If charm were a currency, then Newton Faulkner would be a rich man. Thankfully for our sakes it isn’t, and so he has to make music for a living – because the world would be a far darker place with less Newton in it. That said, I think he’d just go ahead and make music anyway; coming on stage with a cheeky grin and a friendly “Hi, I’m Newton Faulkner, and this is… a song” as all the introduction required, you really do get the impression that this is a person doing exactly what they love.
The audience loved it too, as he plunged straight in with ‘To The Light’ – the first track from his 2007 double-platinum debut album, Hand Built By Robots, and an excellent opportunity for the artist to show off both his vocal energy and characteristically awe-inspiring guitar skills. It’s not hard to see why so many tracks from Hand Built remain firm fan favourites, even after all this time – and as Newton moved on to ‘Smoked Ice Cream’, the opening track from new release Hit The Ground Running, it was also clear to see that he’s never lost his touch.
That’s not to say that things haven’t changed – for starters, this tour sees Faulkner utilising loop pedals and effects more often than last I saw him, when he was touring for Human Love. It’s still all live, all Newton – indeed, there’s no need for backing tracks when the whole crowd already knows each vocal part without any need for prompting – it simply shows a willingness to develop. This is something Newton is pretty happy to talk about between tracks, when not simply bantering with the audience. A mid-set shift to the keyboard (for the likes of ‘Carry You’ and ‘The Good Fight’) prompted conversation about his writing methods and inspirations, whilst an excitable digression into some new guitar tech instigated a statement which pretty much sums up Newton Faulkner as a musician: “I haven’t found a way to use that in a song yet, but if anyone knows me at all, you’ll know I won’t stop ‘til I do”.
There’s something special about an artist who can display almost inhuman musical talent on stage, whilst still remaining utterly relatable and personable. The audience is left wondering, how can this man – with his crazy ginger hair, who not five minutes ago was literally talking about his choices of socks – make one guitar and a kick drum sound like a whole band? At least, that’s what the audience would have been wondering, were we not too busy singing along. Requests were shouted out, and Newton went off-set to honour them, arranging songs on the spot with the sound engineers. Never before has the Lemon Grove been such a place of joy – and I can say that from experience of many a Saturday night spent there.
There’s something special about an artist who can display almost inhuman musical talent on stage
The set as a whole was about half new and half old Newton, capturing the full range of his repertoire and also including some well-received extras, such as his cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ and even a snippet of the never-released joke song ‘Professional Dog Food Taster’, the love for which Newton insists he will never understand (although that didn’t stop him from singing it in a Kermit the Frog voice – shouldn’t have worked, but it did). Asking me to pick songs that particularly stood out would be like letting me loose in Michelangelo’s workshop with an instruction to ‘pick a decent statue’, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. ‘Finger Tips’ wins points for being my favourite track on the new album, and also for being played on a guitar that drew audible ‘oohs’ of appreciation; the eponymous ‘Hit The Ground Running’ had all of us trying to hit what Newton termed “the highest noise I can make as a human”; ‘There Is Still Time’, meanwhile, cast a beautiful, emotional hush over the entire room. Of course, no Newton set would be complete without ‘Dream Catch Me’, certainly his most commercially successful song – there can’t have been anybody in the Lemon Grove who didn’t know the words, and judging by how whole-heartedly we were all singing it, I’m sure they could hear us all the way up through Lafrowda.
By the time the show ended – not with an encore, because Newton is against “forced clapping”, but with a medley of oft-requested favourites including ‘U.F.O.’ (arguably my favourite song to include the term “anal probe”, not that that’s a particularly large category I admit) and ‘Gone in the Morning’ – there can’t have been a person in the room who had not thoroughly enjoyed themselves, audience and artist alike. Like all the best live shows, it was not so much a performance as a shared experience; it truly helps when an artist visibly loves playing their music just as much as the audience loves to hear it. We left the Lemon Grove charmed, spellbound, and – most importantly – still singing along.