With this era of Hipstomaticism upon us, the dull forever of waiting is gone. Vintage is had at a snap, the patience for naturally occurring nostalgia a dead nuisance.
It’s no wonder, then, the instant appeal of a figure like Jake Bugg. Nary five-and-a-half feet tall, barely 18 years young, he is a remarkably tiny vessel to house so much history. Without the years to lay legitimate claim to any serious gestation of influence, he’s a jumble and a conundrum, a complex product of an age where age is an irrelevance.
He discovered the music of Don McClean after hearing “Vincent” during an episode of The Simpsons. His affinity for folk music is genuine—it must be—for anyone of his generation to grab a guitar and aim to sound like Donovan is certainly not a teen interested in the prospects of “making it.” Yet, here he stands, on the stage of London’s storied 100 Club, playing to a sold-out room whose haphazard demographic is a puzzle all its own.
When asked why he’s here, the aging bloke by the bar says, “I saw him on Jools Holland.” Someone else will mention the three-day old tweet from Chris Martin of Coldplay, proclaiming Bugg’s new single “Lightning Bolt” as a current favorite. The gaping and transfixed young gal pressed up against the stage doesn’t have to be asked, just follow her gaze as it meets the sleepy-eyed singer’s, as he fingerpicks his way through a new one called “Saffron.” In “Trouble Town” (a recent specialty radio hit, met with the quick applause of recognition) Bugg sings of paychecks and benefits, having never really worked a day in his life. Maybe the sentiment just comes flowing through the sink taps in Nottingham, the old factory town where he grew up. (Or, rather, is growing up.)
Saffron - by Jake Bugg
If any trace of dubious cynicism still persists in the room, it dissolves during “Country Song.” With the rhythm section temporarily relieved of duty, Bugg silences the clatter of pint-swilling patrons with only his guitar, his voice, and a simple two-and-a-half minute song about a song and what a good one can do when nothing else will.
Bugg is a bit dour, he’s dressed all in black (probably not an accident, but a nod to the Cash to whom he also owes no small debt), his eyes droop, and he hasn’t smiled all night. But the rapturous hoots and hollers finally get to him and he cracks a grin and for a flash you can glimpse the less than two decades he’s been here, on this earth, finding out along with the rest of us what his future might bring, mining the past on a high-wire ever at risk of miming it instead.
His debut is due in October. Discover him now, so you can boast of knowing him way back when, which hasn’t really happened yet, and is precisely, strangely, complexly, part of the charm of this wholly strange and charismatic Jake Bugg, whose bright future depends on a past he has only just begun to live.