Sam Fender review, Glastonbury 2022: Radio-targeted, entry level guitar rock

There’s real bite and clatter in some of these tunes, promising a legitimately exciting future if Fender risks building on them

Mark Beaumont
Friday 24 June 2022 22:07 BST
Sam Fender performs on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival (Ben Birchall/PA)
Sam Fender performs on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Wire)

“Me and the boys have never been here before,” Sam Fender admits, and perhaps three or four members of his field-filling Pyramid Stage audience might be surprised. His music isn’t exactly steeped in the psychedelic ciders or 12th-dimensional mindset of this mystic vale. Rather, it’s radio-targeted, entry level guitar rock, The Courteeners with training wheels.

We’d politely call it “playlist indie”, a cheekbone-led phenomenon that has evolved from the glut of post-Oasis anthem rock and the monumental success of stadium folk dullards Mumford & Sons. It’s conquered Reading & Leeds and, judging by Fender’s vast and enthusiastic crowd, he’s the newly crowned prince invading Glastonbury with the stuff.

Unlike most playlist indie rockers – who would like to convince us they’re as punk as the Pistols or as surly as a gaggle of Gallaghers while, crucially, keeping Jo Wiley firmly onside – Fender knows his role as My First Indie Hero. He eases us in with some pounding, driving radio rock in “Will We Talk?” and “Getting Started”, then gradually turns up the dial. “The Borders” spends a pleasant couple of minutes as Tom Petty drivetime pop, before Fender tests the waters with a scratchy new wave guitar solo, a burst of pure rock abrasion quickly Sudocremed with a glossy Eighties saxophone solo from a chap in a bucket hat and Newcastle United shirt.

Sensing we can take it, Fender then warns us that he’s about to play two punk songs and piles into “Spice” and “Howdon Aldi Death Queue”, the most visceral evocation of pandemic paranoia yet written as he barks “woah, woah, woah, that’s less than two metres!” at some pushy anti-masker in a discount supermarket.

There’s real bite and clatter in these tunes, hinting that he might yet aspire to Wolf Alice’s alt-rock masterclass earlier in the day, and promising a legitimately exciting future if he risks building on them. For now, though, he’s catering to the streaming masses, so it’s quickly back to the gentle rock anthems. “Seventeen Going Under” is a soft rock massage of brassy bluster, the mandolin-led “Spit of You” – dedicated to his dad – an echo of Crowded House’s set.

The soul-pop “Saturday” gets knocked deep into Paolo Nutini’s ballpark, and by the time he sits at a piano festooned with a Newcastle United flag, swigs a Newkie Brown Ale and dedicates “The Dying Light” to his hometown (clue: not Winchester), his inner-David Gray starts showing.

It’s early days. Fingers crossed, Fender is inclined to turn his popularity to more challenging ends.

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