Jake Bugg at The Olympia Theatre, 4th of November 2013
Playing the Olympia, most nineteen-year olds have done it, so what makes this Jake Bugg character so special? Well, even the best of us haven’t managed to sell out two consecutive nights and have the place mostly filled with teenage girls and used American roots music to do it. It seems that nowadays either you play good music to empty halls or you play muck in dangerously overcrowded venues, so how does Jake manage to get the best of both worlds? You wonder these things at first, until he walks out onstage and a high-pitched scream erupts over Robert Johnson’s Cross Road Blues, and now you aren’t so much wondering how he does it as admiring the fact that done it he has.
First honours of the night however go to Honeyhoney who perform just before the main attraction. In Suzanne Santo they have one incredible Americana singing voice, that goes from country-soulful to a pitch-perfect howl in a matter of seconds, as well as the wonderful sounds she tears out of her fiddle and her banjo. Mixing this with the rock aesthetic of Ben Jaffe, who operates the bass drum and hi-hat with his feet while he plays guitar and sings, this American duo have landed on quite the sound. The forcefulness of a rock band with the irresistible sounds of a stripped back bluegrass group is best exemplified in their song Back To You; this is a group worth taking note of.
And so under a hail of screams Jake stands with his bass player over his right shoulder and his drummer over his left, and he doesn’t so much strum as strike his guitar strings as the sounds of Trouble Town ring out through the venue. Again, what a strange experience to hear the pure rockabilly sounds of that tune and to see the young faces singing along to it. Surely these kids are being conned into listening to a style of music that was invented well before their parents were born. But the truth of the matter is that they aren’t being conned, quite the opposite in fact. In a pop music environment saturated with repetitive uninspired music Jake offers these young fans of his not just something fun to sing along to and someone cool to look up to, but a sound that’s staked quite securely in the ground. His later song Storm Passes Away is dripping with Hank Williams and he doesn’t even hide the fact, and rightly so, it’s something to be proud of.
These sounds are offset by the Britpop influence that adds a huge accented twang to the end of each line sung or to the shoulder-dropping Mancunian drums on songs like Two Fingers or the early Arctic Monkeys-style What Doesn’t Kill You. His stoney-faced demeanour is broken briefly into an embarrassed grin when chants of “Jakey-boy, Jakey-boy, Jay-key Jakey-bo-oy” erupt from the standing area. A few acoustic numbers follow that largely manages to silence the raucous crowd before he finishes his set with a series of knock-out rock ‘n’ roll numbers. The encore is a microcosm of the night; the ballad Broken is followed by a passable cover of Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black) and the finale Lightning Bolt for which the crowd sings the opening verse without Jake’s help. It’s a testament to the singer that that final song doesn’t in any way overshadow what came before despite the immense amount of exposure it’s enjoyed over the past year or so, and it perfectly caps off a night that gets the balance right between high-octane rock tunes, quiet ballads and an anthemic chantability that permeates those two styles.
Jake is stoic throughout the gig and when he stalks the stage he seems to be walking in slow motion. Hardly an inch of movement is visible apart from his fingers as he runs them up and down the blues scales and he seems to be operating on auto-pilot. As enjoyable as his show is he never stretches himself and he leaves very little room for himself to emerge from between the contemporary rock and the old-school Americana that make up “his” sound. It’s clear that even though he likes the type of music he’s playing he’s not quite sure just why he likes it yet. That comes with age and experience. At the moment he’s very much in the domain of those early rock ‘n’ rollers whose music was easy to dance to – pleasant on the ear but ultimately shallow. The difference for Jake is that he hears and cares about where those sounds come from, and once the cognisance comes so too will the last thing Jake’s music and stage-show lacks; his personality.
Jake Bugg Photo Gallery
Photos: Aaron Corr