There’s something unbelievably special about live music at the Royal Albert Hall. When you gaze at the ceiling and marvel at the tiers of seats and boxes rising up and up, you can’t help but feel a little humbled to be in the presence of such outstanding architecture. Tonight, we’re equally humbled by the presence of two outstanding artists in the form of Newton Faulkner and Amy Macdonald.
Having Faulkner announced as the support for Amy’s Under Stars tour added gloss to an already very shiny product. With a brace of number one albums in the bank; the first of which, Hand Built By Robots, being certified double platinum in the UK; this is as close as you can get to a genuine double header. I’m pleased to say the audience recognised that fact and it was practically full by seven-thirty when Newton took to the stage.
Faulkner has a vocal and guitar playing talent that is seemingly only matched by his sense of humour and modesty. The whole combined to make his performance very, very special. Playing a mix of songs from his five studio albums to date, we were also treated to a couple of rough demos from his as yet untitled sixth. It takes a certain kind of confidence to deliver half-finished songs to an audience the size of this. Performing in socks, Newton put his feet to good use playing kick drum with his left and bass parts with his right. He demoed the bass between songs and it really moved some air. If Donald Trump had been at the front, his hair would likely be residing around row G.
Faulkner also had a looping pedal and he did loop the occasional guitar part, but unlike many six-string solo troubadours, he didn’t rely upon it to hide behind a wall of sound. The clearest embodiment of this was his final song and “party piece”, a truly stunning, ever so slightly tongue in cheek, version of Bohemian Rhapsody, including the operatic section that Queen themselves never attempted live. All played on one guitar, it was a truly brilliant way to finish the set and worth being here for on its own. Faulkner earned a fully justified standing ovation and the support doesn’t get that very often.
With only a guitar rack, a pedal board and a microphone stand to clear away, and with Amy Macdonald’s set already hiding under a black sheet, the turnaround took no time at all. This was just as well since Macdonald treated us to twenty-one songs and close to two hours of her perfect blend of folksy pop-rock. She is promoting her fourth album Under Stars, released to critical acclaim in February this year. It’s a record top-heavy with excellent tunes and we received plenty of them tonight.
Highlights in the show included her two best known songs: Mr Rock And Roll and This Is the Life, plus high-octane numbers such as Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over, Slow It Down, Poison Prince and Love Love. There were a few more relaxed moments too. 4th Of July from Life In A Beautiful Light received a delicious acoustic treatment and the solo vocal and piano of Never Too Late from the new record was stunning; Macdonald’s voice really does have tremendous range, power and control. It was put to good use between the music too, as often humorous introductions rang out. “The chorus of this song has the same words repeated over and over so if you haven’t got it by the end, there’s no hope for you!” was her intro to a sweet cover of Listen To The Music by The Doobie Brothers.
The overall mood of the show was of cheery foot-tappers that commanded you to dance and it was curious therefore that this was an all seated affair. Those stuck on the floor were obviously desperate to elevate their buttocks from the velour but were constrained by the crippling self-consciousness that blights all seated gigs. It was only when Mr Rock And Roll came along that those on the floor finally felt able to rail against gravity, only to immediately sit down again when Dream On (the most rocked-up song on the new record and a personal favourite) followed it.
The bipolar effect brought about by the seating arrangement was a shame and it contributed to one of only two negative observations formed all evening. Given the other was that my wife didn’t much care for Amy’s choice of shoes you can safely conclude that it was a good night. Needless to say, by around three-quarters of the way through the vast majority in the auditorium were stood up anyway and having finally shaken off their inhibitions, were wondering why they hadn’t done it earlier.
There were three encores. The first, Prepare To Fall was played solo and garnered another of the many standing ovations offered tonight. The full band returned for Down By The Water, another from Under Stars; Amy explaining that the vocal arrangement for this song didn’t come together until London singer Juliet Roberts jumped on board. Juliet promptly joined the band for this and the entire audience then joined the two of them for final song Let’s Start A Band.
Amy Macdonald underwent a four-year hiatus before releasing her new record and embarking on a major tour to promote it. I’d conclude it was certainly worth the wait. The tour (with Newton Faulkner supporting) concludes on April 13th.
Review & Photography by Simon Reed. Newton Faulkner/Amy Macdonald at The Royal Albert Hall on 3rd April 2017.
Simon has his own music photography site here: http://www.musicalpictures.co.uk