Sam Fender – Manchester Castlefield Bowl

This July, Sam Fender played Manchester’s hottest summer venue, Castlefield Bowl. Here’s my view from the front row.

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I first heard of Sam Fender when he won the BRITs’ Critics Choice Award in 2019, the last year it was awarded before being renamed to ‘Rising Star’. The single he had out at the time, Play God, became an instant favourite, as did the rest of his debut album Hypersonic Missiles when it was released later that year. Three years on, this spring he headlined the biggest arenas in the country with his second album Seventeen Going Under – its title track having become his biggest mainstream success to date. Come summer, he stopped off at Manchester’s hottest outdoor purpose-built venue, Castlefield Bowl, for a concert I certainly won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Doors into Castlefield Bowl opened at 5.30pm. A venue I had never visited before, it was difficult to gauge the perfect time to get there for a good spot – we got there just after 4pm and ended up second row at the right hand side of the stage, a view I was really happy with. The venue is just off the bottom of Deansgate, opposite the Museum of Science and Industry, and hosts huge headlining bands in June and July as part of its Sounds of the City series, as well as the Laughterama comedy weekend at the end of September. It’s perfect for warm weather (though perhaps not the typical drizzly Manchester evening we had) and has areas for every type of concertgoer – there’s steps at the back to sit on that are suitable for those less eager to stand in the middle of a crowd while also getting a great view.

The first support act, Heidi Curtis performed from 6.45pm. She had great stage energy and gelled with the crowd really well, explaining her inspirations for each song, which were all lovely to stand and listen to. Support acts have one challenging job – winning over people who haven’t heard from you, and aren’t here for you – but she tackled it with ease. The second support act, band Wunderhorse, didn’t quite so much – they ambled onto the stage without introducing themselves and most of the crowd were more interested in waving at the train manager that had stopped his train on the bridge that sits above the arena.

The crowd were very excited to welcome Sam Fender onto the stage at 9pm – myself included, of course! He performed a mix of new music and fan favourites, opening the set with my favourite song from his first album, Will We Talk? The energetic opening number was followed by early single Dead Boys as well as a couple of the gentler songs from his latest album, Mantra and Better of Me.

The calmer section was followed by what can only be described as “the mosh pit section”, featuring the non-album singles Spice and Howdon Aldi Death Queue. Spice was quite an intense moment – the two girls in front of me decided to sacrifice their place at the barrier to join the mosh pit forming behind us. I gladly took their front row spot and tried to focus on the fact I was now front row at Sam Fender (!!!) and not think about how much everyone was pushing behind me. At the end of the song he asked everyone to move back two steps as the front rows were getting crushed – while it was easy enough to breathe when you’ve only got a barrier in front of you, but if you’re second or third row I can imagine that it got quite uncomfortable!

After all that I had an unobstructed view for the second half of his set, which was brilliant for some of my favourite songs off his latest album, including Spit of You, written about his dad. The last song before the encore was The Dying Light – the highlight of the night for me, I got quite emotional at seeing such a beautiful song performed live, the way it builds is truly incredible.

The encore featured the songs that even those friends and relatives in the crowd that had been dragged along by a fan would have known – Seventeen Going Under, his huge hit that he performed on the likes of the BRIT Awards and Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, and finally the title track from his debut album, Hypersonic Missiles. It was a superb set for an artist with only two albums – it will be great in the future to see his live repertoire keep building.

Setlist:

Will We Talk?

Getting Started

Dead Boys

Mantra

Better Of Me

The Borders

Spice

Howdon Aldi Death Queue

Get You Down

Spit of You

Play God

The Dying Light

Saturday

Seventeen Going Under

Hypersonic Missiles

Alongside his Manchester concert, Sam Fender has recently been playing this set at some of the biggest festivals across the country, including Glastonbury, TRNSMT and Tramlines. Don’t miss him next time he’s playing near you – although he’s actually heading to America for the foreseeable now, make sure to be following this page to find out when he tours next!

Do you have any concert plans this summer?

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