Newton Faulkner @ The Symphony Hall, 30th March 2017

So, Newton Faulkner is supporting Amy MacDonald at The Symphony Hall. This is indeed a sedate place. The last time I was here I was basking in the aura of the legend that is Jack De Johnette. It’s the kind of place that serves up gigs with luxury printed programmes – from Classical to Jazz to events firmly aimed at the Radio 2 audience; and these days this is in no way a derogatory statement, it’s just an indication of where the middle of the road lies in 2017. It’s the nice place to be; a place for the majority who like their classical, jazz and the output of musicians such as Newton Faulkner, but don’t want to make a song and dance about it.

Newton Faulkner

Astronomically The Symphony Hall is well within Earth’s orbit music-wise. But being someone who is usually operating metaphorically in the outer reaches of the solar system, and unless we are talking about Jack or Wayne Shorter, or Esperanza Spalding, this is not familiar territory. Neither is the work of Newton Faulkner; but I am here to be educated.

So to a degree is Newton Faulkner. His opening micky-take, playing the opening bars of Carmen Halbenara and commenting “nice room” raise a titter but left a few stone faced. Thankfully there were a few vocal Newton Faulkner fans at the back to break the mood. They knew what they were going to get.

So what did they get? Well, firstly Newton Faulkner is more than a handy musician. Highly talented I suspect, but playing well within himself if tonight’s offering is anything to go by. His guitar style can be described as percussive, not only in his use of the guitar body as a kind of drum but also in how he hits the strings. He has a great vocal range but at times blends in with a lot of man and guitar sounds. However, at the same time his be-socked feet are playing a set of pedals that stand in for his band when he plays gigs like this one; a one-man band if you like.

The tunes on show ranged from the kind of familiar to the half-finished. This guy is no novice. He has a huge personality and he knows how to work his audience. He is currently funding his sixth album through Pledge Music, and is also asking fans for opinions on the work in progress. As a result he played a couple of tunes that were incomplete. Typically these were the ones that I found more appealing; certainly more appealing that the clap-along, sing-along fare that made up most of his set.

Newton Faulkner

Several of these sounded familiar, but I found myself waiting for him to burst out of the MOR bubble and give us something excellent; something that would get the ears pricked up and the pulse racing. In the end we got it, but in a bizarre fashion it was a cover that did it. Of all things Bohemian Rhapsody, apparently his party piece, showed more vim and vigour than anything that preceded it.

It was tempting to think “He wishes he could write a tune like that”. But the fact of the matter is I reckon he could, and should. In this vein he is squarely in the “what’s not to like” category, and a lot of people love him in that mode. For me — well, I would hope that back home he has a post-punk band in the garage, taking advantage of his talent and exploding out of that middle of the road envelope.

Review: Ian Gelling
Photographs: Stephanie Colledge

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