Sam Ryder can’t quite believe his luck

Sam Ryder performs at the Outernet - Getty/Jim Dyson
Sam Ryder performs at the Outernet - Getty/Jim Dyson

About a decade ago, artists began banning phones at their gigs. Kate Bush, Bjork, Kate Bush, Prince: all threatened expulsion from the venue if fans tried to film their performances.

While a few artists still request fans keep their phones in their pockets – from Bob Dylan to Bruno Mars and Placebo – times have changed. At the first of two nights in London Sam Ryder made his 2,000-strong crowd deploy the torch function on their phones, and then vigorously raise and lower them in accordance with his refrain. Fifteen minutes later we were told to “shine a light” on Camilla, an audience member who was “going through it”, and therefore received a dedicated serenade from the 33-year-old pop star.

The former wedding singer from Chelmsford owes his bombastic ascent to the smartphone. Sharing his gymnastic vocal abilities over social media during the pandemic earned him nearly 13 million TikTok followers, plus a slot at The Queen’s Jubilee Concert, live appearances with The Foo Fighters. And, perhaps most famously, his chart-topping Eurovision single Space Man – the most successful British Eurovision performance since Gina G’s in 1996.

Ryder took a tight little four-piece band and some cartoonish graphics to HERE, a new venue built on the graveyard of the London Astoria, where Ryder appeared in a sparkly black jumpsuit, his trademark ginger beard and flowing blond hair trying to catch up as he bounded around the stage.

Energy is not a thing Ryder is short of. His music – sampled from an overdue forthcoming debut album that we were encouraged to buy via QR codes thrown up on the screen – is a hectic collision of power ballad choruses, breakbeat-cut rhythms and motivational Instagram quotes. Ryder’s relentlessly swooping falsetto smothers it all. He rattled through every vocal trick – acapella, glissando, growl, vocal fry. Sometimes, it was difficult to hear the lyrics. This was music constructed for the short attention span: within 20 seconds, you wanted to sing along. After 45 minutes, you felt bombarded.

Overall, Ryder appeared as both a man who couldn’t quite believe his luck and one who thought he was on stage at Wembley, rather than in an underground box on top of a Tube station. Both made for an endearing performance; it was impossible not to grin during an earnest cover of John Farnham’s You’re the Voice, even if the Eighties hit showed what Ryder’s lack.

It was in his final, Eurovision-triumphant song Space Man that you saw a glimmer of what Ryder just might become. Finally, everyone raised their arms and sang along. Ryder’s journey to stardom isn’t over yet.