Benjamin Folke Thomas
Once I’ve come across Benjamin Folke Thomas‘ music by reviewing his first full length studio album for this website I’ve been intrigued by the diversity and genuineness of his song-writing. Only 26-year-old, he has developed a stunning repertoire of original songs – most of them recorded on one self-titled studio EP (2011), one live album „Equinox“ (2012) and the most recent „Too close to here“ (2013).
On June 27th I had the pleasure of hearing him and his guitarist Henning Sernhede play live at one of his first German shows. It took place in a bookstore on a North Sea island called Sylt as part of a concert series that happens once a year. Benjamin Folke Thomas captured the audience’s attention at once and played an unforgettable 1.5 hours set followed by several encores. His stage presence and intensity of performance adds to my conviction of him being a huge talent in the alternative music scene. He played his songs with spontaneous variations – none of his songs is ever performed in the same way. This makes it obviously hard for anyone to sing backing vocals on his shows. However, his fellow musician Henning Sernhede, a successful singer and guitarist in his home country Sweden, managed well – intuitively as well as on grounds of experience and knowing his friend well enough.
The two Swedes met at a Danish Rock Festival when they were 16 and started to make music together five years ago, during Benjamin’s seven London years. Henning Sernhede is an outstanding musician in all sorts of styles and instruments (e-guitar, mandolin, lap steel guitar) and he is the perfect musical match for Benjamin’s rough and powerful way of singing and playing guitar. When I say rough I refer to his style, not to his skills. Benjamin Folke Thomas plays his acoustic guitar with virtuosity and ecstatic speed and in a fascinating variety of techniques. It’s performed with a lively naturalness that makes the songs sound a bit rough at the edges which is exciting. The same applies to his vocals – but then they never lose their warm baritone timbre. He radiates endless energy and such a connectedness to music that makes you wonder. It seems as he had not only listened to his musical predecessors like Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon or Hank Williams but actually inhaled and digested their music. So when he played the Warren Zevon song „Play it all night long“ it sounded even more intense, more forceful and, though really contradictory, somehow just as genuine as its original.
Over a hundred listeners followed their performance in a concentrated and moved manner – they were touched by the poetic lyrics, entertained by the diversity of styles and varying instrumentations and amazed by the musicianship of the two Swedes. Songs from the new album like „Let her down“, „Postcard from Cazal“ or the upbeat „Fire“ seemed to resonate in them – these songs don’t tell stories as much as they evoke some kind of reminiscence or emotional awareness in those listening. „Someday“, also from the new album, played around with musical quotations of Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing and then there were songs like „Nothing next to you“ that have a country vibe around them which made people tap their toes and nod their heads. Three new songs were on the setlist that sounded great and so right that each of them tempted me to wonder whether it might be an unfamiliar cover, yet they were nothing but new brilliant material from a truly talented songsmith.
Benjamin and Henning worked fantastic as a duo but then Benjamin Folke Thomas would always be able to captivate his audience within minutes. He will play his only solo UK show in the Green Note in London on July 23rd and will then have some gigs with the full band in August. One of them will be at the Cropredy Festival on August 8th which will secure him the size of an audience that he deserves. Go and catch him if you can, well recommended.