York singer songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich to release sobering but uplifting To Carry A Whale album this summer

“A whale is heavy to carry. It’s gonna hurt you to carry it, but it’s also beautiful, and it’s a miracle to be able to carry all that at all,” says Benjamin Francis Leftwich explaining his new album title

YORK singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich will release his fourth album, To Carry A Whale, on June 18.

The following month will mark the tenth anniversary of his debut, the 100,000-selling Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm, made at the age of 21 when he became the Dirty Hit label’s first signing.

The new album takes its name from Ben revealing it is the first he has written and recorded entirely sober, a state he has maintained since spending 28 days in rehab in January 2018. “To Carry A Whale is an observation on what it’s like to be a sober alcoholic addict a couple of years in,” he says.

“A whale is heavy to carry. It’s gonna hurt you to carry it, but it’s also beautiful, and it’s a miracle to be able to carry all that at all.

The artwork for Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s new album

“My gratitude is my acceptance of that flawed character and the peace that goes with that, and the title acknowledges that.”

Such is Ben’s confessional nature in his song-writing. “I think that’s the deal I made with myself a long time ago. There’s no distinction between my musical life and my personal life and I write with compulsion,” he says.

“I still consider myself a baby [as a writer]. Maybe I should hide, but I don’t. I just kind of choose it; this way of being. It’s what it is. I’ll still answer your questions! I’m not here to hide things: a problem shared is a problem halved.”

Take the song Slipping Through My Fingers: “It’s that feeling of ‘Where did he go?’. ‘Where did she go?’. ‘Where did the time go?’. I think that addicts and alcoholics do have that mindset, very, very intensely, and it’s a painful mindset,” says Ben. “I describe it as a ‘hole in the soul’.

“Song-writing is a really special thing, a privilege and a responsibility, and it’s something that I love, but it’s good to leave your ego at the door,” says Benjamin Francis Leftwich

“So, writing such a song is cathartic. Totally. Singing from the heart, sharing my experiences, my hopes, that’s one of the things that keeps me well.”

What has Ben learned in the decade since Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm? “I’d probably say, ‘Speak to people you love about your problems. Don’t try to carry everything’ – and ‘well done on signing to an independent label’,” he decides.

After Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm in 2011, After The Rain in 2016 and Gratitude in 2019, here comes To Carry A Whale, comprising ten tracks led off by lead single Cherry In Tacoma, out now.

The recordings were made over a restless four-month span last year, divided between Ben’s home in Tottenham, London, Urchin Studios in Hackney, a hotel room in Niagara and a Southend studio owned by Ben’s friend Sam Duckworth, alias the musician Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.

Lasting impact: Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s 100,000-selling debut album in 2011, Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm

Duckworth produced much of the record, sharing production duties with Eg White, noted for his collaborations with Adele, Florence + The Machine and Sam Smith.

Eg White, Ben? How come? “I’ve worked with a producer called Josh Grant for a while, a dear friend of mine, and one day he said, ‘would you like to go over and meet Eg?’. I thought. ‘yeah, I’d love to’, and on that day we wrote Every Time I See A Bird, which is on the new album,” he says.

“Then we worked on Cherry In Tacoma, which I started in America but then hit a wall with it, but then Ed helped to bring it to fruition.”

Ben thrives on co-writing, whether with fellow York songwriter Sam Griffiths, of The Howl & The Hum, or a couple of upcoming days with James Morrison. “It’s great to work with other people,” he reasons.

When he was 21: Benjamin Francis Leftwich in York a decade ago after releasing his debut album

“Song-writing is a really special thing, a privilege and a responsibility, and it’s something that I love, but it’s good to leave your ego at the door. The song exists above us and we’re here to catch it.

“Occasionally you get an artist that goes it alone, but Kanye West co-writes, Taylor Swift co-writes, Adele co-writes. Ninety five per cent of the time, resistance to collaboration is only fear.”

Ben has relished recording with Sam Duckworth. “It’s really important, when there’s an energy there, you just have to grab it. Sam stayed with me at my place for ages when we were making the album. Some people do that 9 to 5 thing with their song-writing, which I respect, but it’s not my way and it’s not Sam’s way,” he says.

“Sometimes I might be going to bed, and then I’ll playing the guitar, and a song starts developing and you don’t go to bed!”

