So there I was one Saturday morning 18 months or so ago driving in to work before 8am listening to our local BBC Station, Radio Shropshire. A record starts up completely unannounced, nice intro I thought; I like this singer, no idea what he’s saying but I like it; then the drums kick in and I’m bopping along in my seat and by the time the horns kick in I’m sold and I’m bouncing outta my seat (don’t worry I was on a quiet back road) thinking “who the hell is this ?”.
Thankfully the normally useless presenter (I only listen to the station for news, traffic reports etc.) informed me it was Sam Fender and “Seventeen Going Under”. Now my friend Chris up in Newcastle had been rattling on about Sam Fender for a long time. I’d watched a documentary he’d done for the BBC about Lindisfarne’s great songwriter Alan Hull but I’d not got around to listening to his music. To be honest I was at a point where I’d given up on any new music with anything to say even getting close to getting through to me (The Enemy, Sleaford Mods, Idles…yawn…heard it all before, plagiaristic nonsense) so to find this young man who could write a song and had a way with words and something to say that was worth listening to was a revelation. After Chris assured me it wasn’t a one song flash in the pan deal and everything else he did was just as good, I ordered this album.
This albums title song (track 1 side 1 perfectly setting expectations) is one of the best things I’ve heard in many, many (MANY) years. At its heart it’s a bloody great song and then Sam Fender lays out his life story for you, about growing up, about how he became who he is, about his Dad and his Mom, about his friends and all their troubles. And still he manages to make it into a something you want to be a part of, a communal experience in song. It’s remarkable.
One day I went down a YouTube rabbit hole watching videos of Sam playing live. Seeing him and his audience communing over these songs and their messages pretty much restored my faith in “the kids”, there’s hope that they haven’t all been ruined by “Britain’s X Factor has no Voice or Talent” homogenised shite.
Like his debut “Hypersonic Missiles” many of the songs here address uncomfortable subjects, but there’s light here too. I don’t want to bore you with descriptions of individual songs again. Take it from me if you want, or don’t if you don’t, this is a bloody great record. Were it not for Cult Figures “Deritend” I would definitely have had this as my favourite album of 2021 and I’m not sure sometimes that this wasn’t it anyway. If just one person came and told me they’d listened to this record because of what I wrote here I’d be made up. “Canny chanter but he looks sad” may be how Sam Fender sees himself, I can’t wait to hear what the canny chanter does next.
Seventeen Going Under - https://youtu.be/WAifgn2Cvo8