Newton Faulkner at The Waterfront, 29/10/2021, with Support Acts Nati Dreddd and Sam Brookes

Nati Dreddd played lively, strummed pop songs and two covers. She seemed nervous but belted rowdily in her own Scottish accent, which is a welcome thing in a world of bland transatlantic voices. 

Her best-performed song was her last, an old Gaelic-language stomper. She said, “It’s really fast, I cannae breathe when I sing it so I might pass out.”

Sam Brookes: pensive-sounding, drifty singer-songwriter. He had a massive voice – in falsetto he went part theremin, part whale song, and part Thom Yorke. 

His earnestness was impressive. Singing a long high note with his eyes closed and his mouth hanging open, he looked unguarded and animalistic, he said he completely forgot where he was.

Then Newton Faulkner – who stood amid a semi-circular one-man band setup of electronic drum pad, two guitars, three microphone stands, two keyboards, and foot pedalboards. 

His twenty-one song set was drawn from across his seven albums. Aside from a cover of ‘Teardrop’ by Massive Attack, it was all self-written – mostly pop anthems with big choruses, energetically performed throughout. 

This sound is endorphin sugar for people who listen to him. Tonight’s stage-to-back-wall audience called out requests and a couple of declarations of love. The words to old cigarette-lighters-in-the-air hits like ‘Dream Catch Me’ were chanted out. At times the atmosphere was of a cosy campfire singalong transplanted to a seven-hundred-capacity venue, and he encouraged this by separating the audience into three for parts of some songs, giving each group a different repeating phrase to sing.

‘Cosy’ is a word very applicable to Newton Faulkner. He’s never radically changed his music, you know what to expect from him, he’s reliable. And yet he’s mindful to try to avoid monotony: tonight, using live loops played on his drum pads and/or keyboards, he varied the textures of many songs. Sometimes this went well, as in the several instances when he layered intricate guitar loops, but it also threatened to bring its own sameyness: the pounding four-to-the-floor bass drum and tambourine hits used to invigorating effect on opener ‘Smoked Ice Cream’ later got reused too often. Perhaps he would be better-served by a band.

These ornamentations aside, his guitar playing speaks for itself. His tapping on ‘I Need Something’ was how Eddie Van Halen might have sounded if he’d played on a Damien Rice album. And with ‘Hit the Ground Running’, Faulkner gave an acrobatic justification of his singing, which has grown in skill over the years.

Despite his affability, he seemed slightly wary of the audience: at first he played with his eyes fixed left-of-centre on the far wall, and he later told a cautionary story about meeting an unnerving fan. But he must know most of them are a benign bunch. A striking moment came toward the hushed end of ‘I Need Something’ when much of the crowd unexpectedly sang along, ‘I need something to believe in / because I don’t believe in myself’.

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Sam Gardham

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June 2022
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