Jake Bugg is a big name. He has headlined the Other and the John Peel stages at Glastonbury, headlined Cambridge Folk Festival (which I missed due to a clash), and in Dublin he has played at the Olympia and Marlay Park. Therefore when it was announced that he would come to Whelans, fans were at the ready online. A first date sold out instantly, so a second one was added. That sold out too, but that was the one I managed to get a ticket for.
While waiting to get into the venue last Friday, I talked with the doorman, who said that there were touts outside, which Whelans rarely gets these days. Two Korean girls arrived looking for tickets and managed to get returns at the door. They were overjoyed.
It is hard to believe that Jake Bugg is already on his fourth album. His first came out in 2012 and was nominated for the Mercury Prize. His second was produced by Rick Rubin. The record company wanted Jake to work with co-writers and he went along with this, saying he might learn from the experience. His third album had no co-writes, but was a mixed bag production-wise. For album number four Jake went back to basics, recording in Nashville with Dan Auerbach at the helm. The album is mellower and the current tour is as solo as could be.
Support came from Sam Fender (real name, he assured us) from Newcastle. The venue was already packed and the crowd could have tried to be nicer and stop talking, but alas that did not happen.
The interval music was excellent (Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Martyn) and a bit of googling revealed that Jake is a massive music fan with wide-ranging tastes (he also likes Abba) and they were most likely his choices.
All that was on stage prior to the gig was a microphone stand with a row of plectrums. The intro music was a Vangelis track I happened to recognize. I remembered buying that particular Vangelis CD at the Virgin Megastore on the Champs Élysées, after hearing it on a listening post, back in the days when that was a way of encountering new music. Jake Bugg had me with that choice.
What followed was a joyous acoustic gig, with great songs and singalongs not heard since Oasis’ heyday. Jake chatted away in between songs, commenting on the fact that there was a balcony filled with people, which he had not noticed the previous night. It was an all ages audience, though I guess that many there were older than Jake himself, who is 23. I have seen him described as “the old person's young singer” - hard to deny.
Jake played a very large chunk of that mega successful debut album, which he released at 18. It must be a bit of an albatross for him. Every song from it was met with cheers, with singing along and a sea of phones held aloft. During newer songs people went to the toilet and to the bar. I found myself wondering, if that happens night after night, what that does to the head of a 23-year-old.
I have watched a few interviews and it seems that Jake takes it all in this stride, forging his own path. This is after all the guy who, when still a teenager, wrote “I’ve seen it all, nothing shocks me anymore”. He has stated categorically that there would be no point in just repeating himself. The new songs are excellent, particularly 'In The Event Of My Demise'.
We were treated to one cover, Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’ (!), which sounded fabulous. It was all over rather sudden. I could not avoid seeing the setlist from where I was standing (up from the mixing desk) and I knew that ‘Lightning Bolt’ was going to be the last song. Whelans always has to be cleared quickly to make way for “the disco”, which is quite an atmosphere killer.
But what a nice surprise this solo concert turned out to be. A great night in the company of a confident young artist. I reckon – and hope – that Jake will be around for a long time to come