit, he will have sticking power, his voice is gorgeous, and the songs are well written, maybe just a little more finesse and experimentation wouldn’t do him any harm.
As the 60 seconds countdown to James Morrison’s arrival on the itunes stage, the truly diverse crowd, of mixed ages, are built into a frenzy of eager anticipation. Morrison’s high-energy entrance to the stage is accompanied by the opening track off his first album ‘Under the Influence’ followed by the more familiar title track ‘Undiscovered’. Three songs in, Morrison asks “I hope you don’t mind, but how would you like me to play a few new songs?” Admittedly, the crowd were expectant of a more hit heavy setlist, yet there were quite a few newbies thrown in the mix, with 6 new tracks making the set. However, the new tracks slotted in perfectly, and left no room for anyone to complain.
Morrison who is set to release third album ‘The Awakening” in September, has definitely been inspired by recent events in his life. Remarking that he had a ‘fucking brutal’ year in 2010 due to the passing of his father, he played two new songs, inspired by those tumultuous emotions he felt. The first, ‘In my dreams’ is an incredibly heartfelt song, remarking how the only place he now sees his father’s face is during sleep. As Morrison’s raspy voice cries ‘don’t you wake me up’, you’d have to be made out of stone not to feel the pain and grieving behind the song. This was followed by the equally sad and self-reflective ‘Person I should have been’ which was inspired by Morrison’s last conversation with his father. If the sounds of these two songs are anything to go by, Morrison’s new album will definitely be an ‘Awakening’ revealing an honest and open stream of consciousness. The new album shows Morrison truly addressing his soulful side, as although his music has always bordered on soul, this time it seems he is properly capturing the emotion behind the music: fully indulging in the melodies and baring his soul in the lyrics, hoping to heal his wounds.
Even musically, Morrison’s new material is deeply rooted in the blues, the track ‘Right by your side’ saw Morrison on stage with just the lead guitarist and backing singers to play a sensationally emotive, raw blues ballad. The track fully exposes Morrison’s vocal ability, and perhaps even suggests that he has finally found his true calling, as his unrefined gravelly voice is undeniably perfect for the genre.
But don’t worry; it’s not all doom and gloom, in fact one of the knockout tracks of the evening came from ‘Slave to the music’. The track curiously reminded me of Simply Red (and that’s not just because his keyboardist looks a lot like Mick Hucknall) albeit it felt like a revamped Simply Red track: it made you sing, dance and most importantly, feel good. It’s definitely one that will catch a lot of people by surprise.
Although the prize of the biggest sing-along of the night surprisingly went to ‘This Boy’ from his debut, during which the crowd serenaded Morrison with an entire verse. Predictably ‘You give me something’, and ‘Broken Strings’ also went down a storm. Ending the night with the gorgeous ‘Wonderful World’ as part of his encore, despite many protestations from the man standing next to me genuinely yelling, “Do ‘Wiseman’” (erm, completely wrong James!) Morrison and his band graciously left the stage.
Morrison is definitely one of those performers who sounds better live than he does on the records. The new album, scheduled to be out on the 26th September, sounds like a step away from simplistic pop, it’s a more mature soulful step forward, and it’s a step that could finally separate Morrison from the riff-raff (and the other James) at the top of the charts.
All images taken from http://www.itunesfestival.com/gb/galleries