On Monday 12th March, Jake Bugg took to the stage of the Great Hall as a part of his solo acoustic tour. He was showcasing his most recent album Hearts That Strain, one which received a measly two stars from NME who suggested that “the Nottingham boy wonder has lost his way a little bit”. With this in mind, the announcement of this latest tour was probably not met with great expectations from some critics and fans alike. Being an unwavering fan of Bugg since his self-titled first album release in 2012, I felt differently. I had high hopes that Bugg’s strong vocals, guitar skills and catchy range songs would pull through and provide a night of excellent entertainment. I was not wrong.
Bugg’s talent lies in his authentic song-writing and vocals, rather than a strong star-like persona when performing, and therefore his entrance onto stage, alone in a spotlight with simply a guitar in hand and a brief Nottingham-twanged greeting to the audience, set the mood for a night of intimate acoustic listening. He was still met with cheers and whistles from the audience, a mixed age-range, as he began with the single ‘How Soon The Dawn’ from his latest album. Bugg’s live vocals perhaps did the song more justice than on the album; he demonstrated his effortless range in a way which was mesmerising to say the least.
The setlist appealed to steadfast fans and was evidently dictated by Bugg himself, who, at ease, performed ‘Old Man’ by Neil Diamond, a favourite artist of his, alongside his own older, lesser-known singles such as ‘Saffron’. Perhaps in reaction to the slightly disappointing reception of Hearts that Strain, Bugg infiltrated the set with many popular singles from his previous albums, such as ‘Two Fingers’, ‘Trouble Town’ and ‘Gimme The Love’. He also performed album tracks from across his musical career, such as ‘Slide’ and ‘Me and You’, and this kept the set interesting, as he steered away from the expected selection of songs and appeared to perform what he himself wanted to sing, as well as throwing in the hit singles to please the audience.
Bugg’s talent lies in his authentic song-writing and vocals
Bugg was not fazed by his accidental snapping of a string during ‘Trouble Town’ which caused him to abruptly stop mid-song. He maintained an impeccable vocal performance throughout, showing off his talents. He seemed to enjoy himself too, something which always makes a concert better: his constant thanking of the audience for coming and listening to his new songs was endearing, his statement “as long as you’re not bored” was sweet, and his generally shy, humble attitude throughout served as a reminder of his background, as a self-made songwriter with a working-class upbringing. The small venue allowed an almost direct interaction with him: one audience member’s shout of “Nottingham Forest” was met with Bugg’s quick response of “nah, I’m a Notts County fan mate”. If the fame has ever gotten to his head, it did not come through in his charming and personal engagement with the audience.
The feeling of this concert was intimate and relaxed throughout, and it felt worlds away from his performance accompanied by a band at Boardmasters festival in 2017, which, although livelier, didn’t capture the personal mood which this particular concert had. Of course, if you’re not a fan of Bugg’s distinct singing voice, this wouldn’t have been a night for you: his voice and his strumming of a guitar were the only things flooding the room during the hour and a half long set. For me, it was very pleasing to the ears, and even caused me to see Hearts That Strain, an album which I previously felt rather nonchalant about, in a new light. The stripped-back performances of the album tracks allowed emphasis to be put on the moving lyrics, and I’ve found that I now like the songs more when listening to them back, after experiencing Bugg’s heartfelt showcase of them.
Overall, the night was thoroughly enjoyable and Bugg did not disappoint. The small venue suited his humble and meaningful performance of his new and old songs alike, and he certainly handled the stripped-back, intense nature of the concert almost flawlessly. If you’re a fan of Jake Bugg, indie folk/rock/country music, or just would enjoy a night of live music for a very reasonable price, be sure to watch him perform when you next have the chance.