Life & Culture

An Open Letter from Sam Fender About Male Suicide and His Debut EP

Writing exclusively for Another Man, the singer-songwriter and BBC Sound of 2018 nominee reveals the tragic story behind his debut EP, Dead Boys

I wrote Dead Boys purely as a reaction to losing a friend to suicide. It didn’t come immediately after, as it took a long time to process; if anything, it was a way for me to put it to bed. It’s a different kind of loss, so finding closure or understanding can be a lengthy and complicated phase. I spent a lot of time trying to understand how someone gets in to that headspace. The reality is you can’t understand. Dead Boys is essentially about that feeling: the shock, the grief and the resolution.

I’m from North Shields, “a drinking town with a fishing problem” my manager says. It’s a small town at the mouth of the Tyne river, very ‘Geordie’, a bit gritty, but full of heart. I’ve been here all my life, as have my parents and grandparents and grandparents before that. My roots are firmly here, I know everyone and they all know me. It’s almost like a village, people sometimes call Tynemouth ‘Tinymouth’, that has pros and cons in itself as you feel welcome and at home, while simultaneously feel like you have no privacy whatsoever. Like everywhere it has its rough parts, but on the other hand the coast is beautiful; there’s a real juxtaposition between the derelict factories at the bottom of my street to the sprawling beaches of Tynemouth. This is where my songs Leave Fast and Dead Boys are set.

After releasing Dead Boys, I lost two people I knew personally to suicide. A multitude of further suicides had happened around the coast, even a case with two brothers, one took his life and the other followed a week later. It’s contagious, almost, as if you’re more likely to do it if you’ve experienced it yourself. I know that since I have been exposed to it, I’ve become more sensitive and aware of it. I was astounded by the figures – in the UK it’s the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, more than cancer or road accidents; apparently it claims 84 men a week. I wouldn’t have known any of this if I hadn’t experienced it, which is worrying, it should be spoken about more.

Before releasing the track I played it to my inner circle and also some people I work with in music. All of them had a connection to the song, all of them had lost someone. I was overwhelmed, purely because no one talks about it.

Since its release, I’ve had a handful of messages about people’s personal connection to the song. Some had lost friends, some had attempted suicide and luckily survived. One of the messages I got was from a guy who attempted suicide. He came out the other end, turned his life around and is now surrounded by loving friends. He ended with a sign-off line that was an alternative version of the dead boys lyrics, it read “alive boy from your hometown”.

For me, that’s the best thing I could have ever hoped for after writing the song. I always said that if one person talks or opens up about their problems, then this has done more than I could ever have wished for. As a ‘singer-songwriter’, I’m primarily an entertainer and a storyteller. We aren’t doctors or servicemen, we aren’t paramedics saving lives and we aren’t researching cancer cures. We’re certainly not counselling those in need, they’re the true heroes. I’m never going to be one of those people that overestimates their impact on the world. However, when a song connects and makes people come together and talk with a common goal, I feel the job holds more weight than I could ever imagine. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.

Sam Fender’s debut EP Dead Boys out now through Polydor Records