By Caitlin Frampton
We spent a chilly Thursday evening in November listening to the warm, dulcet tones of folk rock singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner, as he managed to make his show at the relatively large O2 Academy in Newcastle feel like an intimate, small capacity gig. In the words of my plus one/my mam, “there’s nothing quite like live music” – and on this occasion, I realised she was actually making sense for once!
We walked into the venue just in time to catch the beginning of support act Sam Brookes’ set: filled with quiet, relaxing songs to calm the crowd, Sam Brookes’ alt-folk performance created a chilled out, easy-going atmosphere which set the tone for the rest of the night.
Shortly after Brookes had finished his set, headliner Newton Faulkner came on stage to begin performing. Light-heartedly chatting to the crowd, he instantly seemed at ease, and this casualness and informality only improved the atmosphere. Before even starting his first song, he managed to inhale a cloud of dust from the microphone, consequentially causing a coughing fit. Instead of being awkward or embarrassed about his mistake, he casually laughed it off and proceeded to tell us about all the other times he had made the same error.
Once recovered, Faulkner started his set with ‘To The Light’, a firm crowd favourite from his debut album Hand Built By Robots. His next few songs were of a similar upbeat but laid-back pace, keeping everyone chilled out and singing along. For ‘Never Alone’, a track from his latest album Hit The Ground Running, he attempted to drum up some more audience participation by getting each half of the crowd to sing different parts of the song: he later explained that he found the song really fun to play in this way because it sounded so “big”. Although I normally dislike forced crowd participation, I had to agree that the song would not have sounded the same any other way.
Once he was certain he had everyone’s full attention, Faulkner toned the mood right down and swapped the guitar for a piano and single spotlight, grabbing attention in a different way – albeit no less captivating. Despite confessing that he’d been told he was awful at playing the piano, no-one in the room was complaining. A personal highlight from this part of the set was ‘Carry You’, from his latest album: Faulkner took the time to divulge the meaning behind the song here, explaining that the words “Carry You” were inscribed on a bracelet that he had bought for his son in India, to remind his son that he thought about him all the time. Sharing intimate details such as this added another layer to the gig, furthering the intimate atmosphere and making the audience really connect with his performance.
After quietening everything down for the middle section of the evening, Faulkner then increased the mood and tempo back up again for the last part of the show. Here he performing his most well-known song ‘Dream Catch Me’, before launching into some songs that he described as “utterly stupid”, such as ‘Professional Dog Food Taster’: this really engaged the crowd, and kept the set from becoming too serious.
All in all, Newton Faulkner had an incredible stage presence, which he demonstrated through his outstanding ability to capture the attention of every single person in the room with just his voice and his guitar. The performance was full of skill from start to finish, and I am eager to see when his next tour will be announced.
Photograph: Ian Cheek Press