Jake Bugg / Misty Miller - The Sands Centre, Carlisle
We were here six weeks ago to see Kaiser Chiefs and you'd think a natural crossover in terms of the crowd would exist. But it doesn't. Sure, there's a mod-ishness to the hair and Fred Perry is the label of choice but those with tickets tonight are mostly half the age of those who came to see Leeds' post-Britpop survivors. And they're definitely not driving home: it's a Bank Holiday weekend and there's liquor to be consumed.
Some trouble on the door (including, rather romantically, a fight) means we don't get to see much of Misty Miller but we kinda like what we've heard already. What she does is not rocket science (she's got a guitar and she's going to use it) but her Girlfriend EP caught our attention and there's some promising new music in the wings too. Hopefully she'll come around again soon so we can give her a proper look.
For those largely unfamiliar with Jake Bugg's repertoire (including, it has to be said, your humble scribe), conscious only of the 'new Dylan' tag or of the sniffy 'nu-skiffle' barbs, what transpires is moderately diverting. The early part of Bugg's set ('Trouble Town', 'Seen It All') is evidence enough that he knows his way around a tune. The songs are simple, rarely straying from 12-bar or bluegrass styles; the lyrics have a mild Alex Turner-y social edge of the kind you'd expect. How old was Bugg when Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not came out? Eleven. Stick that in your so-called laughter lines. When he leaves the upbeat numbers for ballads, the songs ('Slide', 'Ballad of Mr Jones') begin to stray dangerously close to Cast territory - which can rarely be a good thing, but then he probably doesn't remember them either.
Doubters seem rankled not that Bugg necessarily exists, or is moved to make the music he does - but that young people listen. 'How can they have such poor taste?' we foam. This seems especially true now, in the midst of David Bowie mania; every TV and radio channel, every Sunday supplement raking over Davie Jones' musical locker. The subtext has been, certainly during the first few months of 2013, that there are answers (future music perhaps?) in an ironically backward-looking new Bowie album - or at least in his old stuff - and that Bugg and the inevitable cash-ins who follow, are some kind record company plot against good taste.
It's a strange juncture. In all the outpouring of goodwill since the announcement of Wilko Johnson's poor health, it's forgotten that Johnson couldn't get arrested during the 80s, 90s and beyond - never mind be held up as one of Britain's premier exponents of the six-string. Bugg, channeling similar influences to Johnson, is handicapped by age (and therefore unable to be truly 'authentic') and is dismissed as a throwback, a teenage magpie filching music he can't claim ownership to - unlike, apparently, more critically-feted young things re-imagining (to mixed effect) 40 year old German electronica or 20 year old shoegaze. It's a maddening musical myopia that's willing to accept a wearying conveyor belt of Americana in various hues but has excised from memory Britain's own historic version of coffee shop blues and folk.
Young Master Bugg brings little new to the table. Debates as to whether he is 'the real deal' are moot. (Half of the tracks on Dr Feelgood's number one album Stupidity were cover versions.) Live, the main problem for Bugg is that it's not terribly interesting. He plays the songs, mumbles the occasional introduction and it's only when he rattles off the occasional volley of sure-fingered fireworks from behind an electric guitar, that there's any real flicker of something else going on, a steely-eyed arrogance and a certainty of his own worth. The two hired hands who make up his back-up band do nothing beyond play the music; ironically, Bugg lacks a Wilko Johnson of his own: someone to prowl the stage, throw out some licks and riffs - to bring a little danger to the party.
Still, just turned 19 and he already has four or five songs that can get the best part of 1800 well-oiled kids (and the occasional Dad) singing along. That will stand you in good stead for a while yet.