Playing Glastonbury at 17 then touring with Noel Gallagher has been an august entrance into the music world for Jake Bugg. Tonight’s show here at KOKO is a sell-out even after a venue upsize from Scala. Upon arrival we are struck by the diversity of the crowd, much older than you would expect for someone so young. Judging by the conversations at the bar, there are a lot of music fans here and their expectations are high.
Walking out to the strains of some old country blues sets the scene nicely, and Jake’s slight frame, which could easily looked lost centre stage, takes on mass as he’s handed a guitar and launches into ‘Kentucky’ a rambling blues tail of railroads and lonerisms, it’s like being transported to the Midwest and even leans heavily towards Kenny Rogers.
The country sound soon mellows and moves more towards blues/folk, he has an interesting mix of styles and influences, it’s all quite familiar but he makes it uniquely his. He has guts and when he sings ‘Seen It All’, it’s with such conviction and steely resolve that you can’t help but believe maybe he has.
The between-song banter is near non-existent, just a quick introduction then back to business; there is a very intense, guarded air about him which ads to his charm. He doesn’t have the most powerful voice, but with good pitch and a delicate rawness it brings an honest purity, especially in the ballad ‘Slide’, the silence of the crowd giving credence to this, an unexpected highlight and proof this boy is no one-trick pony.
Announcing he’s delving back to one of his “earlier songs”, he delivers the beautifully tender ‘Saffron’ and it boggles our mind to think he actually wrote this at 15 years old. ‘Country Song’ is also nicely executed but too many ballads are making the crowd restless. Thankfully it’s short and the pace soon picks up.
‘Trouble Town’ goes down a treat, especially with the Nottingham natives in the crowd. Singing-a-long with gusto, conceding that, “Stuck in speed bump city, where the only thing that's pretty is the thought of getting out”. This feeling of life despondency and defiance permeates on through ‘Two fingers’, which he sings with whimsical lament and is accompanied by a sea of two-fingered salutes.
It’s no surprise that he has saved the hits till last and with the opening chords of ‘Taste it’ comes a roar from the crowd as they serge forward to form a mini mosh pit, this is what they came for and jump about they will. Closing the night on ‘Lightening Bolt’ it’s safe to say Bugg is bringing back early ‘60s blues to lead the ‘90s indie kids into the present day.
Words by Vanessa Higgins
Photos by Richard Gray