The North Shields star was set to make his Glastonbury debut in the John Peel tent in 2019, before he was forced to pull out due to illness. “Hopefully we’ll get a chance to return next year,” he wrote at the time, before, well, nobody did that until now. But as the heavy clouds miraculously parted and sun came through as his guitars got going for his long-awaited debut, it feels like it couldn’t have been any other way.
Fender is no stranger to massive audiences – having sold out his 45,000-capacity Finsbury Park headline show months in advance – but with likely even bigger one flocking to the Pyramid Stage to see what the fuss is all about (and a BBC One slot) this is nothing short of the stuff of dreams.
You can tell Fender and his band know this, not taking any chances to stray beyond their usual setlist from the ‘Seventeen Going Under’ tour – but why would they? The crowd knows all the words to every song, and everyone knows it’s just long overdue.
“Me and the boys have never been here before, never been here as punters, never played before and now we’re doing it all in one day,” Fender tells the crowd on one of the few chatty occasions, well aware we’re short on time and desperately trying to take it all in before it’s too late.
He dedicates the tender ‘Spit of You’ to his dad, Al Fender, which sees the sea of arms interlink – partners, friends, family members, and three mothers from North Shields in Newcastle F.C. shirts, stubbornly trying to FaceTime their son who’s at the gym. He doesn’t pick up.
The boisterous ‘Spice’ and ‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’ invite a scorching mosh pit, the tracks thudding just as hard in a sunny field of thousands than the dark, sweaty rooms Fender’s used to.
Small talk is minimal, because Fender and his band know all the crowd want to do is sing. The hook of ‘Seventeen Going Under’, the chorus of ‘Saturday’, the outro of ‘Hypersonic Missiles’, crowd-pleasing earns a different meaning when such an enormous amount of people, who have all been waiting so long for this, care so much.
“Noting felt real this entire year anyway,” Fender says as a kind of thank you to explain why he’s too shellshocked – grateful, making sure all this is really worth while – to try and improvise or surprise us. “But this just doesn’t feel real at all.” This is, somehow, still his first ever Glastonbury after all. What a thrill to imagine how much further he still has to go.
Sam Fender played:
‘Will We Talk’
‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’
‘Get You Down’
‘Spit of You’
‘Seventeen Going Under’
‘The Dying Light’
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