Bringing both his music and the cold Northern air with him, Sam Fender, supported by fellow Geordie Brooke Bentham, was a delight to watch.
With a strong and diverse crowd sporting everything from puffer jackets and silver hoops to white shirts and trench coats before her, Brooke Bentham took to the stage armed with a bottle of water and her guitar.
Radiating an air of sad and sombreness, her half hour support set fell short of something really great, perhaps due to the acoustic performance. Although support sets are always hard for up and coming musicians, the gentle rumble of the audience chatting over her was ever-present, highlighting perhaps how ineffective Brooke’s vocals were.
“A commendable set nevertheless”
The best song was ‘Have To Be Around You’ yet the live acoustic guitar performance was missing the drum crescendo that adds depth to the recorded track. A commendable set nevertheless, to stand on a stage and proclaim “I think I love you” requires a certain type of boldness.
After a short break, the man everyone was waiting for took to the stage in what was his first ever Nottingham performance. Having supported Catfish & the Bottlemen and Hozier as well as being nominated for the BBC’s Sound of 2018 in a long-list alongside Grammy nominated Khalid, Sam Fender is indisputably a man to watch as he rises the musical ranks.
“Heads were bopping and conversation lulled to near silence”
The 21-year-old was accompanied by three bandmembers who jumped onstage and dived almost instantly into the first track. Heads were bopping and conversation lulled to near silence as Sam Fender’s sharp vocals took control of the room.
Audience interaction was minimal with Fender making only brief interjections such as, “this next song’s about being a pissed dickhead” as he set up for the third track of the night, much to the amusement of the crowd who chuckled, relating.
With a soaring, atmospheric voice, Fender captured the small, packed venue with his indie rock soul and effortless performance, not breaking a sweat and all credit to his drummer too for clearly putting in everything he had.
What sets Fender apart is how a 21-year-old writes songs not about love or lust but about the state of the world, with the bitterness and cynicism of a man who’s seen a lot. ‘Millennial’ for example, has lyrics including “sit back, relax, watch the world collapse, as they rob your tomorrow…”, the perfect articulation of millennial anguish.
“Fender is more politically charged”
In ‘Start Again’, with its more aggressive drums and angrier guitar chords, Fender is more politically charged, singing very idealistically about reinventing the world starting afresh. The cynicism exists still – “A brand new globe, untouched and beautiful, So we can burn it all, burn it all again”.
With the lights flickering from orange to an eerie blue, Fender said the next track, titled ‘Dead Boys’, is a new song, hinting at its possible release soon. A heavy drumbeat played to the sound of Fender singing the dark chorus: “Nobody ever could explain all the dead boys in my hometown.” One of his darkest songs to date, with a nostalgic, pop punk feel, I look forward to its release.
Saving his best-known songs until last, Fender dropped another little line about how this song is about getting your head kicked in before strumming the first chords of ‘Friday Fighting’. “I’ve got a very punchable face I learned,” he said, a simultaneously funny and quite sad way to start the very typically indie sounding track.
“The crowd became noticeably more involved”
The lights changed to red for his penultimate song of the night, and as he repeated “I am a woman”, the instantly recognisable chorus to ‘Greasy Spoon’, my personal favourite song, the crowd became noticeably more involved, moving along to the music. This one was a clear crowd favourite.
Finishing with his most streamed track on Spotify and despite confessing quite humbly about its meagre beginnings, recorded in a shed 9 months ago, ‘Play God’, a track about a dystopian world and its cruelties, ended the night on a mellow tone with the sinister guitar chords and final drum beat being hit to rapturous applause.
A broody performance by a fantastically talented musician, Fender appears a normal boy channelling an insight arguably beyond his years. Combining societal criticisms with punchy melodies and soaring vocals, 2018 is set to be Sam Fender’s year.
Images Courtesy of Nikou Asgari