Just as Ben enjoys working with myriad musicians, so he believes in the need to travel for inspiration. “I’m not into the idea of just staying in any one city. It’s very limiting,” he says. “Early on, sometimes people want to put a belt around you to stop you from travelling, but I say ‘fly’.” Or as Sam Duckworth would urge: Get cape. Wear cape. Fly.

Travel has led to such new compositions as Sydney, 2013, Tired In Niagara and Cherry In Tacoma. “Tacoma is close to the Pacific Ocean, near Seattle, and it’s a place I’ve spent a lot of time; my godmother lives out there and I love to stay there,” Ben says.

As for a different form of travelling, going on tour to play his news songs: “We do have tours pencilled in, and I’d imagine I’ll be announcing them within the next two months.” Watch this space.

Track listing for To Carry A Whale: Cherry In Tacoma; Oh My God Please; Canary In A Coalmine; Tired In Niagara; Every Time I See A Bird; Wide Eyed Wandering Child; Sydney, 2013; Slipping Through My Fingers; Talk To You Now and Full Full Colour.

New single: The artwork for Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s Cherry In Tacoma

The Howl & The Hum turn into the Minster men for live-streamed concert on May 25

The Minster men: The Howl & The Hum pose for “the ultimate York band press shot”

AFTER a year of living under the pandemic cloud, The Howl & The Hum’s Sam Griffiths is judging his mood by a combination of his mental health and what TV programme is catching his eye.

“So, at the moment, I’m very well, and I’m watching Gordon Ramsay, and it does seem that everyone is feeling a little more positive,” says Sam, who will be feeling all the better for the announcement that his ground-breaking York band will play a live-stream concert at York Minster on May 25 from 8pm to 9.30pm.

The last time he graced a York stage with The Howl & The Hum, he was wearing angel wings with a nod to Christmas and Nativity plays at The Crescent in December 2019.

Might we see those wings again in the Nave of northern Europe’s largest medieval Gothic cathedral? “I feel like that’s been done,” says frontman Sam, whose show announcement promises “a unique set to compliment the unique venue”.

“We’re thinking about a different way to approach it because it’s probably the most important gig we’ve done. Definitely no animal sacrifices and no indoor fireworks! But we do have a lot of exciting plans, though some of them I can’t tell you!”

York’s long-standing independent promoters Please Please You, independent York grassroots venue The Crescent and legendary Leeds venue and promoters The Brudenell [Social Club] are teaming up with the Chapter of York to present this one-off live performance by the York alternative rock outfit.

Confirmed at the fourth attempt of settling on a date, the show will be live-streamed at 20:15 (GMT) via ticket.co, and depending on Covid-19 restrictions at the time, a “very limited socially distanced audience may be able to attend”.

“We’re thinking about a different way to approach it because it’s probably the most important gig we’ve done,” says The Howl & The Hum’s Sam Griffiths, front, as he contemplates their York Minster concert

Indoor performances with reduced capacities could re-start from May 17 under the Government’s four-step roadmap, and so updates on this possibility will be delivered exclusively via the band’s mailing list.

What’s more, this concert could turn into the first in a series of York Minster shows promoted by Joe Coates (Please Please You) and Nathan Clark (manager of The Brudenell), “though they will first see how this one goes,” says Sam. Watch this space.

So much happened for The Howl & The Hum last year, headlined by the May release of their debut album, Human Contact, but so much more should have happened until the pandemic tore up their diary.

“All the post-album tour plans were scrapped, hundreds of shows; that all got decapitated. Our jobs were deemed ‘unviable’ by the Government, and so many friends, musicians, technicians, sound engineers, are still not working, so we’ve got friends involved in our show,” says Sam.

“Joe and Nathan, and friends who are musicians, will help on the day, so this our attempt at rebirth and rejuvenating our corner of the music world, and we’ll be able to pay them properly and fairly.”

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Sam, bassist Brad Blackwell, guitarist Conor Hirons and drummer Jack Williams have all supported themselves through the past year by returning to past jobs when Covid measures permitted: Sam as a barman at the Cardigan Arms in Leeds; Brad and Conor in the Rafi’s Spicebox warehouse and Jack at Bettys in York.

“It’s been a really strange in-and-out time, but we’ve been in the privileged position of being able to regain employment,” says Sam.

“We’re in the studio four or five days a week this year with no distractions because there’s nothing else to do,” says Sam, pictured with Jack Williams, Conor Hirons and Brad Blackwell in pre-Covid times

Meanwhile, The Howl & The Hum have not gone into hibernation. “We’re now at the stage of discussing second album deals, and giving ourselves a wage again, and we’ve got a lot done, which lends itself to our mental health being healthier,” says Sam.

