Bugg scores with working-class familiarities

by Shaun Curran

Special To The Japan Times

“I hadn’t been anywhere before last year, I’d hardly left England. And now I’m going to Japan. I never thought I’d be going to a place like that. I think it is going to blow my mind.”

Jake Bugg is getting used to going places. Twelve months ago he was an aspiring yet effectively unknown singer-songwriter: this week the 19-year-old heads to Tokyo as Britain’s biggest rising star. With a No. 1 album under his belt and the endorsement of guitarist Noel Gallagher ringing in his ears, Bugg is indeed “living the dream.”

Sounding far more sagacious than a teenager ever should (“It’s about moderation, I’ve got to be professional, this is my job”), Bugg’s music is similarly mature and developed beyond his years. Channeling the spirit of folk raconteurs and old blues rock, Bugg’s songs mirror much of his conversation: concise and straightforward yet packed with meaning.

His tales of pub stabbings, police chases and derelict car-park drug binges have struck a chord with both the exuberant young and nostalgic middle-aged alike, all of which leaves Bugg characteristically unfazed.

“I just write about my experiences and what I was going through,” he says, “and a lot of what I was writing about seemed to relate to people. Why that is I don’t know. I suppose a lot of the situations I was writing about didn’t seem that uncommon to a lot of people. If you have the opportunity to write a song and there is something that you can say then you should use that opportunity to its full potential.”

His upbringing fuels much of his ethos. Bugg hails from Clifton, Nottingham, an English suburb that was once the biggest council estate in Europe — “we were all equal, all in this big estate together and that’s how it was” — and his story is the well-worn working-class-boy-made-good. His mother and father (who split when Bugg was very young) were both from musical families, and when his uncle bought him a guitar at age 12, he “Fell out of love with football and all of a sudden it was all about the guitar.”

Bugg began writing songs, and when he submitted some to the BBC’s “Introducing” program for unsigned artists, it began a chain of events that resulted in a Glastonbury appearance and his signing to Mercury records, who released his eponymous debut in October.

Though “there was no buzz or hype,” Bugg swats away suggestions his rapid rise and his use of songwriting partners imply a lack of authenticity — “I don’t give a f-ck what people think” — and his only concern seems to be how to balance his working-class values with his newfound fame.

“The fact I can go out and buy myself a new pair of trainers whenever I want, I feel guilty just because of that. Lying here in the sunshine, playing music, touring the world — my mates back home are doing a 9-5 job. I’ve learned making everyone happy is a difficult task. But I’ll try. Because really, I want to make the most of this opportunity.”

Jake Bugg plays an acoustic showcase at Shibuya Club Quattro on May 9 (7 p.m. start; ¥5,000; [03] 3499-6669). He also plays Summer Sonic at Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture on Aug. 10, and Maishima in Osaka on Aug. 11. For more information, visit www.summersonic.com or www.jakebugg.com.