Four songs into his set in the beautiful surroundings of Dalby Forest on the North York Moors, a sweat-drenched John Newman pauses to address a mixed age audience who’ve been enthusiastically bopping along to some of the most danceable numbers in his catalogue.
“Me Mam’s here today – yeah!” he proclaims with a beam as wide as Whitby bay before going on to explain how even though he and his nine-piece band have just spent the past week and half constantly travelling Europe’s farthest reaches the thought of performing in Yorkshire, his home county, had never been far from his mind.
“We’ve been on 11 flights in nine days and we’ve just been looking forward to this gig so much,” he says, endearing himself all the more to a crowd that looks in the mood to party.
With the exception of the heartbreak ballad I’m Not Your Man, during which the 26-year-old singer sounds strikingly like Settle’s answer to Otis Redding, this is a set full of energy that very much keeps things on the good foot.
All My Love gets things jumping from the off. During Give Me Your Love Newman casts off his black and white jacket like a matador and starts body popping. Lights Down and Losing Sleep maintain the momentum.
Tiring Game, whose recorded version featured Charlie Wilson from The Gap Band, is a disco number par excellence; Blame works equally well as a horn heavy soul-funk workout as it originally did a pop dance collaboration with Calvin Harris.
The highlight of the night, however, is an epic rendition of Come And Get It, teasingly stretched out by Newman counting his band in for instrumental breaks.
As the singer plays the evening out with two of his biggest hits, Not Giving In and Love Me Again, it only underlines how well he’s grasped the showman’s of art of entertaining an audience to the last.
Earlier on Brighton singer-songwriter Olivia Sebastianelli had showcased her pleasant acoustic fare, exemplified by her single Lighting Fires, while the bearish Rag’n’Bone Man had shown considerable promise with his blend of blues, soul, funk and rock. There was humorous moment too when after an a capella number he quipped: “I’m not crying – I’m just a bit sweaty. That would be a bit pretentious crying to my own song.”
All in all, this gig – part of the Forestry Commission’s Forest Live series raising money for its conservation work – was a night to remember.