Luke Leighfield: The songsmith dubbed the hardest working man in indie music

Friday 4th February 2011

Tony Cummings brings the lowdown on the hard gigging head of Got Got Need Records, LUKE LEIGHFIELD

Luke Leighfield
Luke Leighfield

One of the surprise hits of Greenbelt '10 was Luke Leighfield. This singer/pianist from Southampton possessed an abundance of quirky charisma and his deft songs of love and loss proved to be the perfect summer entertainment. Soon to release the latest album on his own label Got Got Need Records, Luke seems to revel in hard work, having recently played a slew of gigs in fans front rooms interspersed with a trip to Devon to play on the latest album by long time musical associates King Blues. In fact, over the last three years Luke has played over 500 gigs in 12 countries (including Russia and China) while his last album 'If You Haven't Got Anything To Say' won plaudits form Radio 1, BBC 6 Music and even Prince Charles.

He has now recorded his latest album 'New Season' and to raise funds to get it to Joe Public has come up with a typically inventive way of calling on his grassroots supporters for financial help. If you contribute £15, you get a copy of the CD album, a DVD documentary about the recording of the project, MP3s of the album before the release date and MP3s of the album demos before the album is released. If you contribute £45, you get a copy of the CD, DVD, MP3s, album demos and an exclusive 'New Season' t-shirt, poster, badge and sticker set, guest list to a show, a signed set list from that show, a phone call from Luke, your name credited on the album sleeve, a tote bag, a hand-made chord/lyric book and a personal one-off Polaroid picture of Luke thanking you for your contribution. All these things are packaged in a deluxe display box!

If you contribute £75, you will be in the album cover photo and if you contribute £100, you get to come and sing on the album with Luke! Such flamboyant marketing extravagance shows precisely why the Greenbelt programme called Luke "the hardest working man in indie music."

Luke has seemingly always been musical. He started learning classical piano at the age of four and violin when he was eight. He says, "I did both of those up to Grade eight. I did Grade two recorder, but recorder is awful. I played violin in Worcester Youth Orchestra in my teens, then in the Southampton University Symphony Orchestra until I stopped it to play rock music instead. I also sang in a gospel choir called Jazzmanix whilst I was at university. Before doing my own music, I was in a succession of bad bands (Flatulent Mindy and the Badgers, neitherbignorclever, ALOMO)."

In 2005 he played 16 gigs and recorded two demos and the following year released his first album 'Garde Ta Foy, Garde Ta Foy'. It caught the ear of numerous critics including Cross Rhythms reviewer Ian Hayter ("Here are 12 songs of melodic English whimsy that have about them an air of The Afternoons, especially the sultry trumpet passages, and, occasionally, the wistful sadness of the late Nick Drake.").

For five months in 2006 Luke played violin for the band Get Cape Wear Cape Fly but also found time to put out a single to raise funds for Tear Fund. The quirky "I'm So Confused By Christmas" again attracted attention. So why the confusion? Comments Luke, "The song is about some of the stupid things about Christmas, with people getting the wrong end of the stick about Christmas. It's a good little song."

Luke Leighfield: The songsmith dubbed the hardest working man in indie music

Luke summarises the hyper activity of the next two years on his website. "In 2007 I played 183 gigs, released my second album 'Fan The Flames', met Prince Charles, released a limited edition split 10 inch single with Sam Isaac on Mannequin Republic, and played piano and synth for Sam Isaac. I finished the year by recording a Radio 1 live session for Huw Stephens on New Year's Eve. This gruelling gig schedule included a stint from January to mid March where I played 42 dates in a row!

"In 2008 I played 151 gigs, had my songs used on the soundtrack to a new BBC 3 comedy called Coming Of Age, released my debut vinyl single ('If You Haven't Got Anything To Say') which entered the UK indie singles chart at number five, played at Latitude Festival and The Great Escape Festival in the UK, completed a summer tour in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden and Russia, an autumn tour in Spain, had my songs played on Radio 1, Xfm and BBC 6 Music, recorded an Xfm live session for John Kennedy, and played a bit of piano and synth for Sam Isaac. I finished the year by releasing my 'Summer Demo 2008', and then playing some shows in Germany, before becoming the first UK 'indie' artist to complete a tour of China. On New Year's Eve I played a house show in the snowy Russian countryside to cap off 2008."

After playing a batch of gigs in Russia in 2009 the idiosyncratic songsmith found himself expanding still further his international reputation when in March Japan's Rallye Records (Au Revoir Simone, The Joy Formidable) cherry picked tracks from 'Garde Ta Foy, Garde Ta Foy' and 'Fan The Flames' and released a compilation in the Land Of The Rising Sun. Then after writing his dissertation he did a tour of Germany, practised with his new band line up and finally graduated from the University of Southampton with a BA (Hons) 2:1 in English and Music before throwing himself into writing and recording what has turned out to be his most successful album so far, 'Have You Got Heart'. Again, it caught the ear of the reviewers with Cross Rhythms enthusing, "His style is idiosyncratic, refreshingly original and he demonstrates some clever arrangements - take for instance the string section which intersperse "I Won't Look Back" or the bursts of rock guitars on "60,000 Miles". Probably my favourite musical moment is the delightful trombone solo on "If You So Much As Smile" which also happens to be one of the best falling-apart-because-she's-leaving songs I've heard for quite a while."

'Have You Got Heart' contains the song "When You've Reached Your Limit" which makes reference to Luke's Christian faith. He speaks about his spiritual journey: "I was brought up in a Christian household. That's a boring answer isn't it? It's been a rollercoaster; there are ups and downs and you've got to find it for yourself at some point. I began to connect spiritually when I went to Soul Survivor when I was in my teens. There was a barren phase at university, and now it's less barren."

At a Greenbelt press conference Luke said that he might record a worship album sometime in the future. Was he joking, or was it a serious intention? "I might do. Never say never." So what was his current Church involvement like? "I normally sing the songs, clap and say hi to people. Occasionally I play the piano as well. I attend City Life in Southampton."

Even if a Luke Leighfield worship album never emerges his upbeat relationship songs still give plenty of clues to an underlying faith. Do his CD buyers pick up on that in his songs? "I think Christians do, because they are used to the imagery. If you aren't or you don't look for it, then you probably just hear happy songs." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


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