Jake Bugg is a small lad with big expectations heaped on his shoulders. At just 18, in child-size jeans, he’s the heir apparent in the royal lineage of working-class hero rock ’n’ roll that stretches down from Paul Weller through The Stone Roses to Oasis and Arctic Monkeys.
He’s recently been anointed as crown prince by Noel Gallagher, who he supported at Camden’s tiny Dingwalls venue last month, and has now been invited to join on tour throughout North America and Europe this autumn. “Little Jake Bugg, he’s great. I’m a YouTube fan of his,” said Noel before they met.
“When we did meet he just waltzed backstage and said, ‘Where’d you get them trainers from?’ Really casual,” Bugg tells me. “He’s a bit of a legend. But he put me at my ease. We just had a chat really, no big advice.”
Bugg doesn’t seem to be someone who needs many tips. He’s a natural, with the smoker’s voice of a man twice his age and the ability to write deceptively simple songs that feel as though they’ve been around forever. You may have heard an acoustic one of his, Country Song, on a Greene King IPA advert, and thought it was an ancient folk thing or a Bob Dylan cover. He wrote it when he was 16.
With his debut album not due until next month, he’s also played a London gig with The Stone Roses — “I thought my manager was joking when he told me; I never thought I’d get the chance to see them live, never mind support them” — and joins The Killers at the Roundhouse next week. Rock’s old guard has embraced him. Not bad for a kid who was kicked off a music technology course two years ago.
“I wasn’t going [to college],” he says. “I’d rather sit in the library and read a book about The Beatles than go and learn something that’s not necessary.”
Like Liam Gallagher (who he hasn’t met yet, though Liam’s fashion line Pretty Green has been sending him clothes and used his song Taste It in a video) he has that cocksure sense that as long as you know your favourite Beatles album (A Hard Day’s Night) and have the balls to stand stage centre and belt out your songs, anything is possible. Just as Liam sang about having “finally found something worth living for”, Bugg’s songs are about the escape music offers from a downtrodden life.
“Stuck in speed-bump city where the only thing that’s pretty is the thought of getting out,” he sings on Trouble Town. He grew up in the Clifton area of Nottingham on one of the largest council estates in Europe. “It can be rough. I didn’t go around causing trouble, I just used to hang around the shops smoking fags. If there was anyone causing trouble I usually knew them, but I just kept my head down and they left me alone.”
Though the lyrics of his next single, Two Fingers, perhaps romanticise the extent of his rebellion (“Skin up a fat one, hide from the feds”) the air of triumph in its singalong chorus is wonderful. “So I kiss goodbye to every little ounce of pain/Light a cigarette and wish the world away/I got out, I got out, I’m alive and I’m here to stay,” he sings. It’s the latest in a long line of songs for hard men to slap backs and spill pints to, and will go down like a pie at the footie when he returns to London for his first major headline show in November. “I want my music to have some impact on people’s lives,” he says. “like the first dance at their wedding or the song a couple met to.”
When we meet, he’s filming the video for Two Fingers in a terraced house in Sneinton, another down-at-heel Nottingham area where, once neighbouring drug dealers have established that no filming will take place on the street, they carry on scuttling their little packages back and forth regardless. This is his first taste of proper acting, depicting his escape from grim family life onto a plane to America, and the talk among the crew is that, once again, he’s instinctively brilliant.
The actors playing his feuding parents make it easy for him, he insists. Vicky McClure is a Bafta-winning regular of films by Nottingham director Shane Meadows, while Craig Parkinson played music impresario Tony Wilson in the Joy Division film, Control. Plus it helps that Bugg is playing only a slightly amplified version of himself. “Directors always want to exaggerate things a bit, but it’s not so far off, and a lot of people have that same life,” he says. “It felt quite natural to act it out. I never had a bad upbringing though.”
Bugg’s father is in nursing, his mother in sales, and they used to sing and play keyboards, writing their own songs. “It was Eighties pop kind of stuff. I thought it was crap.” His uncle bought him his first guitar at the age of 12, after he’d heard Don McLean’s Vincent on an episode of The Simpsons and decided that music might be even more interesting than football.
At 16 he uploaded a demo, Love Me the Way You Do, to the BBC Introducing website for aspiring musicians. Dean Jackson of BBC Radio Nottingham started playing it, which swiftly led to deals with management and the major label Mercury. Last summer he was invited to play the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury, on the same day as he was turned down from an audition to play at a Leicestershire imitator called Glastonbudget.
Now he’s the new poster boy for anyone who believes that owning a guitar makes you a more authentic musician than having a synthesizer. “All this contemporary dance stuff just sounds the same,” he grumbles, once again sounding older than his years. “Most kids think, I can just buy something that goes ‘Womp womp womp womp womp’ and make a record. That’s quite sad to see.” It doesn’t sound like there’ll be any Ed Sheeran-style grime collaborations forthcoming. Bugg is a purist, enthusing about Hendrix and Dylan as though he’s only just discovered them — which essentially he has.
The fact that he’s coming at these sounds fresh makes them sound fresh in his hands too. His certain future hit Lightning Bolt could have been thawed out from Sixties storage but it’s also a raw blast of sonic excitement that gets the rock ’n’ roll basics completely right. “It does feel like everything’s been done before, but you can take the best bits from the past and put them together in a new way,” he says. It looks certain that this new guy will be around long enough to join the old guard himself.
Jake Bugg plays with The Killers on Sept 11 at the iTunes Festival, Roundhouse, NW1 (itunesfestival.com) and on Nov 14 at Koko, NW1 (0870 432 5527, koko.uk.com). The album Jake Bugg is released by Mercury on Oct 15.