Jake Bugg: A fast-rising star

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In March last year, Jake Bugg released his first single, Trouble Town. Just a year later, he’s had a No 1 album, has played America and is amid a massive sold-out UK tour.

It’s difficult to believe he’s only 19.

Jake Bugg performing at the Wedgewood Rooms. Picture: Paul Windsor

Jake Bugg performing at the Wedgewood Rooms. Picture: Paul Windsor

The chain of events that catapulted Jake to the big time all started with an episode of The Simpsons.

He was just 12 when he was captivated by what he heard while watching the animated comedy series.

‘It’s all Don McLean’s fault,’ he says, referring to the guest star in that particular episode. ‘I heard his song Vincent, and that started me off.’

Fired with enthusiasm for music, Jake was given a guitar by his uncle.

Two years later, after much practice in his bedroom, he started writing his own songs, some of which feature on his chart-topping album.

‘For the first few years I was just learning covers, seeing what chords went with others and how songs went together, then I started writing myself,’ he explains.

Jake can’t put his finger exactly on his musical influences, but says there was always music playing at home when he was growing up.

‘Some of it was good, some of it was shocking. My mum was always listening to Take That or something that I hated.

‘People seem to think I’m a massive Bob Dylan fan, but I’ve not really listened to him that much, and my parents never did.

‘I know his first album, and the famous tracks, like Subterranean Homesick Blues, but not much. It’s a strange comparison.’

A performance at Glastonbury in 2011 on the BBC’s Introducing stage, where unsigned musicians can show off their skills, led to a recording contract with Mercury.

Less than a year later, thanks to a performance on Later... With Jools Holland, Jake had arrived.

‘It was all pretty chaotic after that TV appearance,’ says Jake, who is clearly still adjusting to his meteoric rise to fame.

Several of his songs hark back to growing up on a housing estate in Clifton, Nottingham, with references to drug use, trouble with the police and generally getting up to no good in car parks of a Friday evening.

He smiles when it’s mentioned, but says his beginnings were no more or less traumatic than anyone else’s.

‘It’s been massively exaggerated, I think,’ he says. ‘It was no picnic, but it’s not as bad as some people would have you believe.

‘It’s not easy living on a council estate, it has its bad points as well as good.

‘A lot of my songs are about escaping those streets, but it’s not just me, it’s for anyone in a similar situation.

‘My family wanted me to get a job after school, or carry on with education, but that’s just life. You’ve got to be able to feed yourself. But it was my uncle who really pushed me to music.

‘I thought it was better not to have the safety net of education or anything, because it’ll keep motivating me to write better songs.

‘But at the same time I don’t think an education would be a bad thing to fall back on.

‘My mum was a singer so I think she’s really pleased for me, doing what she wanted to do.

‘I don’t know how successful I’ll be making my escape, but I don’t think about that stuff too much. At the moment I’m just concentrating on performing and writing more songs, and we’ll see where all this takes me.’

So far, his songs have taken him all over Europe and America as Noel Gallagher and Snow Patrol’s support.

Gallagher saw Jake’s appearance on Later and had to hear more. The ex-Oasis star trawled YouTube looking for more videos, and decided then and there that he wanted Bugg to go on tour with him.

He wasn’t really sure what to expect from the tour’s opening dates. ‘I’d never been out of the UK before 2011.

‘It was incredible. We played 8,000-seat venues each night, and everyone came in to watch me. It’s not like when you support someone in the UK and everyone’s in the bar until the main act comes on.

‘There was this one night in Italy, in Florence I think, where you could hear a pin drop as I was playing. Then during one song everyone just started applauding and cheering spontaneously. It was an amazing feeling.

‘And I did always hope I’d get the chance to play in America, so just to do that was enough.

‘But when you get there, you realise that people are actually wanting to come along to your shows and enjoy the songs.

‘ If you think about such a dramatic rise to success too much it would probably distract you, actually, so you have to keep thinking about the next thing, the next song you’re going to write, how you’re going to move forward.

‘It has been a brilliant year or so, though I can’t believe it’s happened.

‘But it has, so you’ve got to live it rather than analyse it, I guess.’

Jake says his time touring abroad has informed his new material.

‘It’s never difficult to find new inspiration. For me, I’d never been out of England before recording this album, but now I’ve seen different parts of the world, how different people live their lives.

‘I’m looking forward to writing about it. You get little insights, don’t you, little snippets of conversations in the street that feed into songs.

‘It definitely won’t be an album about dressing rooms and airports!

‘People want to hear a story – a great melody won’t connect if it has rubbish lyrics over it. It’s about being honest.’

That’s sound advice for budding songwriters. And Jake has some more. He adds: ‘The most important bit, first of all, is to write the tunes.

‘ Then do your gigs, and practice.

‘As I say, I had nothing to do growing up, so I sat in my bedroom and practiced and practiced.’

It certainly paid off. His debut album entered the chart at No 1, after facing fierce competition from Leona Lewis’s third album.

‘I didn’t think my album would even get in the top 40, to be honest,’ says Jake.

‘It feels like it marks a specific time in my life.

‘I’ll never forget the time leading up to the release because it did feel like I’d been working towards it since I was about 12.

‘It was just incredibly exciting but, in a weird way, quite natural.’


Jake Bugg plays a sold-out show at Portsmouth Guildhall on Sunday. We’ve got a pair of guest list places to give away for Sunday’s show. For a chance to win them see the competition in The Guide today.