Sam Fender @Newcastle Utilita Arena, April 6 2022
It was the talk of the Metro as noisy carriages full of feverish Sam Fender acolytes poured into Newcastle from all points across the North East.
In packed city centre pubs, families and friends fuelled up ahead of the Seventeen Going Under tour’s hometown finale.
And conversation quickly turned to Dead Boys, Spice and Saturday over salty bar snacks and bottles of Brown Ale.
No time to waste in the Howdon Aldi Death Queue tonight.
Later, buzzing hordes of black and white striped shirted youths charged the wrong way down St James’s Boulevard chasing an audience with one of their own.
Meanwhile, desperate touts shuffled from kerb to kerb, whispering loudly as they sought that elusive ‘spare’.
This was some occasion.
Even the blokes selling knock-off merch came armed with cashless payment options and some lush pink hoodies.
Fender At The Double
Remarkably, this was a case of Play It Again Sam.
The boy Fender had blown away another capacity crowd the night before and needed this extra date to satisfy demand for the hottest ticket in town.
In truth, a week-long residency on his sacred home turf wouldn’t have been beyond the biggest name in British pop.
A far cry from those formative gigs in the unforgiving pubs and clubs of North Tyneside, arenas are now the natural home for the tentative teenager turned truly inspirational showman.
Showman but no show-off.
Fender’s endearing authenticity and down-to-earth affability is beyond reproach.
The antidote to the music business’s unfathomable obsession with the manufactured and the mundane, the 27-year-old is relatable, redoubtable and real.
Those standout qualities are reflected in an audience demographic that almost defies logic.
Everyone from stylish grandmas to wide-eyed tots queued up to pay homage to the man of the people.
Of course, had Fender been asked to walk through the metal detectors screening the expectant masses prior to entry, one thing’s for sure — the alarm would have sounded for pure Geordie gold.
It’s not football but Fender’s a Geordie match made in heaven
From the Magpies-themed tee-shirts to the giant flag rolled out, Gallowgate-style, moments before showtime, the sense of local pride and shared passion was almost suffocating.
At least if you hail from the Toon.
Early on, and in the face of the inevitable terrace-style chants, Fender was forced to address the apparent social media backlash against his black and white roots.
He even insisted ‘it’s not about football’…but only after his band had walked on to the spine tingling Going Home (Theme Of The Local Hero) with Johnny ‘Blue Hat’ Davis’ evocative sax solo setting an almost spiritualistic tone.
A Sam Fender show’s not about football but on Tyneside, at least, it’s about a heartfelt connection to his roots, his history, his people.
And that bond remains unbreakable.
Days after launching the Hypersonic Sausage (with £1 from every pack sold donated to NEH), North Shields’ favourite son treated his fans to a night of absolute bangers.
Play God and play on
There were the chart favourites, the album deep cuts, debut single Play God and more.
Circle pits ensued.
The odd fight broke out.
Delirious fans feinted and, through it all, Fender was faultless in his duty of care.
Playing the diligent big brother, rather than playing God, his timely interventions spoke volumes.
‘Nee ructions’ was the plea after a glorious rendition of Get You Down and, by the time the earnest Spit Of You echoed around the vacuous Utilita Arena, cordiality resumed.
Dean Thompson’s delightful turn on the mandolin always had the potential to calm things down.
And Percy Main’s answer to Bill Monroe brought the bluegrass on a night when the Sam Fender band brought its A-game.
As the humble headliner was at pains to point out — it’s his name on the poster but he’s nothing without the ‘Lip Scorching Rollies’.
Thompson, Tom Ungerer, Joe Atkinson and Drew Michael have been there since the Greasy Spoon days with new boy Davis throwing his (blue) hat into the ring in 2019.
As a collective they’re beyond compare.
From day one Fender’s sensibly surrounded himself with kindred spirits and freely touted local talent.
Midway through a deeply affecting set, he encouraged the North East’s next big things to follow his lead and make their voices heard.
It was a challenge that must have resonated with the likes of L Devine, Heidi Curtis and Katie Grace — just three of the region’s rising stars watching on as Fender inspired and entertained in equal measure.
Saturday on a Wednesday
Almost too soon, the encore loomed.
But not before Fender’s big brother Liam joined the party.
With both siblings settling down for a late-night tinkle, Sam found time to make a quick quip about the poor quality of his home-made black and white cup.
Look, it’s not about football.
But howay man Sam. Surely any cup — ‘shoddy’ or not — will do in Newcastle?
Saturday, Seventeen Going Under and Hypersonic Missiles set the appropriately riotous seal on a truly historic night.
Fender, beaming and sweaty, took time out to soak it all in and so he should.
Back-to-back sold-out shows. Thousands of partisan home fans. Friends and family at every turn.
And your best mate just to the right. Does it get any better?
And who would bet against a St James’s Park ‘super show’ in the very near future?
Fender might have wrapped his biggest arena tour to date but let’s face it…this lad’s only just Getting Started.
Portrait images by Jack Whitfield and Charlotte Patmore