Last year, Sam Fender sailed to lofty new heights with his triumphant second album, Seventeen Going Under. Part of the reason the record seemed to resonate with so many was because it achieved the uncanny knack of capturing the zeitgeist. He was the fresh voice of sincerity that youngsters were waiting for.
In an era where musical scenes have largely dispersed into little microcosms on the internet, his anthemic sound seemed to herald in a new regeneration of guitar music that has been sorely missing since the indie boom of old when you would shuffle around Gotham City with your shoes pinned to the beer-sodden carpet like the wrapper to a warm Chewit. The raucous singalongs at his recent Newcastle shows where ‘Local Hero’ rattled the rafters and Kieran Trippier waved along is testimony to that.
However, behind his freshness is a backbone of songwriter intelligence. He might be illuminating a bright new future, but the reason he is doing that is because he is smart enough to keep one foot in the timeless past. He has always been quick to promote fellow emerging acts, but he has also rightfully recognised his forebearers, bringing the best musicians of old to his younger fans in the process.
He has often spoken of his love for Bruce Springsteen and that much is evident in his own sound, but there are plenty of other classic influences in the welter. One of which is the timeless lilting beauty of Joni Mitchell—the beloved folk favourite of another local North East hero, Bob Mortimer.
For Fender, one song, in particular, proves deeply stirring. “It’s spellbinding,” he told Absolute Radio of her anthemic ‘Both Sides Now’. “It’s such an incredible track. The first time I heard it, it’s one of them things when a song just punches you in the chest. It did that. I was like proper, proper in tears, sat in the tour bus like (mimics crying his out).”
Indeed, the lilting folk gem is a song that has had many fellows pretending they have just been chopping onions (for a Lasagne for one) for 53 years now since it first appeared on Mitchell’s masterful album Clouds.
Also a favourite of the likes of Prince and The Tallest Man on Earth, the song is a beautiful lament of love lost. Free from any anger or the sort of pointed prose that belongs in drunken post-breakup texts, the song tackles the subject from afar, painting wonderful metaphors with a sense of pillow-propped dreaminess, looking back on things ala ‘These Days’.
As the song says itself, “Rows and flows of angel hair / And ice cream castles in the air / And feather canyons everywhere / Looked at clouds that way / But now they only block the sun / They rain and they snow on everyone / So many things I would have done / But clouds got in my way.” Fender has certainly offered up some belting opening verses in his short career so far, but if he can ever assail that then he really will be breathing rarefied air.