Originally published in the Nottingham Post and Metro. Photos by Laura Patterson.
A month after topping the album charts with his debut album, in its first week of release, 18 year old Clifton lad Jake Bugg returned to Nottingham in triumph, for his big homecoming show at the Rescue Rooms.
We knew this one was going to be special. As the gig had sold out months in advance, all those present were aware of their good fortune, making for a charged atmosphere of eager anticipation. If Adam Ant hadn’t been booked next door at Rock City, Jake Bugg’s fans could easily have filled the larger venue. (The good news: he’ll be headlining there in February. The bad news: the show is already sold out.)
Jake’s success has a special significance for Nottingham. Almost unbelievably, he is the first home-grown act ever to score a Number One album; an achievement which is long overdue, to put it mildly. Nurtured by a supportive, confident and ever-expanding music community within the city, his success has shown other local acts that anything is possible. On the front of the council house, they even put banners up in his honour.
At a time when mainstream pop music has increasingly painted itself into a corner, endlessly recycling the same stale bag of tricks, Jake’s traditionally styled songcraft feels timely and fresh. He’s only a day older than Justin Bieber, but an old soul lurks within him, channelling the values of classic artists from past decades, and adapting them to the concerns of a younger generation. In this respect, the tracks which played over the PA system before the show told their own tale: Bob Dylan, Oasis, The Stone Roses, Nick Drake.
Unfazed as ever by his sudden good fortune, Jake took the homecoming hero’s welcome in his stride. “It’s great to be back”, he murmured, his expression betraying nothing more than a steady focus on getting the job done. Stage patter just isn’t his style, you see. Songs were prefaced with nothing more wordy than “this one’s off the album”, or “you should all know this one”.
Backed by Tom Robertson on bass and Jack Atherton on drums, Jake delivered a fifty minute, fourteen song set, which took in all of his singles, most of the album, and all four tracks from the Taste It EP. Unlike the album, which starts with the rockers and winds down into the acoustic ballads, the set list was a more satisfyingly structured affair, flowing neatly from one mood to the next.
It started with Jake on acoustic guitar, strumming his way through Kentucky and Love Me The Way You Do from the EP. Second single Trouble Town raised the temperature, its opening lines quickly picked up by the crowd for the first of several throaty singalongs. It was the first reminder that, for all the council-sanctioned banners, Jake makes for an unlikely civic ambassador. Lines such as “Stuck in speed bump city, where the only thing that’s pretty is the thought of getting out” are hardly the stuff of tourist brochures, and many of his lyrics cast a jaundiced eye on the harsh realities of urban life.
The boy is developing nicely as a rocker, too. Swapping to an electric guitar for the heavy, brooding Ballad Of Mr Jones, he launched into a blistering, bluesy solo, suggesting a talent that is only just starting to make its presence felt.
Switching back to the solo acoustic ballads which first made his name locally, Jake hushed the crowd with a piercingly delicate rendition of Someone Told Me, followed by the equally lovely Note To Self and Simple As This. Then it was back to the rockers, climaxing with the big crowd pleasers of the night: Two Fingers, Taste It and Lightning Bolt.
Chants of “We are Nottingham!” brought the band back to the stage, threatening to drown out the opening bars of Country Song. Dropping his cool at last, Jake even cracked a broad smile: a rare event, but the occasion demanded nothing less.
This time last year, Jake Bugg was quietly working his way through a late night residency at the Glee Club. In twelve months’ time, he could be selling out arenas, maybe even with an award or two under his belt. With that in mind, it was a real treat to witness this rising star for maybe the last time at such close quarters, bringing it back home and making us all feel proud.
Originally published in LeftLion magazine.
For their second single this year on Farm Yard Records, We Are Avengers – now expanded from a trio to an elegantly turned-out six-piece – have dipped their toes into funkier waters, without surrendering any of the tight songwriting and arranging skills that flavoured their debut release, Trouble.
You can hear this most clearly in Revolution, which pits a loping backbeat against choppy, bluesy guitar and a discreetly swelling Hammond organ, in a way that bears comparison with Nineties trip-hoppers and acid-jazzers such as Young Disciples. The slinky, spacious and deftly restrained arrangement makes a neat counterpoint to Midbrow, the lead track. Here, a brooding bassline ushers in stately, rippling piano, funk-rock guitar, and ambient strings, forming a suitably cinematic backdrop for Emily Martin’s smouldering, torch-song vocals. “Can we make an agreement”, she pleads, while a ghostly chorus coos in the background. Natalie Duncan’s already a fan; there’ll soon be plenty more.