By Edwin Gilson
Halfway through Jake Bugg's last gig in Belfast, there was an incident that perfectly portrayed the numerous dimensions of his unique personality -- level-headedness and courage, firmness and maturity. The Nottingham star, still only 19, remembers the moment well.
"I was one chord into a song and these two blokes in the crowd started scrapping," he recalls. "I was like, f*****g hell! It was a slow ballad!
"So I stopped the show. I didn't do it in a pretentious way; it's just, like, I didn't want a few idiots spoiling it for other people. I don't give a f**k if you're not listening to me, just don't ruin it for the people that are."
Bugg's stratospheric rise to fame in the last 12 months has seen him pick up many new fans, a few of which will inevitably be 'muppets'. The singer (or at least his media persona) has been moulded, largely by the NME, into the new great British hope; an unpretentious, rootsy songwriter who is fully in touch with the masses and knows what they want to hear.
Like Noel Gallagher (an idol of Bugg's) and Paul Weller before him, the youngster has become a household name through his ability to write simple, relatable tunes, mostly centred on everyday happenings in his native Nottingham. Simply put, he speaks for the average Joe.
Bugg will soon be plunged back into the rigours of touring with his slot at Bushmills Live festival in Co Antrim in just over a week's time. There'll be just 500 people in attendance at the gig, though, which marks a change for the Nottingham man, seeing as he'll be playing to much bigger crowds at his other festival appearances this summer, including a headlining slot at Belsonic in August. Bugg reckons bigger isn't always better, though, at a time of peril for intimate venues.
"I like the smaller places, a lot of the time the atmosphere's great and I expect this Northern Ireland gig to be the same," he says. "One of the best shows I ever did was at this tiny cafe in Belgium. The crowd reaction was f*****g ridiculous."
Currently Bugg is recording his second (as-yet-untitled album) in Malibu, California, of all places. Surely the lyrical themes of his first eponymous album, released just over a year ago, seem a million miles away now? On the hit single from that record, Two Fingers, Bugg sings: "Skin up a fat one, hide from the feds", and makes reference to "drinking white lightning". Although Bugg has so far "stayed away from the beaches" of Malibu, it must be somewhat disconcerting (while not altogether unpleasant) for him to be so far removed from the world he used to know; he admits that, until the release of his first album, he'd barely been out of Nottingham.
"You can't write songs about stabbing in car parks and smoking on the street when you're in Malibu," he asserts. "I'm just trying to let it soak in."
But does Bugg ever dread those withering words: "You've forgotten where you came from"? "People will be ready to say that, but I'll never forget my home town," he responds. "Obviously it's different now because I've done so many things I wouldn't have been able to do without the success of the first album. I have more to write about than ever; I've looked through different windows at civilization."
Then, as if fearing he's come off as pretentious, or somebody he's not: "... and all that s**t."
He adds: "Over the last year I've been around the world and met loads of new people. I've changed, and I think for the better."
Bugg clearly values his closeness to his older fans, and seeks to maintain a connection with them.
"Maybe I can give these people an insight into where I'm at now and what I'm doing. I can show them that bit of life that they might not get to experience themselves." The singer puts emphasis on his roots too when discussing his reluctance to expose himself commercially: "Where I'm from, people don't get those kinds of opportunities, so it doesn't feel right. That stuff pays the bills and allows you a comfortable life, but it's not my thing."
Bugg claims his forthcoming album sounds "ten years older" than its predecessor, and the man himself also seems to have grown up. When I last spoke to him roughly a year ago, he had just visited Paris and decided that it was, well, "a bit crap, to be honest". At this time he was also looking forward to supporting his idol Noel Gallagher at Belsonic. The pair then toured the USA together.
"It's a bit different over the water," reflects Bugg. "You really have to ram the songs down their throats. It's just a question of chipping away at it because it's such a huge place."
Bugg will go one better than Noel G (sorry Oasis super-fans) in July when he supports The Rolling Stones at their huge Hyde Park gig in London. He's also on the same bill as the legendary rockers at Glastonbury later this month but, in typically deadpan fashion, he claims he won't be sticking around for their headline set.
"I don't like the mud and the rain of festivals," he says. "I won't be staying very long. I'm playing first on the main stage, and then I'm off. Straight in, straight out."
Bugg doesn't have to worry much about dismal conditions in California, but despite the obvious West-coast distractions, he's focusing all his energies on making this second album in as many years. Rather amazingly he was personally asked by Rick Rubin, esteemed producer (having worked with Johnny Cash and Adele), co- founder of the mighty Columbia records and owner of a Zeus-like beard, to record at his Malibu studio. Although Rubin is, regrettably, yet to share any of his Cash stories with Bugg, the teenager is relishing every second of the experience.
"The vibe's been great," he says. "I love the sunshine and the surroundings, and I feel very fortunate to have been invited over. As much as I love playing live, I'm very impatient when it comes to making records; I get bored quite easily so I want to put new stuff out there for people to listen to. I want the new album in my hands now. When it's out in the shops though, it's not mine anymore. Then it's time to move on."
The high levels of expectation surrounding this young artist would potentially crush a weaker spirit, but Bugg is always keen to "just get on with it" and ignore such hype. The new great British guitar hope? The next Noel Gallagher? He won't have a word of it.
"I just write songs, man. I don't think about it too much."
Jake Bugg plays at Bushmills Live on June 20. For details, visit www.bushmills.com. He will also be playing Belsonic, Belfast, on August 23. For further details, visit www.belsonic.com three to cheer at whiskey festival ...
Other big names rocking out at this year's Bushmills Live include: ? Of Monsters and Men -- the festival headliners saw their debut album, My Head is an Animal, shoot to third position in the UK charts after their single Little Talks became wildly popular.
The Icelandic six-piece incorporate elements of indie and folk into their heart-warming act.
? Foy Vance -- the acoustic singer/songwriter (right) from Bangor was recently the subject of a Channel 4 documentary. He talked about his early days as a musician in Northern Ireland and was filmed playing a show in New York with Pete Townshend. Has also performed with local rockers Snow Patrol.
? Bear's Den -- the folk-rock group draw similarities with Mumford and Sons, and will support Daughter on their US tour this autumn. Fond of throwing their heads back and roaring in unison.
Originally published by Edwin Gilson.
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