Taking Britain by storm in an unprecedented two years, Jake Bugg has become one of the hottest names on the lips of indie fans everywhere with his bluesy/folk orientated guitar and sharp emphatic lyrics. His rise to prominence has been rapid, only starting the pub circuit two years ago at the tender age of sixteen. It indeed needs to be acknowledged that in a world of distractions for teenagers on a global scale that a genuine lad from Nottingham has managed to keep his attention and focus to be on track to become a shining light and example to British music. Tonight marked the Manchester gig, a city that has its very own musical culture where we have our own list of upcoming young talent, as well as embracing a history of idols who also built their own reputation in their late teen years to become national successes. It was safe to say that Jake would be playing to a very welcoming crowd tonight for that very reason.
The support acts were due to start at 19.25, and when I arrived at 19.00 the place was already buzzing with such a surge in energy as the anticipation oozed from the walls at the sell out event. Many fans had already congregated inside awaiting the first batch of entertainment, which came in the form of Irish country/folk band, ‘Hudson Taylor’. The Dubliners promptly started with their rich blend of contemporary and classic acoustic driven pop folk. It was clear why they were supporting Jake Bugg, almost being the Irish equivalent in many respects. Alfie and Harry are the driving force on guitars, with a third playing keyboard to bring a modernised outlook on folk, but sometimes reverted to a fiddle to bring out a very traditional Irish sound, bringing out an emotive aspect that could whisk you off into the deepest of memories. The melodies were fluid and bounced effortlessly off the silky elements of a smooth and charming Irish vocal. This was predominately an acoustic folky performance by ‘Hudson Taylor’, but they have been known to bring out a more stomping style which on another day would’ve been an intriguing proposition to see. ‘Hudson Taylor’ released two EP’s last year which performed very well on UK and Ireland iTunes charts, and by embarking on such a high profile tour, this only spells the beginning.
Moving further afield from UK shores, all the way from blues inspired Tennessee, comes the second act, ‘Valerie June’. For me, this was the stand out performance of the evening, bringing 1950s Mississippi blues into the 21st Century with a scintillating display of smoking, whisky inspired, moody blues. Her voice sounds straight from that era, almost a female ‘Howlin Wolf’ or ‘John Lee Hooker’ that’s powerful, hypnotic and full of a growling, perforating attitude. Her accent is so prominent of the region that every line ending in a vowel is strenuous of her Southern roots. Her backing band is in force, comprising of a drummer, two guitarists, a keyboard player and backing vocalist with Valerie also displaying her multi talents by switching guitars, even to a customary banjo at one point befitting of her hometown. She stands onstage alone for a few songs and she dedicates one love song to us considering its Valentine’s Day. She speaks of her roots, urging us if we get the chance to see the crossroads in Mississippi to see where Robert Johnson first sold his soul to play blues music. The backing band return for more upbeat blues music that’s filled with some swaggering guitar work and sexy hip shaking beats. ‘You Can’t be Told’ is the stand out track, an unbelievably cool and dirty track which has riffs to soundtrack any charismatic, run down saloon bar scene involving an all dayer with nothing but hard liquor on the table and a devlish look in your eye. Valerie’s voice is full of attitude like it’s dripping straight from the bottom of a whisky barrel, and even though the style is straight from the pedigree of her hometown, it’s like a stripped back and rawer ‘Black Keys’ such is the swaggering nature of the upbeat tracks. This is sure to be a future star on both sides of The Atlantic. ‘You Can’t be Told’ is out on single March 4th, but an additional track will be added in the future. Her album which I’m very much looking forward to is out in May.
And so the main act arrives and as the lights dim, the crowd cheer, eventually reaching monstrous applause as the quiet and reserved Jake Bugg enters the stage and launches into ‘Fire’. The crowd oblige by happily singing along, which must be a tremendous feeling for a young lad who only writes of his own experiences, too see a crowd of various ages sing back to you. He goes through a selection of tracks off the album, continuously having to swap guitars to gauge the right tone for each one. It’s ‘Troubled Town’ where the loudest shout so far occurs, and it’s at this pace where the crowd really do engage. His fusion of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan acoustic work is apparent, and it’s a combination that not just the crowd tonight, but the UK have fully embraced. His humbleness is evident by him thanking the crowd’s applause after every track, but there’s such a grounded boyish shyness about him, none of the cockiness that many artists of a similar age can be forgiven for expressing, and that suggests he’s not going to fade out, just become stronger. The hits off the album continue where the biggest cheers and sing along occurs with the more commercial favourites of ‘Lightning Bolt’ and ‘Two Fingers’, which is a very clever song in moving on from the past. His obvious inspiration from Johnny Cash is more so when he returns for an encore singing ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ which most eighteen year olds haven’t even heard of to sing on karaoke, let alone perform live at this level.
I can’t take anything away from Jake Bugg, he performed very well and for someone so young to be doing what he’s doing is great to see, more so to see an indie artist to top the charts instead of some manufactured pop concoction. However, many songs off the album are extremely slow and quiet, and have a certain mood that sets the scene. I felt that in front of a crowd of a couple of thousand people when he played three or four of these tracks in a row, the show became slightly mundane and didn’t suit a clearly pumped up and energetic crowd. The smell of Marijuana that wreaked havoc around the venue is testament to how these songs can be fully appreciated and where people were trying to get their minds at. For me, this wasn’t the right setting! That said, this is only Jake’s first album and in time with future albums and tours, it may be that these slower numbers gradually become a thing of the past as live performances go. Don’t get me wrong, as a recorded artist his lyrics and music are inspirational, and with past support slots with Noel Gallagher and Stone Roses at Heaton Park, as well as this first major tour and a number one record, then this lad is going to be around for a while selling out venues globally in years to come.
Love Me the Way You Do
Seen It All
Simple As This
Ballad of Mr. Jones
Someone Told Me
Note to Self
Folsom Prison Blues - (Johnny Cash cover)