Newton Faulkner, ULU Live, London

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Newton Faulkner showcases his new album to an adoring London crowd.

Guitarist, pianist, vocalist, songwriter, raconteur, comedian. There’s not much Newton Faulkner cannot do it seems.

The full gamut of these talents was on display at the first of two triumphant sell out nights played by Newton at ULU (University of London Union) Live on Thursday night. I’m struck by the demographic as I look around the audience. Reams of teenagers are wedged against the barrier. Meanwhile, at a discrete distance further back are pockets of thirty/forty somethings. There appears to be hardly anybody in their twenties here. Strange. The stage is a bit strange too. There’s a central microphone surrounded by guitars and an electronic kick drum. Fair enough. Stage right is a piano. Perfectly reasonable. Stage left is a vertically positioned condenser microphone with a pair of chairs facing each other either side of it. It looks more like the set for a low-rent chat show than a music event. What’s that all about? Time will tell I suppose.

Faulkner came out to ecstatic applause on the dot of nine and launched into ‘To The Light’, the first track from his debut 2007 album ‘Hand Built By Robots’. This was followed by ‘Smoked Ice Cream’, the first track from his latest 2017 release ‘Hit The Ground Running’. Even after a brace of songs, it was obvious this was going to be a memorable night. I’ve seen Newton Faulkner once before, when he played a support at the Royal Albert Hall to Amy MacDonald. I was impressed then by his incredible playing and his relaxed disposition with the crowd – but Newton in front of his own audience was on another level. When he played ‘Clouds’, Faulkner controlled the congregation with his hands – pointing to individual sections and having them collectively sing harmony vocal parts seemingly with no instruction. This was a trick he employed many times through the night and it was a joy to behold every time.

And this wasn’t the limit of Newton Faulkner’s Jedi mind powers. He points and they sing. He says dance and they dance. He says jump and they jump. I swear if he instructed the audience to moon, they’d bend over and drop their trolleys. It’s like spending an evening with a guitar playing, top knot wearing Derren Brown.

For ‘So Long’, Newton was joined by Dutch vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Tessa Rose Jackson. It was a faithful rendition of the album version, for Jackson performed this rather delicious duet with Faulkner on the new record. Newton asked the crowd to be quiet, for the pair performed it either side of the previously confusing chat show microphone. The room was quiet (he tells them to be quiet and they are quiet) though it transpired one drawback of playing a gig in a Student Union building is that everywhere else sounded like a massive children’s soft play. Shame.

Tessa left to wild applause and Newton turned to the piano with a pair of tunes. Firstly, ‘The Good Fight’ was played to the accompaniment of thousands of shafts of light courtesy of an impressive glitter ball. ‘Carry You’ followed, a piece Faulkner wrote about being separated from his six-year-old son when he’s on tour. “You must believe the one thing you should know, I carry you wherever I go” is the heartfelt lyric. Newton played it to his son. “That’s creepy” was the reply. Hopefully one day, he’ll realise that his dad wrote him something very beautiful.

The title track from the new record followed. It’s a song that emphasises Faulkner’s very wide vocal range and the crowd screamed their appreciation every time he hit one of the extremes. Part way through, with various looping effects still playing, Newton explained that although this was the first single release from the album, people had told him it wasn’t ‘very singalong’. “Shall we try?”, he asked. The crowd nailed it as ever, including all the harmonies and without any real guidance. It was absolutely brilliant.

The close of the show featured a few more established older tunes such as ‘Dream Catch Me’ and ‘Brick By Brick’ all of which received vocal support in spades. I can’t recall a gig where so many of the audience knew and were prepared to scream every word. I eschewed ear plugs on the grounds it wasn’t likely to be that loud. This was a misjudgement.

There was no encore. Newton explained that he didn’t dig the principle of demanding applause and in any case, there’s not much point as a solo performer in just standing in a room on your own for a few minutes. He has a point. Instead he played a medley of ‘UFO’, (surely the only popular song ever written containing the lyric: “I’d better watch out for the anal probe”), ‘Gone In the Morning’ and ‘Write It On Your Skin’ – these tunes being partly determined by audience request.

With that, he walked off. No milking of the adoration – he really is one of the most modest, understated, yet supremely talented performers I’ve ever seen. If you’re an indie guitar rock fan reading this and are put off by the thought of an evening of acoustic based folk/pop/rock I’d urge you to put your preconceptions to one side and go see Newton Faulkner live. If you have half as much fun as I did, you’ll be glad you took up the invitation.

Live music or photography? Photography or live music? Sod it. Let’s do both, frequently. I cover venues from London to the south coast.

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