There was a time five or six years ago where John Newman seemed to be everywhere; tracks with Rudimental, Calvin Harris and solo seemed to hit gold and his cool updating of Northern Soul blended with dance was so perfect that many adored the sound, and absolutely everyone could connect with it.
Despite best efforts, I was never fully convinced that John Newman was entirely comfortable and happy in his skin in his role as party boy who strikes gold. He always looked as if he was wearing a cloak of armour in his sharp suits and perfect coiffured bleached white quiff. Moving it on 6 years, an unexpected side effect of ill health seemed to give Newman the opportunity to take stock of the things important in life and to strip out the pretence he clearly felt uncomfortable with.
October 2019 on stage for the final gig of his tour at Holmfirth Picturedrome, I saw a happy, bouncing, confident 29 year old. Newman rather looked like a guy you might see with his missus on the next table in the pub; a lad who in his ordinary black shirt or black t-shirt, would make a little laugh and an apology if he had to squeeze past you on his way to the loo.
While Newman has toned down the outfit and hairstyle, live his performance is not without flash; a grand orchestral reimagining to introduce him, an acoustic welcome, a stage of 7-8 support musicians and singers, periods where Newman beamed, paused and basked in the applause and pleasure of the audience and a slightly overlong pause before the final encore. Newman is an ordinary bloke, and he is clearly enjoying the warm love he generates.
Newman started the set with a bouncing series of tracks, and a couple of his well known classics; I was actually surprised at how many Newman tunes I knew. By the end of the 90 minutes on stage, we had enjoyed a good run through of his most famous tunes; Feel The Love, Love Me Again, Give Me Your Love and Blame included.
Even if I thought Newman was to never produce a song that would again capture the nation’s imagination, he already owns a portfolio of tracks that will keep him employed for the rest of his days.
The early bangers completed, Newman toned down the tempo and sang some quieter tracks including some of the more recent tunes (such as A.N.i.M.A.L) which compare very well to his early high standards. This is clearly not an artist who has said all he wants to say, and I have little doubt that Newman will continue to contribute to the soundtrack of the nations lives moving forward.
Newman has a striking and distinctive voice and his rich deep soul tones transfer well to the live setting, although by the end of the set the fact he was at the end of his tour was clear with a slightly ragged edge. Newman is a good dancer who has an infectious style and he held up the energy levels well. This is a guy who eats his marmite.
Of course Newman is also strong on lyrics and emotion, both through his writing and the personal information he shares. Newman’s parents split up when he was 6 and his mum was here to cheer her boy on. During the evening, Newman revealed he had recently met his dad in Leeds for the first time in 15 years. While he was surprised to find some shared interests, Newman’s dad cried off from seeing his son perform for the first time and Newman shared how disappointing that felt. I can only imagine the pain of a parent feeling so remote and only lukewarm interested in their child. Newman’s brother James is also a songwriter (working with many of the current top names in pop) so perhaps that loss has translated something positive into their lives.
We ended our evening with the John Newman band beaming from the stage and the audience showing their full appreciation. Newman had explained he had held discussions with management about how to connect with his audience, and it felt that fairly low key, personal gigs would be better than any number of tweets. Tickets for John Newman weren’t cheap but it was worth it to get a slice of personality and for the good vibe atmosphere of the evening.