Once, there was a talented young singer-songwriter from North Shields who used to slave his nights away in a pub to support his mother. Almost ten years later, and that same young man has two Brit Awards proudly displayed behind the same bar, two number one albums under his belt and plays night after night of sold out arena shows. There is no doubt that hard work has paid off for Sam Fender.
There was already a buzz of anticipation as fans entered Birmingham’s Utilita Arena, so it was clear from the start that it would be a magical night. Support band Goat Girl offered edgy post-punk vibes through their confident set, which warmed up those that were there early for the show. Cheers of excitement reverberated around the arena as Sam and his band appeared on the stage, and opened with Will We Talk? from his debut album Hypersonic Missiles.
Ever the endearing storyteller, Fender’s songs offered melancholic tales with a euphoric hint of light at the end of the tunnel throughout the night, and covered some difficult subjects, including suicide, mental health and debt. Particular highlights included a delve into Sam’s relationship with his father during Spit of You, which was accompanied by a background of family photographs which formed a beautiful collage of the pair of them at the end.
Although Sam Fender is a solo artist, he and his band have an incredible stage presence when performing together, that at times reminded me of some of the world’s biggest rock artists including Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac. Drummer Drew Michael is particularly wonderful, providing a heartbeat to the music throughout the night, while Johnny Davis offers passionate saxophone highlights which punch throughout. Fender’s soaring vocals also remind me at times of the late, great Jeff Buckley.
Throughout the night, the concert had a distinctly festival-like feel to it, as the sea of fans got caught up in the singalong stadium choruses. During heavier tracks Spice and Howden Aldi Death Queue, things got rather heavy as audience members began full on circle pits; but the band looked out for everyone during the chaos, occasionally stopping their set to make sure that everyone was ok. At one point, they even brought the house lights up in order to assist security in rescuing a fan who was in a bad way.
Joking with the audience, Sam mentioned that he was having an Elton John moment as he sat at a piano and sipped some tea before performing The Dying Light, an enchanting piano ballad about battling through the darkest of times. As Co2 cannons boomed and confetti exploded across the audience, it could be considered the most beautiful ending to a show; but Sam and his band returned for the perfect sing-song encore of Saturday, Seventeen Going Under, and Hypersonic Missiles, and those lyrics continued to echo around the streets of Birmingham from mouths of fans long after they had left the arena.