“We’ve been lucky that we’ve had the opportunity to go to our studio because it’s our place of business, so we’ve been there over the past nine months, wearing masks and social distancing.

“We’re in the studio four or five days a week this year with no distractions because there’s nothing else to do.”

Sam anticipates The Howl & The Hum releasing two themed EPs “not too far away”, over the months ahead. Will Covid loom large in the subject matter? “It’s a fine line, because I don’t think you can ignore what’s been happening,” he says.

“There’s no way to pretend it’s not happening, but it’s a challenge to address it in an interesting way, though I’ve always written about isolation. Some songs do allude it, some don’t.”

New material may well feature in the May 25 live-stream. “I reckon it will,” says Sam. “We’re really proud of these songs. They’re sounding almost irritatingly good! We really like them; I’m 80 per cent sure some will be in the Minster setlist.”

That setlist will be built around debut album Human Contact, whose prescient title chimed with pandemic times as such contact became more restricted, even barred, through the alienating cycle of pandemic lockdowns.

The artwork for The Howl & The Hum’s 2020 debut album, Human Contact

“At the time it came out, the title was a good line for the press and the press release, though I was worried it was going to haunt us and it would be seen as a joke, a bit of a throwaway, a sly little reference point, but at the end of the day, we were calling it Human Contact because it was about distance in the digital age.

“We’ve had people finding us on social media and telling us about their experiences, about love at this time. It has hit home in more ways than we would have expected, when we suddenly have no idea how to behave as humans towards each other.

‘“Human Contact’ has now taken on such a meaning in itself that the songs seem to resonate even more.”

The Howl & The Hum will be the first rock act to play York Minster since York singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich on March 29 2019. What advice on performing there would Ben pass on to Sam, who happened to be busy co-writing songs on Zoom on the day of this interview?

“If he asked me, I would say, ‘sing from your heart, perform like your life depends on it, though I would advise that for all gig nights, and pray in your own way, whether you’re religious or not; just surrender to it,” he suggests.

This will not be the first time Sam has sung in the Minster. “I went to one of the Easter services there, in the congregation, singing along…to very few people around me, if any were looking at me at all! This time they’ll all be looking at me!” he says.

York singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich at York Minster, where he performed in March 2019

The cathedral setting will have an impact on The Howl & The Hum’s performance. “I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself to be religious, but there’s definitely a spiritual feeling to it, and the Minster is such an iconic representation of a city that has been so good to us: the city that gave me a fresh start ten years ago,” says Sam.

“Also, I think it was the week I moved to York that Laura Marling played the Minster, and I love the CD she released of that concert.”

A blue sky greeted The Howl & The Hum on the day they lined up for their Minster photoshoot. “It’s the press shot for a York band!” says Sam. “We were very aware we were there, standing outside the Minster, because we’re not comfortable as models…but it is one of my very favourite buildings.”

Looking ahead to the prospect of gigs resuming from the summer onwards with crowds, The Howl & The Hum have September shows in place for Paris, Milan, Zurich, Berlin, Amsterdam, Cologne and Antwerp, along with 13 British dates in October that will culminate in two nights at Leeds Brudenell Social Club, close to where Sam now lives, on October 30 and 31.

“It will be such a burst of joy to play to audiences again,” he says. “I think ‘overwhelming’ will be the word for how everyone will feel as we try to make our way through the first song.”

Live-stream tickets for May 25 are on sale via thehowlandthehum.com/.

Did you know?

THE Howl & The Hum’s guitarist, Conor Hirons, designs the band’s artwork. “He’s self-taught,” says Sam. “He basically got bored on tour, got himself an iPad to draw with, and now he’s so in demand he’s designing everyone’s posters and artwork.”

Band member Conor Hirons’ poster for The Howl & The Hum at York Minster

The how and the why The Howl & The Hum have made THE album for our distant times

Keeping in touch across the socially distant mental landscape of Millennial life: York band The Howl & The Hum

THE Howl & The Hum, York’s most impactful band since Shed Seven, are in tune with these alienating, disconnected, socially distant, Corona-crisis times.

“Amid all the postponements and album delays elsewhere at the moment, we are happy to announce that our unfortunately-titled album Human Contact is still coming out on May 29,” says lead singer, songwriter and now soothsayer Sam Griffiths.

