I walked in slightly late to the O2, expected to be greeted by an armada of teenage girls standing with illegally bought drinks ready to watch their favourite ginger-dreadlocked artist. Instead, I was greeted by perhaps the most varied crowd I’ve ever seen, from people in their late fifties to children as young as 12.
And they were all listening in earnest to the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Newton’s support, Sam Brookes. It must be difficult to come on stage playing the guitar and singing your first few recorded songs before someone about to exactly the same, but with 6 albums and 10 years of experience under their belt. But his song writing was so personal and minimalistic, complimenting the purity of his voice- it was impossible to not become encapsulated.
It wasn’t a ridiculous wait for Newton, which was nice. He strolled out nonchalantly, tea in hand and without introduction began to, rather surprisingly, sing ‘To The Light’- the first song from his first album. It is a song which shows off his accomplished, rhythmic guitar playing and to begin with a song people recognised was certainly a good move, as the crowd were engaged from the get go. He followed this quite poetically with the first song from his new album, ‘Smoked Ice Cream’, and the reception was just as good. Interestingly, Hand Built By Robots tracks featured very heavily for a tour meant to be promoting a new album But this is clearly the favourite record of the crowd, and it appears Newton is sensible enough to realise this, and considerate enough of the crowd to play what they want.
His confidence on stage was better than any I’ve seen before
He glided effortlessly from song to song, each one showing off a different aspect of his musicianship, most notably ‘Hit The Ground Running’, which received cheers every time he went for that note. His confidence on stage, although to be expected from such a seasoned artist was better than any I’ve seen before. Without the instrumentation and lights, he could easily be mistaken for a stand-up comedian. Having interviewed him earlier that day, O knew he was a very nice guy, but his genuine enthusiasm for the audience and what they wanted to hear was evident throughout, introducing each song with a witty anecdote or joke. On top of this, as mentioned earlier, was his willingness to casually completely change his set list and take requests from the crowd, like ‘UFO’ and ‘People Should Smile More’ and his disappointment at having run out of time to take any more songs on.
This interactive style continued in a more practical and musical way too- every other song involved audience participation, like an orchestra of slightly off-key northern voices bawling along to whatever their bearded ginger conductor instructed them to. Bizarre on paper but a lot of it actually sounded rather good.
Every part of his performance was overflowing with energy
Previously, I’d been unconvinced by the prospect of a one man show with the use of a pedal, especially on songs like ‘Teardrop’ which actually have pretty hefty production behind them on record. However, ‘Teardrop’ alone is the only song which was slightly underwhelming as a result of the nature of its performance, lacking in its epic drums and army of backing vocals. But he did very well considering (and with the help of the crown of course). Every other song required nothing extra. Admittedly, Hit The Ground Running is a much more minimalistic album, Faulkner’s proficiency on the guitar was evident. As well as this, his use of his drum machine, foot drums and even the piano for two very emotional songs, one of which about his son brought very real tears to the eyes.
Every part of his performance was overflowing with energy, as is required when you play the guitar so physically, and it is this energy which feeds directly into the crowd and is perhaps his secret to success in keeping us all so focussed. Newton Faulkner strikes me as a very free spirit, maybe it’s the ginger dreads, the very un-rock-n-roll tea drinking, the quirky stories which accompanied each number, or his refusal to do an encore because “it’s just forced clapping”. But he manages to keep each song interesting for the crowd, make us laugh, make us want to be his best friend and all alongside truly exquisite musical performance. And just because he’s been around for ten years doesn’t mean he’s going anywhere just yet- Newton Faulkner loves what he does and is going strong and will (hopefully) be around for a long time yet.