The morning after a heavy night of drinking with some mates, I was travelling back home and I turned to Radio X for some uplifting support to get me through the journey. A regular listener, I’m usually familiar with the often similar sounding indie tracks and classic rock tunes played daily.
But this time was different. The opening riff to Sam Fender’s Seventeen Going Under began and I was hooked from the get go. Engaging, slightly melancholic and simple, the track builds beautifully before Fender regales us with his childhood exploits as a young lad in North Shields in a calm but oddly familiar Geordie accent, almost like he’s a mate filling you in on the last few years of his life. The song provides ups, downs and a positive yet sad undertone that all of us in our late 20s and 30s are probably familiar with as we feel ready to completely let go of our childhood.
In the following days, I listened to Seventeen Going Under religiously. I cried, I chanted along and I smiled. Not since I first heard Oasis’ ‘Whatever’ had I felt the same rollercoaster of emotions from a single track.
In this song, Fender shows us that he has everything you need to be an indie hero. Exceptional guitar skills, a cracking band behind him, complete with saxophone and trumpet, and an engaging voice that carries a kick when needed.
But his ultimate skill is storytelling. This is what stands out on Seventeen Going Under. Fender cuts the crap, he opens up and tells his own childhood story as it was: sometimes fun, often very challenging, occasionally violent and full of ‘cheap drink and snide fags.’
Such rawness and powerful honesty is what makes Seventeen Going Under a beautifully crafted piece of work. It isn’t flashy, there’s no ego through insane guitar riffs or a drum solo thrown in for the sake of it and it doesn’t tell the cliched indie story of fixating on a failed love interest.
The song is relatable for so many and it is a symbol of life growing up in working-class Britain. It feels like the song millions would write if they ever bared their soul about their own experiences growing up. Where other artists have sometimes hidden behind their working-class roots and their formation in professional music, Fender embraces it in Seventeen Going Under and he has engaged millions in indie music once more by doing so.