North Shields, England – Sam Fender, singer-songwriter often Britain’s answer to Bruce Springsteen, realized his life had changed forever on Halloween.
This year he bought “eight giant boxes” of chocolates for any kid who might knock on their door in North Shields, a working-class town on the banks of the River Tyne in north-east England.
Fender expected the bunker to last all night, but he was gone almost immediately.
“Everyone in the neighborhood was, like, ‘This is Sam Fender’s house, let’s knock,'” the musician recalled in a recent interview in his studio a short walk from downtown, in a nondescript building surrounded by auto mechanics workshops. The trick or the therapists were more eager to take selfies with the star than candy, whether they knew his music or not. “It scared us a little bit,” he said. “It was just crazy.”
Over the past year Fender, 27, has become one of Britain’s biggest music stars, but said he still didn’t want to be “who – which The guy’s too famous to answer his door on Halloween – a situation that touches the tension that runs through his newfound success: how to be a star while still being part of the community that defines his songwriting.
His second pop-rock album, “Seventeen Going Under”, released in October, quickly hit the top of the British charts, just as it debuted, and has since sold out all the arenas, announced as an outdoor show with a capacity of 45,000 spectators in London fascinated the British public with her appearances hanging on the morning television screen.
For a few weeks this fall, the album’s title track spurred TikTok trend due to the lyrics – “I was so scared to hit him, but I was going to beat him up in a heartbeat now” – that talk about suffering at the hands of bullies and domestic abusers.
All of that success has been built against the backdrop of North Shields, a depressing town of about 30,000 people in an area where 34 percent of children live in poverty, but which is also home, Fender said, to some of the “most fun, loving, caring people who… I’ve met them before.”
Fender sets most of his songs in town, often references local pubs or fistfights on cold beaches nearby, and sings about his friends’ experiences and experiences, including turbulent childhoods, male suicide, and widespread political alienation.
Owen Davies, also home-born Fender’s manager, said Fender’s songs were “emotional and powerful”, but their theme allows them to “speak for a lot of people here – a lot of us”.
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Now Fender is in limbo, unable to lead a normal life in North Shields or Newcastle, the nearest town, as he tries to sail into fame, even if he desperately wants to. “I’m navigating two complete opposites and I’m now at a point where I don’t feel like I belong in either,” Fender said. An order from the local pub.
The thought of leaving home was difficult for an artist in the North East in a way that wouldn’t necessarily be for someone from London, he explained: “We are tribal. Anything from Newcastle that does good belongs to Newcastle.”
While many British music stars attended performing arts schools and arrived poised for success, Fender’s path to fame is all the more illustrative of the barriers a class can still offer. The class has long animated music here, as theme songs and a badge of honor: The Clash has made upholding workers’ rights part of its mission and has poked fun at the Queen’s sex pistols; The ’90s Pritpop battles pitted a murky middle-class against a working-class oasis, where a pop-music sniper sang about posh strangers who condoned with the common people.
Fender said that after initially growing up on a middle-class street in North Shields, things got tough, after his parents divorced when he was eight. Fibromyalgia, a condition that causes pain and fatigue.
“We always had to beg and borrow and rob anyone who could help her,” Fender said.
At the age of 18, Fender was working at a local bar to support them when manager Davis came over. Encouraged by his boss, Fender played the Beatles’ song “Get Back” followed by one of his own songs.
Recalling that moment in a phone interview, Davis said he drank several pints of beer at that moment but was still “completely affected by that amazing sound.” Immediately call the phone for Fender to book some suitable deals.
“It feels like a Disney story when you tell it,” Fender said, adding, “Davis saved my life.”
But what followed was not a fairy tale of overnight success. Over the next few years, Fender continued to play gigs and write songs, “trying to figure out who I am,” he said.
Then, at the age of twenty, he fell seriously ill (he would not discuss the details of the case) and sat in the hospital thinking, “If I were to die young, I want to make sure I wrote something worth listening to.” Soon he was writing songs about his life in North Shields.
This domestic focus has earned him fans far from Britain. Steven Van Zandt, a veteran member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band who regularly plays Fender’s music on his radio show in the US, said in a phone interview that Fender “could have gone the easy way” thanks to his voice and appearance. Instead, Fender chose to sing “these intense, personal songs of working-class life that had no guarantee of success,” Van Zandt said, describing the decision as “courageous.”
Fender seemed very happy with some of his heroes, including Springsteen, who liked his music, but in an hour-long interview, he went back to talking about his hometown over and over again. At one point, he referenced a campaign he led last year to prevent the local council from charging people for calling emergency helplines for the homeless. after Fender took over on social media To complain about the problem, the council promised to clear the lines.
Sometimes I feel like, ‘Am I really doing something well?’ Fender said. He said it was a rare moment when he felt it.
Fender insisted he would never leave North Shields behind and became visibly worried when talking about the possibility. But Halloween and other similar experiences showed him that it was time to try to live elsewhere for at least a few months. Somewhere it didn’t look like “a bowl of goldfish,” he said, maybe New York, maybe London, somewhere “the opposite of where I came from.” The only sure thing is that his songs won’t change.
He said, “You can take a boy out of Shields, but you can’t take Shields out of a boy.”