In six months, the 19-year-old has risen from cult singer in Nottingham to support act for The Killers and Noel Gallagher, says Ed Power
JAKE BUGG is taking it in his stride. “Supporting Noel Gallagher was an odd experience,” he says. “The crowds were great. It was the first time I played in really big venues. I would say it’s the best tour I’ve been on. He has a fantastic audience. It didn’t blow my mind or anything. I just enjoyed it. It’s the best way to approach things.”
Bugg has come a long way in a short time. Six months ago, the 19-year-old singer was a cult figure in his native Nottingham. Since then, he has toured Europe with Gallagher, supported The Stone Roses at a secret show in London, and performed alongside The Killers on Later…With Jools Holland.
His rise was confirmed in October as his eponymous debut album was number one in the UK charts, ahead of Leona Lewis. But Bugg is matter of fact — casual even — about his success. He seems not to have given it any great thought. As rock stars go, he is supremely laid back. “It has been happening for a few months now,” he says of the hype. “I am getting used to it, I think. At the start, it feels weird. Of course it does. Then it is your normal life. That’s where I am now. You are so busy that you accept it, get on with it.”
What would ruffle him? When Gallagher invited him on tour, Bugg said ‘yes’, then went back to his breakfast. There were no nerves, no questioning whether or not he was ready. He saw a fantastic opportunity and seized it. He doesn’t seem to know self-doubt.
“I don’t get nervous before big shows,” he says. “What you’ve got to remember is, I’m not the person they are there to see. The pressure isn’t on you. Which is fantastic, as it means you can just sort of sit back and enjoy it. It isn’t as if everybody is looking at you. That suits me to the ground. You definitely learn a lot.”
Bugg grew up worshipping Oasis and, like Gallagher, his influences are anchored in pop’s past. He is proudly nostalgic. When critics say his songs sound as if they were recorded no later than 1969, he takes it as a compliment. On Jake Bugg, he draws shamelessly on Bob Dylan, Donovan and The Beatles. If his writing wasn’t so strong, he could easily be dismissed as a glorified covers artist.
“I just play music,” he says, when asked about his influences. “For me, it don’t go any deeper. It was about writing and making an album. That’s what I see as my job. I try to do it to the best of my ability. You could spend all day analysing things. I like to get on with it.”
The most interesting thing about Jake Bugg are the lyrics. Still a teenager, Bugg sings about youthful indiscretion with tremendous authenticity. There are tunes about mitching off school, hanging around the council estate, getting into scraps.
Was he a tearaway? “I was just like everyone else, really,” says Bugg. “The place where I’m from, in Nottingham, it’s like the estates everybody else is from. It isn’t as if it is especially bad. That’s just the way a lot of places are. I had a fairly normal upbringing. I wouldn’t say I did anything particularly controversial. I’m singing about the people around me, the sort I grew up with. You’ve got to talk about what you know, don’t you?”
Bugg wrote his first song aged 12. He was barely out of school when the BBC picked him to headline a ‘new artist’s’ stage at Glastonbury. Word got out and the tent was packed with record label people. The chap from Mercury was so impressed he offered Bugg a deal in the dressing room, after the show.
Ever since, Bugg has been relentlessly groomed for the big time. His early material was distributed to hand-picked BBC DJs; one of his catchiest tunes, Country Song, featured in a Greene King beer commercial. In late 2011, Mercury paired him with Iain Archer, the Northern Ireland song-writer best known for working with Snow Patrol (he had a hand in their break-out hit, Run). From Archer, Bugg learned how to focus his natural ear for melody into catchy, three-minute pop songs.
Soon after, Bugg had his first hit single, the jangly, Dylan-esque Lightning Bolt. At the first whiff of success, many UK artists up-sticks to London. Bugg, however, isn’t going anywhere. He loves Nottingham and feels the city has a huge influence on his writing. There are more practical considerations, as well.
“It’s very handily located,” Bugg says. “It’s in the middle of England, so you can get to wherever you need to be very easily. I’ve not left. To be honest, it isn’t something I’ve thought a lot about. At the moment, I’m happy with where I am. I like Nottingham.”
Bugg’s been in bands since his early teens. He was still playing in a group as his solo career started gaining momentum. But as his profile as a stand-alone artist increased, he felt he had little choice but go it alone.
“Things were happening in a big way for me as a solo signer,” he says. “So, I thought I had better knock the band thing on the head. Don’t get me wrong. I still like playing with other people. When I tour now, I have a bass player and a drummer with me. So it’s not as if I’m completely alone. As an artist, it is good to mix things up. I’m always looking to try something new. That’s my philosophy.”
* Jake Bugg is out now. The singer plays Academy, Dublin, in February.
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