“It’s such a fucking privilege to come back and play a little venue and see the whites of everybody’s eyes,” Sam Fender tells the crowd at beloved Leeds venue Brudenell Social Club. “It’s almost like we’ve invited everyone round to our front room.”
Indeed, an intimate connection with fans is key to the Geordie singer-songwriter’s popularity. His honest tales of working-class struggles, teenage life, friendship and mental health – set against sprawling, stadium-ready rock – struck a chord from the off. Performing in humbler settings like this only makes Fender’s songs more powerful. “This is where it all started,” he says.
- READ MORE: Sam Fender on winning NME’s Album of the Year for ‘Seventeen Going Under’: “It means the world to me”
Reflecting on the skyrocketing success that followed, the singer pauses throughout the gig to take stock. He’s recently wrapped up a UK arena tour (“the biggest shows of our lives”), released another Number One album with ‘Seventeen Going Under’ (NME‘s album of 2021, no less) and graduated to the Leeds Festival main stage. (“Youse absolutely fucking shat on Reading as well,” he recalls tonight.)
But Fender’s taking nothing for granted. With the looming threat of the latest COVID variant Omicron, he’s concerned his final dates of 2021 may suffer the same fate as 2020’s delayed tour. “This might be the last show of the year,” Fender tells us. “Honestly, it’s been an honour. I wanna say that right now, just in case it is.”
This considered, he’s keen to drink in every moment and do things a little differently. Regular opener ‘Will We Talk?’ – an indie anthem that’d go down a storm at the Brude, no doubt – is substituted for a tender, solo rendition of ‘Last To Make It Home’. “I see youse all raring to go but I’m gonna hit you with a chilled mandolin song – so calm the fuck down!” he jokes.
The North Shields artist later deviates from his setlist to unleash the ferocious, punk-tinged B-side ‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’. “Fuck it,” he says. “It needs to be done in a room like this.” Predictably, it has the desired effect. “That’s the first time we’ve ever had crowdsurfing,” Fender tells the audience, some of whom are left scraping their phones and house keys from the venue floor. At a fan’s request, the mayhem continues with ‘Spice’.
Elsewhere, there’s an airing of majestic golden oldie ‘All Is On My Side’ before Fender and co. treat us to the hypnotic, gospel-inspired sounds of ‘Better Of Me’ – a deep cut from the ‘Seventeen…’ deluxe edition. Otherwise it’s business as usual, though Fender is clearly much more at ease in such tiny spaces.
He often breaks off to engage in back-and-forths with fans down the front, who were close enough to peer over and spy the setlist before the show began. In one case, they lob an unsanitary item up on stage (“I don’t want yer COVID tissue!”). Fender also gives himself words of encouragement in the style of “Ant and Dec in a Bushtucker Trial”. “You’re doin’ great!” he quips, adopting his best exaggerated Geordie accent. At another point, we hear about his pre-gig pie and mash.
Between all that, there’s a smattering of staple favourites including ‘The Borders’, ‘Dead Boys’ (a devastating portrait of suicide among young men), nostalgic title-track ‘Seventeen Going Under’ and the euphoric breakout single ‘Hypersonic Missiles’. Or, as Fender puts it, “the song that got us into this whole fucking mess”.
Tonight provides a rare opportunity to catch one of the UK’s biggest names in a looser, free-flowing – and all round more fun – form. “Let’s do it again in a few years’ time,” Fender says, though we’re not convinced. Superstardom beckons.