Just over two years ago, Ben Folke Thomas played the Kitchen Garden in the dark shadow of the referendum result. A little concern was apparent from an artist brimming with principles of unity, comradeship and compassion, all framed by a progressive outlook. Fully understandable as this Swede has made England his second home for a number of years as he strived to forge a successful career.
Now with a pivotal moment of the fiasco approaching, Ben once again trod the floors of the very same venue and could not resist a little jibe of the ‘B’ word at the end as funds might be required shortly to purchase a visa. Whatever the outcome and destiny of this Shakespearean tragedy, it is a travesty if freedom to live and work across virtual borders curtails and the music scene loses larger than life characters like Ben Folke Thomas.
On a brighter note, we can gladly report that Ben was on prime form for this show, maybe still on a high twenty-four hours on from his album release, but forever dedicated to deliver a performance bursting with credibility. From a booming voice and skilfully curated guitar picking, the lyrical outpourings from Ben Folke Thomas flicker like confetti, while landing on the listener in a haze of poetic charm. Amidst the alliterations, vocabulary extensions and acute observations lie serious messages, and poignant reflections on how song writing can morph into a living.
Ben Folke Thomas is breathing proof of how the live performance can shed a new light on a record. Just playing his new album in the aftermath of listening to many of the songs live provided the golden key to realising what an ace songwriter he is. ‘One Day’, ‘Some People’, ‘One More Chance’, ‘Modern Man’ and ‘Stuff of Dreams’ were just five fine examples of songs soaring in the unfiltered atmosphere of the live gig. The latter kept a Kitchen Garden audience alert at the end of a long Monday with a required singalong, so good that voices were once again lubricated in the dying embers of the show with the invited chorus of the classic Ben Folke Thomas send-off signature tune ‘Sex Addict’.
If just one person checks out the hot off the shelves-brand new album MODERN MAN from reading this piece, then at least the baton has passed.
To highlight the contrasts that do emanate from Ben’s stage persona, we had the most impassioned introduction to his trademark anti-fascist song ‘Finn’ with a story of an asylum seeker befriended in Sweden. This resides succinctly alongside the wry humour that placed Birmingham in his Top Ten UK cities and introducing ‘Rhythm and Blues’ as his most famous two-minute hit.
One of many standout moments from the hour and half long set was a new song titled ‘All in My Hands’, where Ben managed to quote the word ‘Peterborough’. Well if ‘Blackburn’ can serve Lennon and McCartney well, why not a soulless East of England town for our Swedish friend.
Clad in a Montreal Canadians hoodie, a shout of ‘Go Habs’ fell on the death ears of a Birmingham audience, not even buoyed by the nearby hotbed of ice hockey: Coventry. Maybe irrelevant to the music, but an example of who Ben Folke Thomas is; an artist you warm to very quickly on stage.
Good people like Ben Folke Thomas will come out on top and we need their powerful and insightful songs more than ever. Describing him as the Swedish Tom Russell is an apt place to finish.