LIVE REVIEW: Sam Fender, HEIDI @ Virgin Money Unity Arena, Newcastle (13.08.20) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Images by Tynesight Photography

When it was first announced that the world’s first socially distanced venue would be launched up the road from me, my initial reaction was excitement. I didn’t really care about the logistics or how it was going to look, I just wanted to be back in a live music atmosphere.

As I drove into Newcastle Racecourse, absolutely itching to get back to see an artist actually perform live, I started to wonder how different it was going to be. The answer? Not really that different at all.

Attending the gig wasn’t as dramatic as some people might have initially thought. With staggered entrance times there was minimal queueing and you were taken to your private platform with ease. It actually felt a bit VIP, and almost gave it a sense of intimacy that you don’t usually get at an outdoor performance.

Of course, it wasn’t possible to move around outside your platform and security was hot on that. When you’re taken to your viewing area there’s plenty of room for chairs, which were handed out by the staff. Masks were a must once you left that designated area to go to the bar or the toilets, but it didn’t really feel like an issue. Even queuing felt easier without hoards of people fighting over portaloos and to be the next served for that important pint of cider. 

Maybe it’s because we’re used to seeing facemasks everywhere nowadays but that was really the only glaringly obvious change. The atmosphere was buzzing, and I actually enjoyed not having to queue for an hour to go to the loo and not having to fight my way to the barrier so I can actually get a decent view.

As for the music, the opening act was HEIDI, a North Shields songwriter with a fantastic voice and catchy lyrics. In terms of style and genre, she was the perfect opener for Sam; equipped with her guitar, HEIDI’s indie flair was a hit with the audience.

As the night got darker, Sam Fender’s appearance was met with screams and whoops of delight. Launching into the popular Will We Talk?, it felt like all the worries of the world just pretty much disappeared. That’s the powerful thing about live music and its ability to transform your mood, and one of the things I missed the most about being in front of a live musician.

I’ve been following Sam for what feels like years now, from the days where he was playing tiny venues and frequenting North Shields hotspots. Those powerful vocals and catchy instrumentals initially drew me to him, but his lyrics made me stay. His ability to craft stories and real political issues into anthems that everyone wants to scream from the rooftops is pretty special, and the fact he’s from the North East just makes it even better.

Continuing through a setlist including The Borders, Hold Out, Spice and Dead Boys, Sam played like the true headliner he’s become. His show was full of cheekiness and banter, there was a track dedicated to growing up in Shields and another about being out in the Bigg Market and, quite honestly, it was just everything you could want for a return to live music.

Announcing that they were going to pretend to leave and come back for the statutory encore, Sam returned on his own to play Leave Fast and a stripped-back Poundshop Kardashians, which sounded gorgeous. Closing on the anthemic Hypersonic Missiles, it was an emotional ending.

Yes it’s different, but when a show is still able to give an audience a feeling of excitement and the ability to escape from reality even if just for a few hours, maybe it’s enough right now.


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