Jake Bugg, Brixton Academy, London – review

Nowhere consumes its pop heritage as avidly as England. On the first of three nights at Brixton Academy, Jake Bugg looked as if he might have stepped off the set of 1960s youth TV show Ready, Steady, Go! – a moptop-haired singer-guitarist in a mod shirt with a bassist from the Bill Wyman school of charisma and a suited drummer calmly tip-tapping at his kit.

Visions formed of the 19-year-old’s back story: young Jake Kennedy in a Soho office being told by a cigar-waving manager to change his name to something more Beatlesy. “Hey kid, how about . . . Bugg!” But the reverie was interrupted. Glowing smartphone screens and Bugg’s insistence on calling the police “Feds” brought one back to earth with a bump. Oh, it’s 2013.

The “Feds” slang turned up in “Two Fingers”, a song about Bugg’s background on a Nottingham housing estate (his stage surname is his father’s). “I got out, I got out,” he chorused. “I’m alive but I’m here to stay.” Melodramatic language and jangling chords placed him in a long tradition of working-class heroes: Oasis, The Stone Roses, The La’s, John Lydon, John Lennon. It was as though Billy Liar were on permanent loop and nothing had changed in 50 years: Orwell’s “deep, deep sleep of England” set to a skiffle beat.

A solo acoustic spot was threadbare, Bugg strumming rudimentary melodies and bellowing Oasis-sized choruses in a bid to silence the chatterers. The full-band songs were better. The psychedelic blues of “Ballad of Mr Jones” – Bugg’s voice shifting from Liam Gallagher bawl to a reedy drawl – showed why his self-titled debut album went platinum in the UK last year.

The follow-up is already in the can: Shangri La, out next month. (Even Bugg’s release schedule is old school.) The name comes from the Malibu studio owned by Rick Rubin, the US super-producer who helmed the new record. He seems to have encouraged his young charge to rock out – blandly on the basic “Messed Up Kids” but to better effect on “Slumville Sunrise”, snappy Yardbirds R&B with a flick-knife guitar solo.

A cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” gave the rock classicism a transatlantic accent. Then Bugg ended with “Lightning Bolt” from his debut, a scruffy rockabilly number that turned the venue into a heaving mass of revelry, much as it would have done when Bugg’s grandparents were courting. The day he has a dubstep makeover is the day England awakes from its deep, deep sleep.


Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.