For someone whose life is played out to an ever-changing soundtrack, I realised over the last week or so that music is something I hardly ever write about.
From dancing around my living room to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s nutcracker suite as a toddler, to belting out Queen with my family on a long car journey. From the first tentative strokes of a keyboard when I was in primary school, to playing and singing solo as part of my music GCSE. From singing in the shower, to singing at both of my parents’ weddings and that of my best friend. From listening to one beloved album over and over and over again, to carefully curating playlists for every occasion on Spotify: Music has run through my life.
From a very young age and there have been songs and instrumental pieces alike that have held great meaning and which now evoke some of my most important memories. Although I love music, however, I am fairly hopeless when it comes to things like knowing the names of the tracks I love or even knowing who it is that plays them. I can sing along with a vast array of songs (and my darling husband laughs at me for trying to sing along with tracks I’m hearing for the first time!) but I can rarely name the tune or artist. Terrible, I know.
I’ve also never been much of one for going to gigs. DH loves going to hear live music and whilst I do too, I find that the crowds and the volume of such events tend to play havoc with my anxious brain. It’s therefore rare for me to jump at the chance to go and see someone play. And if I’ve seen someone once I’m unlikely to go and see them again.
There is one exception.
I recently had the pleasure of going to watch Newton Faulkner play at Manchester Albert Hall. It was the third time I’ve seen him perform. That might not sound like much but for an anxious gig go-er like me that’s a big deal. I would not choose to go and see someone I’ve already seen live unless there were exceptional.
Newton Faulkner is exceptional.
I discovered his music along time before I first saw him perform live.His debut album, Hand Built By Robots, came to me at one of the most difficult times in my life. I played it over and over and over and over, and in it I found hope and comfort that I was struggling to find anywhere else.
It’s hard to know how to start explaining exactly what it was about that album spoke to me so profoundly. There were lyrics that seemed to reach out and tap me on the shoulder, reminding me that I wasn’t alone:
I need something to believe in because I don’t believe in myself.I Need Something – Newton Faulkner
If you’re not lost I guess that makes you found.Lullaby – Newton Faulkner
Feel like a Muppet with a drunken puppeteer but I’ll survive.To The Light – Newton Faulkner
But it was more than the words. One of the things that I love about Newton Faulkner’s music – not just on his first album but across his entire catalogue of work – is the scope of sound he manages to create. From gentle lullabies to resounding rock he manages to master a breadth of styles that is astonishing. This is part of why he is the one artist whose gigs that I will go to again and again. Every album has a different feel whilst remaining quintessentially and unmistakably him. Hand Built By Robots will always be my favourite because it was a light that pierced straight to the heart of me when I needed it most. To this day, whenever I hear any of the tracks from that album I feel reassured and filled with conviction that everything really will be ok.
That’s not to knock any of the rest of his work, however, and whilst you could call great swathes of his work remarkable in its own way, I have to give special mention to Write It On Your Skin as well. I completely adore this album and really enjoyed listening to the commentary that is available with it on Spotify as it gives a brilliant insight into the tracks and where they came from.
Newton Faulkner’s current tour is his ‘The Very Best Of (So Far)’. The Manchester Albert Hall gig is the most brilliant of his performances I have been to yet (which really is saying something) and I loved hearing all my old favourites as well as some more recent and even brand new material. He truly is an astounding musician. He will appear on stage by himself, proudly sporting odd socks (which I was THRILLED to be able to buy my own pair of at the gig) and manage to completely fill the stage and the venue within moments. His staging is simple and distinctive: a couple of rugs and an antique looking globe are his staples (the first time I ever went to see him perform, I was delighted to discover the globe contained a teapot and cup from which he took his refreshment halfway through the set). His stage presence is warm and friendly, bubbling with the creativity that permeates his sound. His interactions with the audience are always filled with such delight – he almost seems surprised to find himself in front of so many fans and you can see his joy and excitement when we sing his work back to him. For this current tour, you can buy a Newton Faulkner kazoo for a few quid and revel in rediscovering that unique childhood sound as he directs you to join in with specific parts of the set.
The whole experience was uplifting and life affirming – not least because, unlike at so many gigs these days, hardly anyone had their phones out. Although I don’t go to a huge number of gigs, I have been struck in recent years by just how many people watch through their phone screen, either constantly taking pictures or recording the whole thing. It’s bizarre. Don’t get me wrong, I like to get a couple fo snaps myself but if I’m there to see live music I want to watch live music. Refreshingly, the audience at this gig were lit mostly by the stage lights rather than their phone screens and, as I looked around, I saw faces truly engaged with the performance and relaxed happiness on every face. That’s what it should be.
At one point during the set, when he played I Need Something, I even shed a tear. That song in particular has meant a lot to me and seeing him perform it and hearing a roomful of people sing along really hammered home how much the music of this unique artist has done for me. Which is why I decided to write about it.
So a huge and heartfelt thank you, Newton Faulkner, for all the joy, comfort, hope and inspiration your music has brought me and, I’m sure, so many others.
I couldn’t write this and not give a shout out to Charlotte, who was the supporting act at the Manchester Albert Hall gig last week. Her voice is utterly remarkable and I was adding all her available music to my playlists before I even got home. I urge you to go give her a follow on social media, listen to and download her music, and show some love to this emerging artist.