by Stuart Graham
Newton Faulkner is an artist I have been listening to on and off for a couple of years now. I wouldn’t describe myself as a dedicated fan, yet he is an artist I enjoy whenever I take the time to listen to any of his material.
With Faulkner supporting Amy MacDonald on April 5 at Edinburgh’s Usher hall, I finally got to tick two incredible artists of my live-gig bucket list.
Having been around the music scene since before 2007, Faulkner seemed to have built up a strong fan base in the States, but when put in front of another artist’s crowd the ginger bearded singer-songwriter seemed to have no trouble warming MacDonald’s fans up with a pleasantly low-key acoustic set. This stripped-back, vocal-led acoustic sound is undoubtedly what he does best as an artist.
The singer-songwriter’s entrance on stage was the perfect example of him and his personality as an artist. With no flashing lights, no backing track and no shoes; on he walked. He swung the guitar strap over his head, approached the mic and opened the gig in the most beautifully understated way I think I’ve ever seen a live music set, simply uttering the words “I’m Newton Faulkner and this is a song” before beginning to rhythmically pluck strings into his first song.
The audience took to this as expected, with a laugh and then a encouraging cheer that subsided only to the beautiful lyrics of his first song. Some artists I would describe as being fun to watch, while some are exciting and others emotional. What made watching Faulkner perform so enjoyable wasn’t that he did all these things, but it was how interesting watching exactly how he created the unique sounds he is known for on his guitar, that is what made him great.
With certain songs requiring slapping of the strings, some demanding drumming and others needing both hands to delicately play the strings high on the neck of the guitar, Faulkner is without dispute an unconventional artist and is all the better for it. Any old random with a set of lungs and two arms can hold chords and strum at the instrument, but what Faulkner does is alternative and creative, unrivalled by most artists I have seen.
Along with playing some fan favourites, Faulkner also treated the audience to some material currently in development from his upcoming album. Not yet finished, Faulkner played ‘Fingertips’, a low-key acoustic piece that, although we were only treated to a verse and a chorus, seems like a classic in the making for the artist.
I remember the evening being marked out by two specific points in his set and these shall be the memories I carry with me, proudly boasting of the time I saw Newton Faulkner live. My first highlight came in the form I expected it to, in his rendition of possibly his most successful song ‘Dream Catch Me’, an upbeat and uplifting love-song I had on loop in the weeks leading up to the show. What I did not expect however is how he handled the song with the live audience. The song usually begins at mid-high tempo, with a definitive beat then being joined by the guitar and eventually the lyrics.
Yet, in this set, Faulkner stripped back all the beats and the usual wall of sound that accompanies the intro and instead left the audience to simply enjoy his voice and talent on the guitar and lyrics. This slow rendition had the crowd in a gentle sway, singing along as they did. At this moment, I remember noting to myself how truly different this felt to any other gigs I have attended. In the moment of pure calm and community with the artist, I felt comfortable and without the usual pressures of an active participatory gig audience.
Although Faulkner did employ a bit of audience participation to create some beautiful moments of full sound during his set; it was these, the moments of uninterrupted calm, that stand out for me as the highlight. Being allowed to simply stand and watch an amazing artist play a favourite song without the drive to sing loud enough to be heard is what set this experience, and the performance of this song, apart for me.
However, my true highlight of the night came unexpectedly at Faulkner’s finale. Stating nothing but “This is my parting track, thank you”, the artist then launched into the lyrics “Is this the real life/Is this just fantasy”. As expected, the audience went wild from the get-go and sang along to every word of Faulkner’s unconventional take on Queen’s seminal ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Hearing only a guitar to create the range of sounds we are used to from this track was odd and interesting, but enjoyable all the same. With lights strobing by the final rock-heavy verse of the classic song, the audience screamed Faulkner on as he took his bow and left the stage.
I think the bold move to play a cover of such an iconic track was without doubt a risk for a support act but in this case, in my humblest of opinions, one that ultimately paid off for Faulkner.