'Incredible songwriting': Radio 1's Chris Price on Sam Fender's big breakthrough

'Incredible songwriting': Radio 1's Chris Price on Sam Fender's big breakthrough

Sam Fender got a big chart result last week with his No.1 debut Hypersonic Missiles (Polydor). But he's not alone in 2019, which has also seen breakthroughs by debut LP acts Tom Walker, Lewis Capaldi and Dave.

Here, Chris Price, BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra head of music, talks breaking acts, the Brit List and the Sam Fender phenomenon...

How do you think Sam Fender has achieved his No.1, at a time when it's tough for debut artists and rock acts to make their mark?

"With Sam I think it’s very straightforward – incredible songwriting from an artist communicating his truth authentically. Audiences really connect to that if they are given the opportunity – that’s where we come in. Dead Boys absolutely floored me when I first heard it; it’s not often I’m reduced to silence in a plugging appointment, but it was obvious from the first play of that song that Sam was a cut above. We knew instinctively that our listeners would feel the same way.

"Those of us that don’t make art for a living can pontificate all day long about the rock doldrums or struggling debuts, but when an artist like Sam Fender comes along it quickly renders the chatter quite meaningless."

How has Radio 1 supported Sam Fender, and does the absence of a hit single show that airplay success and ticket sales are just as important as streaming in breaking an artist? 

"I feel like we’ve been on a real journey together, from Sam’s first play on Annie Mac in July 2017 to his first ever Live Lounge this year. In between, he’s had five Hottest Records, multiple A-lists as a Brit List artist, massive support from Greg James, a Big Weekend performance – the list goes on. It really feels like he’s part of the family.

"But we’ve always known that it was never about hit singles – Sam’s not that kind of artist. Live and airplay are the domain where audiences truly build a connection to artists, so for Sam I would argue that they are way more important than streaming, which though important is still figuring out how to drive true fandom."

So far this year we've had No.1 UK chart breakthroughs by Tom Walker, Lewis Capaldi, Dave and Sam Fender, as well as a No.3 finish by Freya Ridings. What's gone right in 2019 and how has Radio 1 helped?

"I’m delighted to say that Radio 1 – and in Dave’s case 1Xtra – have played a vital role in the success of all the artists you’ve listed. The lion’s share of the credit must always go to the artist of course, but I would say the overriding force with all of them has been commitment. 

"It might seem like things happen more quickly in the streaming age, but in actual fact quite the opposite is true; artists need time to build meaningful connections with new fans, and the best labels, radio stations and streaming services recognise that."

To read the interviews with Sam Fender's team, pick up the latest issue - or subscribers can click here.

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