He’s become embroiled in a feud with teen idols One Direction in recent weeks for speaking out about his contempt for manufactured pop, but if there was any doubt about where the future of British music lies it was made crystal clear last night as Jake Bugg hit the stage at his sold out London gig.
Long championed as the antidote to years of bland chart music and samey dance tracks, the teenage singer/song-writer (who celebrated his 19th birthday yesterday) is an anti-Bieber for the 2010s and produces raw heartfelt music at its best, fusing retro influences such as melancholic folk and blues with modern indie rock. Just him, his guitar, and a supporting bassist and drummer. No frills, just the music.
Born Jacob Kennedy (Bugg is his father’s name) in 1994 in Nottingham, the back story (in a nutshell) goes like this: Raised on the city’s infamous Clifton council estate, the young Bugg was a huge football fan with no real interest in music, until he heard Don McLean’s Vincent used in an episode of The Simpsons, spurring him on to pick up a guitar. Regular gigs and a small slot at 2011’s Glastonbury Festival followed, before Mercury Records came calling, signed him up with his self-titled debut album shooting to the number one spot when it was released in October.
Fast forward to 2013 and he’s one of our brightest young musical talents. Nominated for Brit and NME Awards this year, performing a special acoustic set at a party hosted by luxury fashion brand Burberry and with a supporting act slot alongside Noel Gallagher and Snow Patrol in the US, Bugg has now headlined his own UK tour as his star continues its ascendance.
After listening to his music for just under a year, I headed to London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire to catch him live for the first time. And he did not disappoint. Walking out on stage to a scratchy old blues track was a clear nod to his retro musical tastes and influences – think Robert Johnson, Donovan, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Nick Drake – but his music is thoroughly modern too (the Stone Roses and Arctic Monkeys are contemporary musical heroes) with lyrics such as ‘stuck in speed-bumb city where the only thing that’s pretty is the thought of getting out’ and ‘skin up a fat one, hide from the feds’ – hence appealing to his fellow teens and the older generation alike.
His faultless voice and song lyrics defy his age and life experiences as he switched back and forth between his up-tempo foot-stomping tracks such as Taste It, Two Fingers and set closer Lightning Bolt, and the softer finger picking songs such as the beautiful Simple As This, Country Song and Broken. He barely speaks (bar a few mumbled song introductions and thank yous in his East Midlands drawl) and barely moves (other than to switch guitars between tracks), and he maybe diminutive in stature, but he’s completely captivating on stage for the duration of his set.
With as basic a stage backdrop as they come and nothing in the way of set production or pyrotechnics, he lets his music do the talking. Quite rightly so, and had the crowd jumping up and down to his bouncy rockier songs and singing along on the slower numbers. The only downside, you’d argue, is that all of his tracks are so short and punchy that you wish that you could savour them for longer, they’re that good. But on the flipside, his debut album is packed with a bumper 14 songs, and throw in a cover of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues to close the encore and show, and the set doesn’t feel short at all.
Jake Bugg: The saviour of British music? You bet. The kid’s the real deal.
Watch the new video for Jake’s latest single, Seen It All, below, and check out his website