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Be inspired every day with Living North
All images © Polydor Records
February 2022
Reading time 4 Minutes

A huge congratulations go to local lad Sam Fender for bagging himself another BRIT award this week

He plans to turn this new award into another beer pump at his favourite local, the Low Lights Tavern in North Shields where it will join his BRITs critics’ choice Rising Star trophy, which he won in 2019. A great ambassador for the North East and forever proud of his home, Sam’s documentary Lindisfarne’s Geordie Genius: The Alan Hull Story saw Sam go in search of his hero who wrote such legendary songs including Fog on the Tyne, (watch now on BBC iPlayer).

Back in 2019, we caught up with Sam to discuss music, booze and all things Toon…

It was 2017 when his first single Play God was released to the masses, and since then Sam Fender has already bagged himself a Critics’ Choice BRIT Award and a number one album with his debut, Hypersonic Missiles. To the scores of people who queued up to be the first to get their hands on his record at midnight outside Newcastle’s record store Beyond Vinyl, Sam sent pizza and kebabs – a kind gesture that’s certainly in keeping with his aesthetic, considering his merchandise comes in takeaway boxes or rolled up in tin-foil – he even has his own hot sauce.

It’s evident that Sam is already well on his way to establishing himself as a local legend, having rubbed shoulders with the likes of Alan Shearer and Sting – Shearer presented Sam with his number one record award before his secret show in a North Shields social club. In fact, there aren’t many Geordie heroes Sam hasn’t interacted with now. ‘I would love to meet Brian Johnson from AC/DC,’ Sam tells us. ‘He just seems like a man who has always remained himself. I’d like to know the challenges he faced, becoming famous and being from the North East, and see if they compare with mine – because I feel canny mad, and it would be nice to be reassured that I’m not going insane,’ he adds, ’I would like to meet all of the Geordie illuminati to be honest, most of them seem pure sound.’ Sam’s come a long way from lingering around the back of the O2 Academy in Newcastle, waiting to catch a glimpse of Tim Healy as indie-rock band The 1975 played inside the venue (fronted by Tim’s son Matty) – ‘I remember that!’ he laughs. ‘I was more buzzing about Tim than seeing the band.’

These days, it’s Sam’s fans who wait around the back of venues hoping to meet him. If that’s not impressive enough, the tickets for his arena tour in 2020 went on sale in September, and he sold out Newcastle’s 11,000-capacity Utilita Arena in eight minutes flat. We asked Sam if he’d ever woken up early just so he could get tickets for a gig. ‘I woke up at the crack of dawn for [Bruce] Springsteen tickets,’ he admits. ‘I smashed the refresh button one million times. It’s an anxiety-inducing experience but, my God, the euphoria you feel when you get a ticket.’ It’s no secret that Bruce is a huge influence on Sam’s music – reviewers and publications such as Rolling Stone and NME refer to Sam as the ‘Geordie Springsteen’ – in part due to his lyrics describing the struggles of the working-class. 

Sam got into Springsteen thanks to his brother, Liam, also a talented musician. In fact, Sam comes from quite a musical family. ‘My first gig was watching my Dad’s band in a pub somewhere in North Tyneside, potentially the Maggy Bank,’ he says. ‘I used to sit in my pushchair and dance along, apparently. I wore no ear protection either – bad parents – hence why I’m deaf as a post.’ The Magnesia Bank is a pub in North Shields, Sam’s hometown, which hosts live music regularly. But he finds plenty of places to get his live music fix whenever he’s home. ‘My favourite venues in the North East would be Tynemouth Surf-Café, because of Richy Southern’s events and JD’s busker’s nights.’ (Richy has since moved on to become the general manager of the award-winning Tyne Bank Brewery.) ‘There’s also The Cluny and The Tyne Bar – to be honest the Ouseburn as a whole is a pretty lush spot, I’m very proud of that place. I like the Ouseburn for food and drinks as well, but I drink mainly in Shields because it’s on my doorstep. I’m not mega fussy to be honest, I just love pubs.’ One of the pubs in North Shields that receives a special shoutout on Sam’s track Leave Fast is the Low Lights Tavern, his old workplace and frequent watering hole.

© 2022 BRIT Awards Ltd Sam Fender © 2022 BRIT Awards Ltd
© 2022 BRIT Awards Ltd Sam Fender © 2022 BRIT Awards Ltd

But before having the luxury of being old enough to drink, Sam, like many youngsters in the North East, would take to drinking on the streets. ‘I used to drink rotten stuff like Frosty Jacks, Pulse, White Storm, White Lightning – cider that’s made with onions, basically. It was cheap and I was always skint.’ These brands will no doubt be familiar to others who grew up in and around North Shields. ‘I used to get two pound a day for lunch at school, so I’d save a fiver of that for the weekend, buy a bottle of cheap cider, then go to the beach or boating lake. There were hundreds of us from John Spence, Marden, St Thomas More and Norham (the local schools) who would go out on a Friday down to King Edward’s Bay, we were genuinely unstoppable. I once saw this one kid fight five others while going up the stairs, it was mental. Those nights were fueled on cheap cider, Buckfast, Bella and Lambrini. Those were the days.’ 

John Spence Community High School, Sam’s secondary school, has recently produced two other famous faces – footballing brothers Sean and Matthew Longstaff. We asked Sam who else from North Shields deserves to be famous. ‘Reece Monaghan should be, he’s talented and gorgeous.’ Local musician Reece is currently recording demos and can be found practicising in Ouseburn’s The Off Quay Building rehearsal space, across the bridge from the 36 Lime Street gallery. ‘My brother is a mega talent. There are just loads man – loads of hilarious and talented kids knocking about Shields, tyre kicking, waiting for the signs to follow.’ Of course, Sam’s no stranger to recognising local talent when he sees it – he regularly takes local bands on tour with him. Which artists from the North East does he think deserve more recognition? ‘There are loads – A Festival A Parade, Hector Gannet, Brooke Bentham, The Pale White, Heidi Curtis, and many more. I’d like to come and watch some new bands as it’s been a couple years since I’ve been home for a gig. I’m sure there’s plenty new artists coming through the scene though.’

Sam’s band is largely made up of local musicians, but it wasn’t always that way. Sam used to busk by himself at local spots like Head of Steam and Surf-Café in Tynemouth, and the Mister Woods cafe in Cullercoats, before friends Dean Thompson, Drew Michael and Tom Ungerer joined him. Joe Atkinson and Johnny ‘Blue Hat’ Davis came on board more recently, but does he have plans to expand it further? ‘I’ve always dreamed of having a big band, and I’d love to expand it even more. I just need to find the right players. I think I could do with some more singers, as well. I’d love to have a band like Arcade Fire.’

Being surrounded by friends and Geordie accents while away from home must help, but we wanted to know what Sam misses that he didn’t expect to, when he’s away from the North East. ‘The obvious one is that I miss my friends and family. But the one that I never thought I’d have to deal with was never being there for christenings, weddings, funerals. It stretches beyond that as well, I come home and some of my nearest and dearest have been in a bad way, and I’ve not been there for them. That can be tough. Life goes on, and more often that not I feel disconnected from it out here. Don’t get me wrong, the road is fun, but it’s not real. The stuff I do is magnificent and terrifying, it pumps you so full of adrenaline that your nerves give out. It makes you so high and so low, it’s relentless. But it’s impossible to maintain the high – you can’t be ecstatic forever. I think I’m coming to terms with it, but the whole experience is mind altering, for it’s given me the life I’ve always dreamed of, but has robbed me of the one I never knew I’d miss.’

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