“That was amazing,” grins Jake Bugg from the Reading Festival Main Stage, moments after playing ‘Broken’ – and having it sung back to him by the 30,000-strong crowd. “That’s made my night, that has.” With the sun fully set, the 20-year old, known for being of few words and almost comically surly in interviews, looks visibly moved by the reaction. A few stolen glances into the distance to take in the scene, and you would almost be forgiven for thinking the Nottingham strummer is enjoying himself. Back in June Bugg told NME that he “hates music festivals” and generally can’t wait to get off site once he’s performed. There’s a sense tonight he might be changing his tune. Has he finally learned to love the great British festival?
This performance, his third at Reading – fourth if you count his surprise set on the BBC Introducing stage earlier in the afternoon, is his biggest festival show. The first time he played here was in 2012 on the Festival Republic stage, two months before his self-titled debut was released. The following year he returned to warm up for NME/Radio 1 Stage headliners Alt-J. With his 2014 appearance, he looks to have already become a favourite with the Reading faithful. He’s here to warm-up the Main Stage for headliners Arctic Monkeys. No small challenge, but one he rose to admirably.
There was no sign of being overwhelmed by the thousands of faces staring back at him, he’s far too level-headed for that, although he was far from nonchalant about it. The likes of ‘There’s A Beast And We All Feed It’, ‘Trouble Town’, ‘I’ve Seen It All’ and ‘Two Fingers’ were all sung back by the crowd loud and clear. The setting sun – disappearing almost slap-bang in the middle of the set after ‘Two Fingers’ – enhanced the mood, and like all good outdoor shows at this time, when the sun had fully set the lighting kicked in to change the dynamic again.
The songs from his debut aren’t exactly unrecognisable from how they first appeared on his 2012 debut, but they are beefed up by him and his band, and he’s clearly been practicing his guitar-playing, treating himself to a few solos throughout the set. He’s progressing already, ‘Kingpin’ was brilliantly rowdy, ‘Green Man’ the same, prompting some flares to let be off in the crowd. ‘Lightning Bolt’, his debut single, benefitted from the biggest makeover, however, moving from a likeable skiffle-y tune as it was on record to a giant of a song fit for this festival occasion, and a an obvious choice to close the set. “Thanks very much,” he said again before leaving the stage, “enjoy Arctic Monkeys and have a great weekend.”
On this evidence, it’s not going to be long before he’s in their place, headlining festivals. He needs more songs, of course, and some variation too. His second album ‘Shangri La’, didn’t dramatically move on his sound, but it did consolidate his position as one of the UK’s most-promising young artists.
Until then, there’s a huge fanbase waiting for his next move, and a tremendous amount of good will. His time will come.