“Maybe that title is going to haunt us forever…but we haven’t literally predicted genuine events that have now happened, but we wanted to make a universal record and calling an album ‘Human Contact’ is universal.”

Chosen before the nation went into lockdown, and touch was shown the red card, the album sleeve depicts a severed arm. “Human Contact is about a very modern kind of loneliness, one which doesn’t allow us to forget,” says Sam. “These days, ever more than before, we are constantly reminded of our past: of intimate moments which have escaped us, whether these be via technology, or through a lack of personal interaction.”

The artwork for The Howl & The Hum’s debut album, Human Contact

Recorded in September 2019, when Corona was still but a pale lager, Human Contact was inspired by focusing on the minutiae of relationships: “all the strange objects, conversations, teenage bitterness and silences that permeate young love and loneliness,” as Sam puts it.

Now, eight weeks into lockdown, self-isolation is all around us (if that is not a contradiction in terms). “Hopefully it goes to prove our point of the importance of human contact in a digital age,” says Sam. “If you like, you can call us soothsayers, prophets, seers, much like The Simpsons’ writers, for predicting unfortunate future events. We WILL begrudgingly carry that mantle, but really it’s just a break-up album.

“Inspired in part by personal relationships, personal loss and the onset of dementia in someone close to the band, this album is in both parts a break-up record and a love letter to memory. It celebrates, and is wary of, various kinds of human contact in everyday life, and how everything fades over time.

“All we have now is our memoriesand that is all we are made of, so this album is a necessary exploration of trying to overcome our past, only to realise that in doing so we are losing what it is to be human.”

“Someone called it ‘goth pop’, and I can see that, but I just write pop songs,” says Sam Griffiths

The shadow of Covid-19 may further darken Human Contact, but the feeling of isolation has deeper roots. “A lot of people describe Millennials as being lonely, contacting each other through the façade of the internet, where they don’t have to see you as a real person,” says the Millennial Sam, a former University of York student.

“Originally, I came up with the idea for Human Contact as a sci-fi short story. I liked late-Victorian stories in that style, but now I was writing for the 21st century, starting it as a fear-driven story, but turning it into a story about a man whose depression overwhelms him.”

Human Contact was transformed into a song, brought to fruition by Sam, his Leeds flatmate, bass player Bradley Blackwell, drummer Jack Williams and guitarist Conor Hirons. “There was a slight fear and horror-show element to it that made it into a groove-driven song, and the song title came first before we picked it for the album title,” he says.

Sam is loath to pigeonhole The Howl & The Hum: “I’m still not sure of the genre. Someone called it ‘goth pop’, and I can see that, but I just write pop songs,” he says.

“The aim is not to shoe-horn yourself into one style, and the reason I asked Conor to play guitar in the band is that he makes it sound like anything but the guitar. He’s more like a set designer, so the guys are not just decorating a set; they all end up telling the story.”

“The guys are not just decorating a set; they all end up telling the story,” says frontman Sam Griffiths of bandmates Conor Hirons, Bradley Blackwell and Jack Williams

Citing everyone from hip hop queen Lizzo to modern folk artists Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, via  the classic lyricism of Leonard Cohen, as inspirations, Sam and co worked on the album with producer Jolyon Thomas at Big Jelly Studios in Kent.

“Our manager hooked us up with Jolyon, whose dad Ken worked with [Icelandic band] Sigur Ros, and I can definitely see that connection in how we sound,” says Sam. “Jolyon used to look after Slaves and Royal Blood, and we liked how he was able to capture how we are when we play live.”

One glaring omission from Human Contact is crowd favourite Godmanchester Chinese Bridge, the rousing anthem that always closes the band’s sets. “We feel we have sort of already released an album’s worth of material with all our EPs and singles,” says Sam.

“It was strange to release Godmanchester Chinese Bridge as our first single, as we were a country band until then, and maybe it has been superseded by Sweet Fading Silver.

“So, I’m fine with Godmanchester Chinese Bridge not being on the album, but I’m glad it’s a song that has a place in people’s hearts.”


The Howl & The Hum release Human Contact on May 29 on AWAL Records. AWAL, by the way, stands for Artists Without A Label.

Pending further Coronavirus measures from the Government, a tour is in place for September 7 to October 17, taking in two nights at Leeds Brudenell Social Club on October 6 and 7. Watch this space for news of a 2020 York gig at a later date.