“To be honest,” sighs Bugg, “I just love songs”.
And can you blame him? Who doesn’t, after all? As The Hamilton Brothers once sang, Music Makes The World Go Round. John Miles topped the charts when he tunefully revealed; Music Was My First Love. Back in the nineties, Blur professed; Music Is My Radar. Even ABBA saw fit to thank music for its melodious, potent power.
But, as Joni Mitchell spent the seventies lyrically lamenting; “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”. And so goes the story of our summer. With the plug pulled on concerts, festivals, tours and shows during lockdown, we’ve had to contend with our first silent summer in decades. And, to be honest with you, it’s been a bit of a drag. Even Jake Bugg, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter from Nottingham, has felt a bit blue.
“Yeah, I guess it has been tough,” he says, ahead of recording the latest Gentleman’s Journal Lockdown Session. “A lot of musicians, because they’re used to performing — and because performing is their only income — will have been finding it frustrating to be stuck inside when they just want to be playing.
“But luckily,” he adds, “we have our songs. So I don’t think we’ve had the worst of it, because we can spend our time writing, singing and just trying to forget about it.”
Easily done when you’ve got songs like Bugg’s. With nominations for BRIT, NME, Q, Mercury and Ivor Novello awards under his belt — and four top-10 albums to his name — the Lightning Bolt singer has been self-isolating with some of the best tunes in the biz. But even he’s missing big shows such as Glastonbury. After all, that’s where it all began for Bugg.
Back in 2011, a 17-year-old Bugg was selected to play the ‘BBC Introducing…’ stage at the iconic festival.
“At that age, I think there was a lot of cockiness,” he admits. “I don’t think I appreciated the opportunity. Obviously I knew it was amazing to be there. But, at that age, I think you’re just taking everything in your stride, and seeing where your boundaries are. It’s certainly something I’m prouder of on reflection. At the time, I was probably more nervous than anything.”
But it’s not the only time Bugg has made the trip to Worthy Farm. In 2014 and 2016, the singer-songwriter also took to the stage at Glastonbury — and he considers the former to be one of the best gigs he’s ever played.
“Definitely one of the most memorable,” explains Bugg. “Headlining the Other Stage at Glastonbury! Such a crazy thing. And even crazier, for me, was that we were clashing with Metallica — who, growing up, were one of my favourite bands. And you never expect to be clashing with Metallica at Glastonbury festival!
“I was a little bit gutted, to be honest,” he adds with a laugh. “Because Metallica were the only band I really wanted to see. And, knowing that a band like that were on the stage at the same time, but seeing the audience we still had? I couldn’t believe it. I felt like screaming down the mic: “You know that Metallica are playing, don’t you? You could go and see them!”
Above, you can see Bugg perform an exclusive acoustic cover of his first release of 2020, Saviours Of The City. But he’s also been writing new music during down lockdown — and taking time to hone his live act for when venues finally reopen their doors. There’s been an upbeat energy missing from Bugg’s sets in the past, the singer-songwriter openly confesses, and his upcoming album looks set to remedy that.
“Absolutely,” he nods. “Because I always look at my live shows to see what I need. And I was missing a lot of the up-tempo stuff. So I felt like that would really help the live shows. But I also really wanted to make a record that experimented with modern sounds, and incorporate those sounds into my DNA.
“I’ve been very happy with the results,” he adds, “and I just wanted to create something that was a little more ‘pop’. And something I really wanted to ingrain into it was that psychedelic aspect, which I feel like there’s not a lot of anymore. And some of that sixties psychedelic stuff — those dark melodies — are brilliant. So I wanted to make something a little more upbeat, a little different and something new for my audience as well.”
“I wanted to make something new for my audience…”
It’s a new sound for Bugg — but he’s a performer who has skipped and dabbled across the musical spectrum since his first eponymous chart-topping album back in 2012. When he was younger, there were Elvis-style rock n’roll influences in his music. But these tastes seem to have matured, and he counts Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane among his current favourites.
“I take a lot of different approaches,” Bugg says of his songwriting process. “I think the main one is to start with the melody. Once I’ve got that, I build around it. And I do write lyrics, but I find it a lot harder to craft a song around lyrics. Once you have the melody, it’s kind of like the song is telling you what to do — so you have to play around that.”
Bugg’s are tunes that have resonated with many. Even artists from other disciplines have borrowed his songs, using them as soundtracks and theme tunes for primetime BBC dramas, adverts and even Hollywood films.
“It’s so flattering!” laughs Bugg. “Because I start off writing these songs for myself — and then they become the property of the listener. And then, someone else takes it on and uses it in their own art. It’s nice.
“Sometimes I watch things and I’m like: ‘That doesn’t even work!’. But, if people want to use it, then fair enough. That’s alright. The funniest ones are when the adverts are on at half-time during the football. I’m just trying to enjoy the football in peace — but I keep popping up…”
Football is another of Bugg’s passions. In 2017, he even became the shirt sponsor of his favourite local football team, Notts County. And, although he never made it professionally — “I was far too busy drinking and smoking for that…” — he’s still been missing going to games. It’s another on the long list of live events lost to lockdown, he says — much like the anticipated 50th anniversary of his beloved Glastonbury Festival.
“It’s a real shame that Glastonbury had to be postponed this year,” considers Bugg. “But it’s all for the greater good, isn’t it? And I think that what this period has done for a lot of people is made them truly appreciate how much they love music. And I’m sure that everyone who’s missed out on festivals this year are just going to be itching for next year. It’s going to be pretty wild, and so great for bands. Just wait for it.”
Want more lockdown sessions? Discover why Tom Grennan never meant to be a singer-songwriter…
Become a Gentleman’s Journal member. Find out more here.