PJ Molloy's, Dunfirmline, September 24
Write what you know, runs the old adage. If that’s the case, then the Yoda-esque head that rests on Jake Bugg’s young and narrow shoulders must have had a few past lives to draw on. It’s not just the 18-year-old’s songs of life and love on an egg-and-chips council estate that give this impression. It’s also the unwavering confidence (bordering on nonchalance, in fact) with which he faces tonight’s sold-out and hugely expectant crowd.
This isn’t Glasgow. It isn’t even Edinburgh. It’s a small town in Fife where music industry ‘buzz’ means less than nothing. And yet they’re all queuing up just to get a glimpse of him. We overhear a couple of excitable punters talking about how tickets for Bugg’s next headline tour in November are going for £95 a pop on eBay and that tonight is almost certainly their last chance to see him in a venue of this size. One of them, with a certain degree of inevitability, utters the words “This generation’s Dylan”.
That’s going a bit too far, but nonetheless, it’s plain for all to see that Bugg is a special kind of talent. Not that he makes a big deal of it, mind: in his button-down shirt, blue jeans and scuffed Adidas, he looks all but indistinguishable from his audience, until the first rambling notes of ‘Kentucky’ sound and, in his strange and sincere youthful croak, he declares, “I’m just a man from Kentucky, have a guitar but got no money”.
Now, he’s clearly not. He’s a boy from Nottingham, who is barely old enough to drink his own rider. But listen with your eyes closed, and by God, you can’t help but believe every word that pours out of his mouth. When his two-piece band briefly vacate the stage and Bugg stands alone in the spotlight with his acoustic guitar, silencing an otherwise rowdy crowd with the pin-drop beauty of ‘Slide’ and ‘Country Song’, there’s undoubtedly a kind of magic at work. When normal service resumes, it’s no less impressive: the scratchy, skiffly ‘Trouble Town’ rollicks along like a resurrected Robert Johnson on nitro, while ‘Ballad Of Mr Jones’ summons a stomach-churning feeling of urban horror as Bugg warns of a gang of roaming adolescents looking to steal “the last breath that you breathe”.
Even as the room goes mental to the closing shuffle of ‘Lightning Bolt’, Bugg looks completely nonplussed by it all. He says very little, only affording himself the occasional wry smile or nod of the head. He doesn’t even bother with an encore, despite hoots and hollers for more from the devoted crowd. Afterwards, in the sort of cramped and claustrophobic dressing room he certainly won’t be inhabiting for much longer, he asks what we thought of the show. “Don’t tell me you’re giving it anything less than a nine,” he grins, before we even get a chance to answer.