Newton Faulkner first shot to fame with his debut album Handbuilt By Robots. Released in 2007, the record was certified double platinum and spawned the top 10 hit single Dream Catch Me. Since then Faulkner has released five further albums – most recently 2017’s Hit The Ground Running – and starred in the West End production of the musical American Idiot. He’s recently been out on the road for his The Very Best Of… So Far tour, including a sold-out acoustic show at London’s intimate Borderline venue.
I’ve been a fan of Faulkner’s music for years but had never seen him live before, so was intrigued to see what he would be like. He arrived on stage around 9 PM to huge cheers from the crowd and launched into Badman from his 2009 album Rebuilt By Humans. It’s a fast-paced song which shows off his skill as a guitar player as well as the soulful tone to his voice, and the audience singing it back to him gave it a really anthemic quality.
Throughout the set Faulkner mixed in songs from his previous albums, with a nice balance between slower, more melodic numbers such as I Need Something and his version of Massive Attack’s Teardrop (which he played almost a capella) and more uptempo numbers. The summery groove of Lipstick Jungle got the crowd swaying and dancing, whilst Human Love combined reggae and rock touches with some impressive falsetto from Faulkner. Right from the off the crowd were singing every word back to him, almost sounding like a choir on People Should Smile More, and he regularly broke off to let them sing sections of songs on their own.
Faulkner also chatted to the audience throughout, cracking jokes and telling stories about songwriting, meeting fans and getting his start on Myspace – which left a few younger audience members scratching their heads! One of these conversations led from a discussion of World Environment Day to Faulkner improvising a ‘disco pickle song’ (as you do). It all added to the fun and he came across as incredibly warm, laid-back and self-deprecating, clearly feeding off the crowd’s high energy.
One thing that particularly impressed me was Faulkner’s vocal range, which switched from a gravelly growl to some epic high notes and back throughout the set. He hit impressive high notes on Hit The Ground Running, delivered silky smooth vocals on the yearning Fingertips with its 90s R’n’B vibes, and showed off the surprising power in his voice on Dream Catch Me, which was by turns lilting and driving. I was also wowed by his John Mayer-esque guitar playing, particularly on Clouds with its sparse picking melody, the rapid-fire, pulsing If This Is It and the driving yet emotional Passing Planes.
Faulkner closed his set with Smoked Ice Cream from his latest album, Hit The Ground Running. The upbeat song resulted in a sing-off from both sides of the room and was an utterly joyous note to end on. After saying he ‘doesn’t do encores’, he thanked the fans for coming out and spoke very emotionally about how much he’d enjoyed the show and the tour (as well as throwing in a quick Mickey Mouse impression). He then launched into a medley of UFO, Gone In The Morning and Write It On Your Skin. For me these songs perfectly summed up the set – they had funky grooves, quick lyrical delivery, soaring choruses and highlighted Faulkner’s vocals with everything from yells to whispering and a huge note to finish. The crowd roared their approval and the applause, whoops and cheers as he came to an end were deafening.
Overall Faulkner delivered a fun, jam-packed set that showed why he’s so beloved by his fans. He showcased his fantastic vocal range, playful yet meaningful lyrics and awesome guitar-playing to their best and had a good mix of songs from across his varied career. It was clear he was having (in his words) ‘a whale of a time’, and it’s safe to say the audience was too. I was definitely left wanting more and can’t wait to see him live again in the future.
Set list: 1. Badman 2. I Need Something 3. Clouds 4. Teardrop 5. Human Love 6. Lipstick Jungle 7. Hit The Ground Running 8. Finger Tips 9. People Should Smile More 10. Dream Catch Me 11. If This Is It 12. We’re In A Big Big Pickle 13. Passing Planes 14. Smoked Ice Cream 15. UFO/Gone In The Morning/Write It On Your Skin Performance date: 5th June 2018