The Friday evening queue stretched the whole way across the front of the venue and half way round the side, braving the icy force nine and horizontal spray that seemed to have been blowing forever. Was it for The Beatles, Stones or Zeppelin at the Apollo? No, Newton Faulkner at Mareel actually.
In a rare moment of forward planning, the reviewer had arrived five-minutes early for the gig, only to be just able to catch the last minute of support act Toni Sidgwick’s third last song, what with all the queueing. Toni sang and played acoustic guitar either barefoot or wearing a pair of white ballet pumps, and was confined to the right hand third of the stage, which was amply sufficient for one singer-songwriter, though it meant the crowd were likewise mostly at her side of the hall.
Toni played her own-penned Our Hearts are Better Than This and then a cover that she said she had altered the most recognisable parts of, but was possibly a Verve song. And that was all we saw of Toni, which was a pity, as I’d liked to have heard a bit more.
It was standing room only for the just shy of 700 who had paid to see Newton Faulkner. So we waited, and waited, for the main man. Mareel played some dreamy Sigur Ros style soundscape. And then some louder music. A geezer with a beard and a flat cap futzed with stuff on the raised box on centre stage where Mr Faulkner was due to perform. An artistic pattern of blue light danced on the back wall. I began to bite pieces off my hand for entertainment. Just as I grew faint from blood loss there was a robust cheer from the crowd, which was by now pretty much full and had developed a major buzz of anticipation.
Faulkner took the stage with a simple “hello” and a massive crash of piano chords before launching into a track off his latest album Studio Zoo. It was something of a triumphant return to Shetland as last year Faulkner sold out Clickimin. I confess I knew nothing of Newton Faulkner before the gig and had expected one man and his guitar might make for a pretty dry night, but I was immediately heartened by the warmth and depth of the acoustic fed through Mareel’s excellent sound system and accompanied by Faulkner’s left-foot bass drum playing while he produced powerful piano and other sounds with an FX pedal under his right foot. The singer was in his marless sock-feet but maybe that helps him play.
Song two Won’t Let Go saw Faulkner play the guitar well up the neck while his right foot prompted various wood-windy effects. He then put the guitar to his mouth, Hendrix-style, and delivered some eerie vocalisations courtesy of the sound box. The first two songs drew a huge cheer from the crowd and when Faulkner said simply “it’s good to be back,” a polite girl in the audience replied “it’s good to have you back!” Somebody said before the gig that Faulkner was a thoroughly nice guy and there was nothing to dispel that notion as he had a clear bond with the local crowd.
Flat cap and beard shuttled back and forth efficiently to the stage with various acoustic guitars, presumably in different tunings, but Faulkner wasted little time swapping his guitars or, indeed, swigging chai from a real teapot (OK, it could have been neat girse vodka for all I knew – but I doubt it) and the set proceeded at pace. Something to Believe In from his first album Hand Built by Robots was followed by another from his latest, Indecisive, which morphed into a crowd-pleasing clap along.
Three songs later and the full-voiced Faulkner was hitting some pretty high notes, slapping the guitar, and making not a bad job of it. The audible hub-bub from the crowd increased and I wondered if the star-act was about to lose his audience, but he soon had then whipped into shape with a one-side versus the other sing-a-long to Plastic Hearts.
Then followed one of his finest numbers, People Should Smile More, which seemed to encapsulate the whole new-hippy ethos – into which I’d casually and very loosely slot Faulkner along with the likes of Florence and the Machine – warm, optimistic, romantic and spiritual without being brain-dead. A couple of songs later and Faulkner was back in stadium mode with another of his best – Write it on Your Skin, which yielded another big sing and clap moment.
Faulkner’s set lasted what felt like a very short hour-and-a-half but he came back to encore three more tunes. The first I didn’t catch the name of but it was followed by possibly his most famous song – Dream Catch Me when I Fall. Then the singer-songwriter got all high-tech, diving into the crowd with an iPad in order to take a remote control photo of himself “hiding” using a camera earlier set up on stage.
After thanking Toni Sidgwick, “the guy on sound” and everyone who’d supported him for the past 10 years, Faulkner closed out with Orange Skies. Very fittingly, somehow, he put his hands together, bowed and left the stage with the audience still singing the chorus to the song.