Jake Bugg, Koko, London


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The Independent Culture

There’s a feeling of excitement in the air. “It was never this busy for Prince,” gasps a man by the bar, and “I really hope it’s not all hype says a stiletto-clad woman in a scouse accent.

Jake Bugg is the guy they want to see. There are rumours he plays great guitar music; a rare, precocious talent. Stepping on stage, the slim 18-year-old doesn’t cut a very dramatic figure, until he begins to play.

A visceral feeling of relief sweeps over the crowd. He can do it! It’s not just hype! He’s as good as his YouTube clips! He can actually play guitar, and sing, and, oh joy of joys! The enunciation! “I can hear the words!” someone shouts, echoing the delight felt by everyone that finally someone new is playing the kind of music they love.

Bugg’s self-penned, eponymous debut album was number one in the UK last month, knocking Mumford & Sons off the top spot. Asked about his success by NME, he said: “People still want to hear guitar music. It’s my job to keep that X Factor shit off the top of the charts.” He has a point. This is exactly the right time for guitar music to make a comeback. But there is no hard man attitude tonight, just the odd, gruff “thanks” muttered in Nottingham up-talk, with a Gallagher-esque nod.

It’s a varied range too, with tunes like “Country Song,” a Bob Dylan-inspired melody that takes Rock n’ Roll back to its bluegrass roots, and “Someone Told Me”, which has a vague 90s nostalgia mixed with a kind of Simon & Garfunkel style of subtle restraint. Bugg knows he doesn’t need fancy lighting, or backing singers, he doesn’t need to try to be best buddies with all his fans on Twitter.  The guitar, and his voice, is enough.

There are clear influences; Oasis, the Arctic Monkeys, John Denver, The Beatles, each song has just enough of a tweak to sound fresh. As tune follows beautiful tune, it’s a hard to believe this teenager has produced so many songs of such consistent quality, and so polished.

There are no duds. Bugg’s voice, like his guitar, is capable of adopting a few different styles, it goes from Brit-pop drone to country drawl, it can be bright and pure too, but it all sounds good. There’s a mature assurance about his minimal chatter.

But even though his manner is restrained, he gives some of himself to his music. Lyrics like “Down in the kitchen, drinking White Lightning/ He’s with my momma, yelling and fighting / It’s not the first time praying for silence” on his popular single, “Two Fingers” suggest a lyrical wisdom that sets him aside from his more polished and manufactured peers.