Nearly six years after John Newman’s debut single, “Love Me Again”, topped the UK chart, the North Yorkshire-born artist more than proved he can still deliver electrifying music that captivates an entire crowd.
That was most definitely the case at John’s seventh show of his current completely sold out UK tour, promoting his newest release, the “ANiMAL” EP, at London’s historic O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
The 116 year-old venue was at its capacity, with 2,000 ‘well up for it’ fans in loud voice. This was a step up from Newman’s “Out of the Blue” tour of much smaller, intimate venues across the UK this past summer, when he and the band shared a camper van for their travels.
This current 10-date tour kicked off in Newcastle and concludes in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire on 20th of October.
His music carries a number of influences, including distinct timeless vintage genres such as Northern Soul and Motown, which perhaps accounted for the wide age range in his audience at the O2. Young and the not so young came together to celebrate Newman’s harmonious blend of infectious musical styles.
Warming up the crowd was Tors, an impressive London-based, Devon-formed trio showcasing their young raw indie talent. Performing songs such as new release “Something I Said”, members Matt, Theo and Jack delievered an effervescent eight-song set.
The fans were all more than ready for the headliner though – screaming out at the top of their lungs when the star of the show stepped out into the spotlight.
This tour marks a revival of the 29-year-old’s love for song writing. But he is not content to stand still and just sing for us. No sir. A fact evident in his energetic dance moves and his uber-passionate performance from the very start of this super set of almost two hours.
He opened the set with “Not Giving In”, the big hit by Rudimental that John co-wrote and sang lead vocals on back in 2013. The dynamic dance beats featured in this hit carried in onto the next four songs, including “Give Me Your Love” produced by British DJ Sigala in 2016, and Newman’s own “Feelings” released this year.
The vivid light show and the urgent BPMs helped charge the atmosphere, and just about everyone was on their feet and really getting into it. On a school night too!But he gave the set light and shade with some slower, more chilled tracks which gave the fans a bit of a breather between the rockin’ stuff, and showcased John’s skilled vocal talents.
He tapped into his emotions for “The Hardest Word is Goodbye”, featured on the ANiMAL EP, and “Mama”, an “Out of the Blue” single. John used the quieter moments in the set, to touch upon the personal journey he has been on more recently in his musical career, and the struggles of trying to emerge back into the top of the charts after his early breakout success with “Love Me Again”.
He has had major health issues in his short life.Twice diagnosed with brain tumours, undergoing surgery in 2012 and again in 2016. In July this year he opened up about his struggles with mental health issues. But on a positive note, John found love and married his stunning Danish girlfriend, air hostess Nana-Maria in August of 2018 in London.
Clearly overjoyed by the fact he faced 2,000 very excited and adoring fans tonight, he was clearly moved with their reaction and feeling emotional as he thanked his fans, his production team, and most importantly, his Mum.
“Nothing feels better than this”, he said, and you could tell this was from his heart and not slickly rehearsed patter. His humble and genuine down-to-earth personality shone throughout his entire performance. The word that springs to mind more than any is: “grateful”. I truly believe he is.
He made efforts to often interact with his excellent band of two female backing singers, guitarist, bassist, keyboard player and drummer, which maybe gives the impression that he sees himself as part of an ensemble, and it is not all just about him as the star with a backing band behind him.
He was energetically grooving alongside his dancers and even playfully spitting water onto the drummer during a particularly charged moment in one song!
After finishing out the main set with two high profile cuts which John Newman is the featured singer on: “Blame” by Calvin Harris and the number one smash he co-wrote “Feel the Love” by Rudimental, John left the stage to thunderous applause and roars for more. The volume more like an arena crowd than the 2K here tonight.
The lights went down, the crowd chanted for more and in unison began singing “Love Me Again”, word perfect and the best backing singers any artist could ask for! The atmosphere was electric and emotional. Such love in the room for this guy and his music.
The house lights went up and John ambled back on to the stage while his band took their positions, and he stood soaking up this amazing sight and sound, of every last audience member singing his most famous song like their lived depended on it. Joyous. Rousing. A palpable spiritual moment that you could see John was blown away by. He was literally speechless.
Then he started the encore song, “Without You” which is the current single taken from the new EP and features Nina Nesbitt in a fabulous duet. A real shame she could not be there on stage with him tonight, many thought. And then….
There she was. Walking onto the stage singing into the radio mic, at the exact moment her part comes in on the track. Nina has a great voice and stage presence, and together they make a wonderful noise. Great chemistry. The fans lapped it up.
John then delivered a a newer, slower piece, “Stand By Me”, before closing proceedings with the one we all wanted. The classic “Love Me Again”. This number one hit – one of three number ones he sings on – still has the power to evoke elation from fans, and this performance put the icing on the cake of a ravishingly entertaining couple of hours.
Mixing the newer material with the older classics, John William Peter Newman turned in what one could honestly say was a world class performance and maybe even one of the gigs of the year, to confirm that he’s still very much got it.
When he told us earlier in the evening that “nothing feels better than this”, I knew exactly how that felt, after this show. And I’m pretty sure 1,999 other fans would agree.
Words: Annie Probert
Photos: Sadie Parker