Tonight, Fibbers has crammed people in to crevices in the building I have never even noticed before. As I arrive for my first sell-out show at the venue, I’m struck by an almost maternal anxiety for the young chap, the 18-year old Jake Bugg. Will he remember his words? Will he remember to tuck his shirt in? What if he trips over his shoelaces?
As he opens with the shoulder-swinging “Kentucky” though, that bizarrely mature and time-shaken voice reminds me to pull myself together a bit. The mood swiftly changes for “Love Me The Way You Do” and Bugg becomes warm and wistful. The crowd, however, not so much. Even throughout “Hometown” and “Seen It All”, they are motionless and unresponsive, even a little agitated by my attempts to sing along. I wonder if this is because Bugg himself is not a fan of crowd interaction nor pleasing. His renditions are very similar to the studio versions; he has yet to even say hello. At first, I think this is nerves – a new artist, a crowded room.
Throughout “Trouble Town”, I suppress the motherly urge to spit on a hankie and wipe that grubby mark off his cheek (although I think it’s just the first sprigs of facial hair) and remember that Bugg’s behaviour could just be arrogant apathy. By now, he has far outgrown Fibbers. This gig was booked when “Country Song” was a mere glimmer on YouTube; since then Bugg has had a number one album, almost sold out a 2013 headline tour and supported Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Lord only knows what that can do to your ego.
Nonetheless, after another awkward guitar swap with his bandmate, “Note To Self” is surprisingly slow and tender and contrasts well with the stompy “Simple As This”. By “Slide”, I’m ready to get my lighter out and start swaying, but the room resist even tapping their toes. Most of them look like they’re here out of a determination to relive the Paul Weller days, which isn’t at all what they’re getting. Thankfully.
The climax of “Lightening Bolt”, “Two Fingers” and “Taste It” at least causes Bugg himself to crack a smile – the songs are fun and honest and responsible for his meteoric rise to fame this year. After tonight, though, no matter how he claims to ‘light up a fat one, hide from the feds’ or ‘jump on a lightning bolt’, I find it hard to imagine him doing anything so animated or exciting.
Bugg comes back to wind down the night with “Country Song”, although it’s barely been wound up. I’m glad I caught him balancing between promise and success, and between youth and experience, albeit clumsily. Contrary to what the penultimate song of the night says, he’s not an old dog by any means, but he maybe does need to learn some new tricks.
By Alice Lawrence