By now, it’s likely you will have heard of Jake Bugg following on from his support slots at two of the year’s hottest gigs: namely The Stone Roses’ miniscule secret London show at Village Underground, and a week later, Noel Gallagher’s smallest ever solo performance at Camden’s Dingwalls. Come October, the latter legend will also be taking him on the rest of his 2012 tourdates, in Europe, America and beyond.
But let’s be clear: Jake Bugg is not “well connected”, schmoozing his way into these advantageous situations. How could he be? He’s spent most of his 18 years on this planet thus far in Nottingham, only coming to London following on from record company attention. The only thing doing the schmoozing are Jake’s amazing songs. As he shrugs: “I think Noel just got the tunes and liked what he heard.”
This is true. And Noel G and The Stone Roses are not the only ones. All across the land he has been working hard, playing songs and garnering new converts wherever he goes. His headline November shows in Manchester and London have both been upgraded due to demand; the release of his debut album has been brought forward – unheard of in this day and age because people want to get their hands on it. Jake is pretty clear about what it is that is connecting with. “I don’t pay too much attention to compliments,” he says, “but the most common thing that people are coming up to me and saying after the gigs is that it’s refreshing. It seems like every time people say guitar music is dead, that’s when it comes back. I think people are hungry for it. And I hope that more people start picking up the guitar instead of wobbling on a synth.”
Jake’s inspiration for the old way of doing things arrived via a relatively modern medium: an episode of The Simpsons. “Don McClean’s ‘Vincent came on,” he recalls. “And I was like, ‘What’s that song?” From there I just wanted to be able to play that song and write songs like it, and that’s where it all started for me, really.”
From there, he did what anyone does when they fall for a song hook, line and sinker: he began tracing it back. Via Youtube, he explored the other works of McLean, and then went further back through Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, seeking the ultimate origins of all the great songwriters. That was what turned him on. “Modern music came later for me,” he says. “I remember hearing Arctic Monkeys for the first time, and I didn’t really like it. It was only when I got a bit older that I started thinking, ‘That’s bang on, that’s great.’ It took a while.”
Age “about 14”, he started picking up his uncle’s acoustic guitar and, having learnt other people’s songs, started experimenting with his own. It didn’t take long for him to start coming up with worthwhile stuff. In fact, one of the best songs on his debut album, ‘Someplace’ dates back to this time. A beautiful melancholic ballad, it exhibits the undeniable, natural gift for melody that characterises all of Jake’s songs. He was in “a couple of bands”, but it quickly became apparent to him and those around him that this was to be a solo thing. “I always wanted to do things on my own, really,” he says, “and because it took off kind of quick, that’s how it ended up, thankfully.”
Jake only got signed about a year or so ago, but such is his prolific nature that he did not waste any time in getting down to business. A huge amount of songs were put down for his eponymous debut album, which have now been narrowed down to 14. He is not one for directly discussing the meaning in his songs, but he doesn’t really need to. Take a listen to the lines in ‘Two Fingers’ and you’ll instantly hear where he is coming from: “I go back to Clifton to see my old friends/The best people I could ever have met/I skin up a fat one/And hide from the feds.” Ultimately, it’s a song about using music as an escape route from the realities of life, and this is a theme that runs through most of his songs. ‘’Taste It’ finds him wanting to “fill my head with the future” and expressing that he’s “never felt more alive”. His debut single ‘Trouble Town’ is like a classic blues lyric: “Stuck in speed bump city, where the only thing that’s pretty is the thought of getting out”.
“A lot of them are about my life before, and about not giving a shit about… numerous things,” he says. “I’m not very good at explaining those sort of things, but they’re all from personal experiences. I try not to think about it too much when I’m writing, because I think it’s better to just let if flow.”
This is key to what Jake Bugg and his songs are all about: from the rough and ready, abrasive guitars on ‘Lightning Bolt’ to the wise-beyond-his-years observations of ‘Seen It All’, to all of the other songs you can find on his debut, it’s all just so natural, so real, so un-thought through, so obviously from the soul. He is the sort of artist that so many people have been yearning for, of the kind that we have not seen since… well, since the people who are currently asking him to come out on tour with them.
To put it extremely simply, Jake Bugg is the most exciting new singer and songwriter in the UK. No contest.