There are few performers as engaging as Newton Faulkner, so what a treat it is to see him in such an intimate setting as Manchester’s Deaf Institute, in the third of four small-scale gigs across the country.  Fresh off the plane from a brief stint down-under, Newton brings it back to basics with a completely stripped back set, packed full of old classics and fan-favourites.

Kicking things off with ‘Badman’.

Following a beautiful performance from support act ‘Charlotte’, Newton saunters onto stage, quietly picking up his guitar, nodding at the audience and launching straight into the beat-driven ‘Badman’.  Immediately the crowd begins to jump, the timber floor shaking under foot.  Newton segues into ‘I Need Something’, showing off his signature style and soothing vocals.

Returning again to an old classic, Newton plays his famous cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’, capturing the intense atmosphere of the original with just his guitar and patented “Foot-Piano” (available in any good music store).  Stopping between songs, Newton explains his process; he tells us that he’s a minimalist looper but “quite a serious multi-tasker-ist…iser.”  Happy with his newly coined word, he launches into ‘Human Love’, the muted staccato building tension and allowing the warm tones of his beautiful Benjamin guitar to fill the venue.

‘Hit The Ground Running’ gives a rich backing to Newton’s powerful voice before dropping the tone down entirely for ‘Finger Tips’ with muted strumming and hushed, come-to-bed vocals.  Stopping again with more anecdotes, he explains how the next song was written four days before its release, jumping into the delightfully cheerful ‘People Should Smile More’ – a song with a message as important today as the day it was written.

“You look like the muppets!”

After going off on a strange tangent which included some musical impressions as diverse as the legendary Bill Withers and absolute muppet Kermit the Frog, Newton “brings the crowd back” with his number-one single ‘Dream Catch Me’.  The best thing about this, and indeed all of Newton’s performances is his constant rewriting of old classics – you can tell he’s always strumming along at home, constantly honing his craft and adding delicious new twists to his repertoire.

Keeping up the pace, Newton delivers the evening’s first dance-number in ‘Passing Planes’ with its four to the floor bass kick and driving rhythm.  This segues into ‘Smoked Ice Cream’, a song that was, until Newton’s most recent album ‘Hit The Ground Running’, reserved exclusively for live performances.  This is a delightfully bouncy song, and it keeps the crowd moving and singing along in perfect harmony – Newton comments that we must be a “professional crowd” the way nobody ever missed a note.

Newton divides the crowd into choir sections.

The final three songs in Newton’s set take the form of a medley; the delightfully quirky ‘UFO’ melts into ‘Gone In The Morning’ – though not before Newton imitates ‘UFO’s signature theramin melody with his multi-talented mouth.  Finally, we get to hear ‘Write It On Your Skin’ and Newton leaves the stage with a bow and a wave, a simple but effective ending to a performance which was as consistently entertaining as his career itself.  With these intimate gigs hinting at an upcoming ‘Best Of’ album later this year, we can only keep our fingers crossed and hope we’re in for a treat.

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