How Welsh musician Adam Hender found himself on his first UK tour, one viral single away from stardom.
Just nine years ago, Adam Hender and his dad drove up and down Llandudno, North Wales, to open-mic-nights. At 13, weighed down by his guitar with his voice yet to crack, Hender was performing his own songs across town – as long as he was home before nine o’clock. Today, he’s halfway through his first UK tour.
“Oh my god, I’m buzzin’,” he says through a grin, “I feel amazing.” We sit in the lobby of a swanky, high-ceilinged hotel in Shepherd’s Bush, 10 minutes up the road from the venue. He’s far from home, though you wouldn’t guess it from the stretcher earrings, leather jacket and faded jeans snugger than mine. It’s his small-town sincerity that’s telling, the unbridled awe in his vaguely scouse twang as he takes it all in: “It’s weird, you know, spending all my life in one little town. And now, all of a sudden, I live in the big world. It’s crazy.”
Hender is perpetually reeling at his own success. His knee jumps from the adrenaline of his sold-out show last night in Manchester. He shakes his head, incredulous, as he recounts his single Burn featuring in BBC Radio One’s Best New Pop earlier this month. “I feel like everything is a milestone,” he says. “Obviously, we’re pushing towards the bigger picture, but I’m kind of just doing it, right now. I don’t want to get to like forty, and be wherever I am and not have enjoyed it.”
For Hender, the best lyrics are always the most candid. He goes on: “I think that if you don’t mean it, then people won’t believe you. If I’m not being truthful in what I say, in an intimate moment in a crowd when I’m performing it, I feel like they can see right through me.”
His tracks often tell the story of broken relationships, the insecurities before, during, and the desperate reach for familiarity, after. The last thirty seconds of Burn are delivered with an acoustic progression and throaty, frenzied emotion resonant of Ed Sheeran circa Multiply. There’s John Mayer-like deliberation over lyrical narrative in One Chance and Don’t Wake Me Up. Even some Harry Styles in the way he dresses for the gig, sporting a silky, flowery shirt, undone to his navel.
His appeal reaches far beyond typical metropolitan twentysomething, with his London show packed with diverse gig-goers, from all over South-East England. In the line outside the venue, a middle-aged woman from Southend-on-Sea tells me about the last show she went to. “Kane West, I think?” she says, wincing, “I’m not pronouncing it right.” Unfortunately for Kanye West, she was not very impressed and left during intermission. She made it all the way through Hender’s concert, however.
Opened by the warm, folksy talent of Hugo Barriol, Hender and his band are expressive, powerful, and savouring every moment of the night. Hender’s stage presence is charming, just tinged with enough nerves to ground himself, and the audience, in the humility and potential of the moment. Of watching an artist you’ll tell people you knew just before the fame.
He won’t admit it, but Adam Hender is on the verge of something big. In fear of jinxing it, he knocks his knuckles against his forehead, muttering “touch wood”. A far cry from being a teenager, earning a slow clap from that one drunk guy perched at the bar, Hender will be back home during the second leg of his tour, where his parents, his six siblings, and 1400 people will chant his words back at him in Venue Cymru, the biggest venue in North Wales. After that, it is only a matter of time.