Sam Fender’s old guitar teacher joined him onstage to play AC/DC hits with Brian Johnson – and absolutely nailed Angus Young’s solos

Sam Fender performing with Brian Johnson and his old guitar teacher
(Image credit: Sam Fender/Instagram)

Sam Fender returned to his home city of Newcastle, England, last week for two mammoth headline shows at St James' Park, during which he shared the stage with not one, but two Geordie music heroes, for a cover of AC/DC's Back in Black and You Shook Me All Night Long.

The first, legendary AC/DC vocalist Brian Johnson, took to the stage with Fender alongside a lesser-known hero – one Phil Martin, who had been Fender’s old guitar teacher back during the Seventeen Going Under superstar’s youth.

Seeing Johnson and Fender blast through the classic rock hits is a spectacle in its own right, one of epic proportions, but the rendition remained rooted to reality and took on a relatable, wholesome edge thanks to Martin’s presence.

It wasn’t just a novelty cameo, though. In Fender’s own words, Martin “showed the entirety of St James’ Park how it’s actually done”, wielding an ebony Epiphone SG to channel prime Angus Young for a genuinely awe-inspiring showing.

Any player or teacher worth their salt will have some grasp on these two iconic riffs, but Martin goes way beyond that, absolutely nailing the riffs, solos and everything in between with ridiculously silky licks, plenty of Angus attitude and some individual Martin flair.

After the show, Fender paid an emotional tribute to his old master, writing, “I also brought out my first guitar teacher who showed the entirety of St James’ Park how it’s actually done. 

“Phil Martin, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if it wasn’t for your tutelage and back when I had my first band (when we were bairns [children], 14 or 15) you let us rehearse in the Gasworks practice rooms for free. We need more people like you in our community.”

It’s a genuinely stirring moment – something that doesn’t happen too often in the guitar world – with Fender serving a timely reminder to remember all those who’ve helped you in your own music journey, and to stay in touch with where you’ve come from.

“What he's achieved in a very small period of time, I haven't seen that done before,” Martin told ITV after the event. “And the way the Geordie nation's took him to their hearts, for every right reason. He is what he says he is and we can all verify that.

“It was absolutely incredible. Probably the most positive feeling I've ever had. The love out there for Sam is incredible. I think he deserves it."

Despite Martin’s show-stealing performance, we mustn't forget the equally awe-inspiring presence of Johnson – another Newcastle hero who had an equally influential, though far more indirect, impact on Fender’s career.

“Sharing the stage with Brian Johnson was a dream come true,” Fender went on to say. “When we first started seeing success with our band, me and Dean used to watch interviews of Brian to keep ourselves grounded – he is the prime example of a Geordie who has never forgotten his roots.”

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Another notable aspect of the evening was Fender’s electric guitar of choice for certain songs – a custom Fender Jazzmaster inspired by the songwriter’s beloved soccer team, Newcastle United.

The model, featuring the team’s bold black-and-white stripe aesthetic, was gifted to Fender by, er, Fender as a surprise, and has seen much live action over the past few months.

The St James’ Park double-header was a significant milestone in Sam Fender’s stratospheric career, having been the subject of numerous “jokes” by the band, who always aspired to perform at their prestigious home venue. 

In a separate post, Fender wrote, “This day has been the subject of a joke for about 15 years of my life. When I formed my first band at 14, we would joke about playing here – but it was genuinely just a joke, we didn't believe it was possible, who would? 

“We fucking did it boys. We fucking did it. Thank you so much to every one of you, my friends, my family, my fans. You are the ones who made this happen, I am in debt to you all.”

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.