At the queue for drinks before Jake Bugg performed, I studied the full hall and reflected the punters might easily be a random collection of people freshly bundled into the hall from Hull train station; there was no noticeable demographic with age, class, style and gender all represented. On reflecting upon this with the young lads in the queue, they sagely pointed out that Jake Bugg’s music was a Cash-Gallagher hybrid meaning his music was pretty timeless. I left them debating the merits of naming one of the guys intended second born “Cash” – a cool name in my view, particularly if cheque payments ever return to vogue. I guess too it would take a real hard-nut fan to consider calling their son “Bugg”.
Jake Bugg has had something of a rough ride with the critics over his last two album releases, On My One (2016) and Hearts That Strain (released in September 2017). My personal view is that those with an issue with the albums either have a view of what Bugg “should be”, with many seeming to think he should keep it edgy and indie, or perhaps they simply don’t appreciate just how much Bugg’s life and outlook will have altered, particularly as he has matured from the age of 18 to 23 since his explosive debut. Of course, if Bugg was still singing new songs about how rough and tough it is on the streets of Clifton, Nottingham when he isn’t there, that wouldn’t please the critics either.
Perhaps this criticism and confusion about Bugg’s musical experimentation and his recent album pitch towards more adult, American, Nashville and Country has had an impact on this November 2017 tour which sees Bugg sitting on stage on his own with his acoustic guitar, and apologising for “having to” play his recent songs, or for singing tracks from the “disliked” third album. As it turned out, while of course the hits from the first album are the better known bangers, his samplers from his current album stood up well. Tracks from his current album given an airing include the lush In The Event Of My Demise and the dark title track Hearts That Strain. From the third album, that Bugg apologised for, was a personal highlight for me with the title track On My One. It has such an emotional sound. I wish I had counted the number of guitar changes, but Bugg’s guitar handler was almost as busy as Bugg was.
In terms of voice, Jake Bugg was on fine form. I know Jake doesn’t have the best voice in rock, but it is instantly recognisable and he makes powerful use of it to share and enforce the message of the poetry of his lyrics. In terms of the first hits, Bugg gave us a wonderful acoustic rendition of Broken which left the audience silent and spellbound. Likewise, Trouble Town was well received, and when the much promised Two Fingers arrived towards the end of the 80 minute set, the audience was sated. I can imagine it easy to be a bit frustrated that the audience want to hear the signature hits when there is so much other material to share, and I hope Bugg doesn’t grow to hate it. I certainly don’t like attending just a “Greatest Hits” gig (and I’m of an age where most of my friends stray no further than a Human League revival night gig) but it’s good to enjoy a reference point or throwback occasionally. Perhaps it’s useful to reflect that there’s one thing worse than having a few “signature songs”; not having any.
This was our third Jake Bugg gig and we left the place completely happy to have experienced a new acoustic side to his older music and to gain a new acquaintance to the worthy tracks on the new fourth album. This acoustic tour unsurprisingly sees a quieter and more reflective Jake Bugg and it’s still a great experience.