By James Magee, First Year Politics and Spanish
Having now well and truly hit the big time, it’s fair to say this will likely be the last time that Sam Fender plays at a church in Bristol in a while. Off the back of the release of his second album, Seventeen Going Under, this string of intimate live shows was announced just as the record hit #1 in the charts and comes just months before he embarks on his first UK arena tour.
As Fender moves onto bigger things, his support base is expanding, making tickets harder to come by. The Trinity Centre sold out within minutes and, while the hall didn’t exactly feel intimate given the 700 people rammed into, it was clear that all in attendance were die-hard Fender fans. Never have I seen so much of the crowd at a concert donning the artist’s merch, with many evidently happy to fork out £25 for the t-shirts that were being sold in the corner of the room.
With the gig intended as a celebration of Seventeen Going Under, the 2019 Brits Critics’ Choice winner performed plenty of tracks his new album. Shaking up his usual setlist, he opened with ‘Last To Make It Home’ – being given its live debut – alongside his childhood friend and the night’s support act, Heidi Curtis. ‘Better Of Me’ was also given its first runout early on. These slower tunes are a change in direction from the usual high-tempo ballads the Geordie is used to playing at gigs, but rather demonstrate a different, more soulful side to his music that is rarely seen at his shows.
Had the crowd been full of less fervent listeners, trying out newer material may have dampened the atmosphere, but this clearly wasn’t the case. The 27-year-old said how impressed he was with the level of engagement from the audience.
As he reached the backend of the set, he rolled out some of the more recognisable hits from his first album, ending the night with the titular ‘Hypersonic Missiles’. This final performance felt more like a formality, with Fender introducing the song in a less-than-enthusiastic manner. Perhaps he felt disappointed to be capping off an evening filled with some of his freshest offerings with – as brilliant and resounding as it is – his most-played commercial hit.
This is something he’ll have to grow used to as he moves onto performing for the masses in arenas and stadia around the world. Just this week he announced his biggest ever gig at London’s Finsbury Park in July, headlining a day filled with huge names from the alternative rock scene such as Fontaines D.C., Declan McKenna and beabadoobee in front of 45,000. This night felt like a crossroads in his career as he waves goodbye to playing in community arts centres and onto bigger things. Yet, Fender’s appreciation of his followers just goes to show, especially at lower levels, how much they integral they are in spurring on musicians to continue plying their trade. Music is nothing without the fans.
Featured image: James Magee
Have you seen Sam Fender live?