That honour belongs to Surrey singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner, he of the auburn dreadlocks, who snuck onto the music scene a decade ago, stealthily clambering to number one with debut record Hand Built by Robots in mid-2007. A perennial festival favourite and crowdpleaser in the intervening years, his raspy croon and stripped-back summer-surf pop is well-suited to the venue room at Leeds Beckett University’s student union; in an auditorium often unforgiving on cacophonous noise, he floats spaciously on the metaphorical breeze.
Touring for the first time behind fifth album Hit the Ground Running, Faulkner’s technical wizardry on six strings remains an underappreciated virtuoso talent five albums in. Purists often like to gloss over his skills, claiming the winsomely saccharine nature of his songbook undercuts his musical dexterity; but alone on stage surrounded by a multitude of instruments and pedals, he is indifferently impervious to such criticism, innocuously sincere and self-deprecating at parts. The dozen-and-a-half ditties he rolls out are generally as cutting as candyfloss; but railing against To the Light’s campfire-rap buskerisms and Passing Planes’ happy-go-lucky soft-rock is churlish at best in the face of such a charm offensive.
The healthy batch of new material goes down a storm, to his mild surprise; the grooving Smoked Ice Cream, built around a percussive guitar-body drumbeat, is met with an unprompted singalong refrain, whilst the bluesy Finger Tips sees him plug in and go electric with gritty, staccato riffs.
Numbers are punctured in between by wry quips and asides, delivered like a seasoned raconteur; he introduces Carry You as a song he wrote for his six-year-old son, only for the recipient in question to deem it “creepy”; he tells a potential faux anecdote about comedic oddball composition Professional Dog Food Taster being proclaimed as the next big hit by a producer who “allegedly won a Grammy”.
Throughout all, Faulkner remains thoroughly accessible to fans; he takes off-the-cuff requests for rarities such as U.F.O. and Full Fat, and cranking out lone major hit Dream Catch Me as “one you might know”.
It feels less a gig than a massive open mic night; warmly congenial and cosily personal, presided over by a beguilingly genteel performer at the peak of his charismatic powers.