Set within the awe-inspiring architecture of the Bournemouth O2 Academy, a Grade II listed building, the famously ginger-dreadlocked Newton Faulkner on Wednesday night proved that his intelligent mix of humour, catchy tunes and hugely skillful guitar playing has done enough to earn him the reputation as one of the most accomplished acoustic acts in Britain.
Catchy but not commercial, chilled out but never boring, Newton – along with up-and-coming support act Sam Brookes, proved that size of act does not matter. Instead, it’s how well you work with your surroundings. Entering onstage to green lights and uproarious applause, Newton began his set with opening track ‘Where to Start’ from most recent album Studio Zoo. A chilled and competent start to the two-hour long set, it was clear that Newton’s most recent work has a slightly more acoustic and sentimental edge to it, compared to the slightly more upbeat and jazzy third album Write It On Your Skin. Still, this was no detriment and the diversity of Newton’s set list, with the first four tracks of the night taken from each of his four albums, gave the set that universally appealing edge.
One of the most striking aspects of the night’s performance was, without sounding naïve, the incredible talent Newton Faulkner possesses on guitar. The past two times I’ve been lucky enough to encounter him has been at festivals – V Festival 2008 (!) and at Glastonbury 2013. Whilst his prowess as a musician has always been unarguably, demonstrably clear, the administration of his solo set ensured I could appreciate just how accomplished his performances on guitar truly are. Whilst ‘polished’ is not quite the right word to explain his style, it clearly takes a lot of skill – not to mention courage – to play a guitar above your head without looking; not least whilst using a loop peddle of your own vocals and melodies as backing. Still, if anyone can do it Newton can, and he still had time to pour himself a cup of tea on stage.
One of the most pleasant, best-received moments of the night was the half-way point, at which Newton’s rendition of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Like I Love You‘ created possibly the biggest cheer. Whilst I don’t quite buy his insistences that “I only put it together an hour before the show!”, an acoustic cover of such a well-loved pop classic served to ensure that grins were plastered across every audience member’s face.
Then, after a two-hour long set and the inevitable pretence of finishing (but then actually coming back onstage for an encore), hearing ‘Dream Catch Me‘ as one of the finishing songs was purely lovely. Probably his most well-known and loved tune, by this point the whole crowd was singing along. A single released way back in 2008 from his debut album Hand-Built By Robots, I wouldn’t be surprised if Newton’s a bit sick of playing this one; still, it certainly put a grin on my face.
All in all, Wednesday night’s gig was a few hours of acoustic-y, happy, jingly bliss. If I had to criticise anything, then perhaps it would be the lack of songs played from Hand-Built By Robots; but then I am biased as it’s my favourite album of his. Still, Studio Zoo is even catchier live than on the recorded album, and I’d urge you all to give it a listen.