Music

Live Review: Newton Faulkner

Sarah Poulten reviews Newton Faulkner-featuring violent old ladies, dog food and Kermit the Frog impressions. 

Newton Faulkner just about registers in my musical consciousness as the guy with rust-red dreadlocks (hence the nickname ‘ginger yeti’) who sung ‘Dream Catch Me’. Apparently, alongside this wistful love song that dominated the radio airwaves of summer 2007, he’s also had three top 5 albums and sell-out UK and international tours. Expecting a fairly dull evening of mainstream melodies at the New Theatre, I was surprised with something quite different…

Faulkner keeps things refreshingly simple, performing solo with only a few gadgets and a basic lightshow to hold our attention. Yet somehow he manages to sonically fill the theatre and keep the audience transfixed for over two hours. Not bad for one man and a guitar.  Critically acclaimed for his idiosyncratic guitar-playing, the singer-songwriter turns his instrument into its own band. He peppers songs with percussive hits, plays harmonics lower on the fret board than I had even thought possible, and throws in the occasional bit of foot organ when the timbre gets tedious.  There’s plenty of the sing-along summery pop he became famous for, but Faulkner also segues into darker songs like ‘Longshot’, in which the he hauntingly confesses fears of ‘broken minds and shattered dreams’ and ‘living in mediocrity’.

However it’s when he’s at his most comic that Faulkner truly shines. He takes the standard “We love you Newton” heckling and turns it into a show in itself, encouraging girls to fight each other and bandying around ‘your mum’ jokes.  ‘People Should Smile More’ is a gem inspired by the singer’s disillusionment after being hit by an old lady in Gatwick airport for offering to carry her bags. A cover of Maroon 5’s ‘Payphone’ is cuttingly followed by the rejoinder: “I was surprised to find that under there!” Faulkner may be drawing in the middle-aged masses to his gigs, but he’s got enough integrity to be able to mock the Californian band for selling-out without it sounding forced. Meanwhile, ‘Professional Dog Food Taster’ does what it says on the tin (pun intended!), aside from an unexpected transition to a Kermit the Frog impression midway through! The singer graduated from the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts and it shows in his performing ability, though the offbeat humour is all his own.

When Faulkner switches the tempo down and encourages the audience to sing along to his ballads I begin to get suspicious. Not only have the crowd turned heckling into a comedic art, they’re also really good singers. Gone is the boozy bawling I’m used to at gigs; Faulkner’s hidden a choir of angels in the circle! As the crowd morphs into a mass of couples swaying and hugging, I start to wonder whether it was the best idea to drag an ex-boyfriend along as my plus one…

But the romance doesn’t last long. With curfew nearing, Faulkner issues a riposte on the pointlessness of encores, underscoring the down-to-earth approach of the rest of his show. Instead of a dramatic pause, the singer launches into a song which would have been worth a wait anyway. He may be just one man and his guitar, but he closes his gig by taking on one of the most elaborate and expensive singles ever recorded. I came in expecting a pleasant enough acoustic show and came out singing Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’!

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