A number 1 album and single, Brit Award nominations, sell out tours, heralded as an MTV Artist To Watch...short of delivering world peace and discovering a cure for cancer things couldn’t be going much better for John Newman right now. A quick glance at his back story and you can’t help but feel he sort of deserves it though. Aside from that voice he had a tricky childhood (alcoholic father who left home when he was six leaving the family pretty much broke), but in the best traditions of all great soul singers he used this as a positive force, writing and producing his own stuff in his early teens before moving to the smoke at 20. The rest is history. Snapped up by Island Records he got his first big breaks on Rudimental’s Feel The Love and Not Giving In before releasing arguably THE single of 2013 in the shape of the self penned (with Steve Booker) Love Me Again. And the dude’s still only 23...good grief. Cutting it live was all that mattered tonight though. Would we still...ahem...love him again at the end of it all?
First up Lolo (aka Lauren Pritchard), another young prodigy who allegedly moved to LA at just 16 to be the lead singer of a reggae band and ended up living with Lisa Marie Presley for a while...as you do. After a spell in musical theatre she re-launched herself as Lolo last year and currently lives in hipster’s paradise, Brooklyn (the place that is...not one of Beckham’s seedlings). Dressed in cut off black denim jeans and a t-shirt she’s got a touch of the young Janis Joplin about her (perhaps with just a dash of La Winehouse and the lovely Miss Del Rey), both physically and vocally with a raw soulfulness and live power that’s clearly benefitted from a decade or so in the biz. This was perhaps most noticeable this evening on a show stopping Weapon For Saturday, a true ‘tour de voice’ that’s sooooo much better live than on record...or MP3 or whatever you’re supposed to listen to music on these days. Working the crowd like a pro it was an impressive set and it frankly doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see her back here headlining her own sold out show before the year’s out. Cop a listen to the insanely catchy piano driven Year Round Summer Of Love and tell me I’m wrong.
As with most gigs I’ve been to at The Institute recently this was another sell out (who says there’s no money in music anymore eh?), with a mix of hip young things ready to go three shades of crazy once Love Me Again kicks in and older soul fans seeking a new messiah. As a pre-recorded checklist of his musical heroes faded out and a giant sheet covering the stage dropped to the floor Newman strode onstage in trademark suit and bleach striped quiff and launched into Tribute. First off the boy can sing. Okay so there are a few issues, a slight nasal quality and the fact that his vocal is obviously influenced by those aforementioned heroes (the true soul greats of the 60s for instance) but there’s no doubting his ability. Casual fans may not realise that all these songs are self penned (or co-writes) too, given the fact that you can imagine Otis Reading belting some of them out that’s pretty impressive for a lad from North Yorkshire. Secondly he’s a bit of a nifty mover too. Not a patch on Sam or Dave in their prime (at least not yet) but it’s nice to see some footwork up there. Thirdly there’s clearly a HUGE amount of love for him in the room tonight, something he repays by the bucket load over the next hour or so.
On one or two of the early numbers he seemed to struggle a little on the odd note, given the fact that he’s been on the road pretty much non-stop this year it’s no surprise but it’s something he needs to watch. As his voice warmed up those odd moments passed although to be honest often the best soul shows have those little imperfections...that catch in the voice that indicates real emotion as opposed to mere performance.
He played pretty much everything off the debut album, from the Northern Soul-tastic floor fillers like Cheating through to the more lighters-aloft (if they were still allowed that is) stuff like All I Need Is You, dedicated this evening to us, his audience. Bless (as an aside he seems like a pretty humble bloke, genuinely amazed by what’s happened to him over the last year or two). As glitter balls beamed a thousand shards of light across the stage during an emotional Losing Sleep and Newman did his best Rick Astley shuffle I spotted several ladies of a certain vintage looking distinctly moist eyed (actually there were a unusually large number of ladies of a certain age here tonight...must be the mothering instinct).
In amongst all the soul stuff there’s a much heavier number, Day One (“For anyone who pisses you off” he explained), a recent addition to the set by all accounts that hints at a rockier side to Mr Newman. Who knows? Maybe he’ll decide to go a bit Zeppelin one day?
Ending the main set with the Randy Crawford meets Terrence Trent D’arby (remember him?) meets Ashford and Simpson of Gold Dust the crowd stamp so wildly for an encore that Newman’s quiff looks distinctly floppy when he returns. Rudimental fans are given a treat with a run through the drum and bass and soul mash up of Not Giving In (a surprisingly effective mix) and then, well, it just had to be...Love Me Again. Let face facts, this is a TUNE. It’s one of those tracks that brilliantly picks over the carcasses of past classics and comes up with something that’s arguably even better (a little like that post Christmas turkey curry). I defy even Stephen Hawking to resist throwing down some talc and spinning around to this one. As the crowd drown out both the band and Newman during the chorus they take over for a good minute or so, belting out Love Me Again...and again...and again. After an audience pleasing show like this it’s not hard to understand why.