Newton Faulkner @ The Leadmill: “A new side to the artist”

Hit the Ground Running marks a notable evolution for Newton Faulkner, presenting a selection of songs that show just how much he has matured as an artist since his 2007 debut. His 6th full-length effort expertly marries his signature virtuosic musicianship with some seriously poignant songwriting, and it is in a live setting that his talent is fully realised.

Following an enjoyable set from opener Sam Brookes, Faulkner graced the Leadmill stage alone, forgoing the three-piece band format utilised on his Human Love tour cycle. Also absent were the electric and custom guitars, and as he kicked things off with old favourite To the Light, it seemed as if he was stripping things back to just the bare bones. However, Faulkner live-shows are a breeding ground for reinvention, and it quickly became clear that even the tried and tested classics aren’t immune to a bit of surprise tweaking.

One chief addition this time around was the presence of a looping station, which may surprise fans who own his Live in London album, on which he states that looping “isn’t a part of what I do”. Indeed, Faulkner’s knack for percussive multi-tasking has largely made layering tracks unnecessary, and so it was unusual to see tracks like Clouds reworked with both guitar and vocal loops. It was a decision that, while initially jarring, was obviously taken as a way to breathe something different into popular songs, as oppose to using the loops as a musical crutch. It also allowed for some impressive vocal melodies, although Newton largely relied on his preferred method of turning to the audience for the creation of vocal rounds, with some often hilarious results.

The new material was executed well, from the vocal acrobatics of title track Hit the Ground Running, to the soulful sophistication of Fingertips, sitting comfortably amongst his back-catalogue with the potential to become new favourites. But the new songs were most effective in the way that they presented Faulkner, revealing a maturity within his song-writing that may have been overlooked in his earlier work, which arguably placed the focus on his inventive instrumentation and quirky lyrical themes. With the unusual ally of a piano, Faulkner proved that he incredibly accomplished beyond his obvious talent with a guitar, and captivated the audience with a moving collection of slower songs that included the exceptional The Good Fight.

This more emotional side also betrayed his development not just as a musician, but as a person and as a father, with his preamble to Carry You showing how fatherhood has affected his music. It was a revelation that invites you to connect with the new songs in a way that may not have been considered, and by rounding out his emotional Piano set with the comedic Dog Food Taster, Faulkner brought things full circle and displayed a masterful connection to his audience.

If his latest visit to Sheffield proved anything, it was that Faulkner is an artist running firmly in his stride even after a decade, still surprising with his handling of his old material, and challenging with the maturity of everything new he produces. His current stage show doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, when every considered component just helps it to run a whole lot smoother.

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