live review// Jake Bugg + Valerie June + Hudson Taylor
words// Will Law

Jake Bugg – Cambridge Corn Exchange – February 25th 2013

Perhaps a year ago, it would be unexpected for a crowd consisting mainly of adolescents to be gathered in Cambridge’s biggest venue on a Monday night whilst the distorted crackle of Robert Johnson blasts out through the PA. As the lights go down, a chorus of screams erupts from the eagerly waiting sold out audience to greet an 18 year old from Nottingham who has taken the music world by storm. Silence follows as, guitar in hand, Jake Bugg strolls calmly towards the microphone.

Rewind and hour or so and the Corn Exchange is filling up steadily; already the front half of the hall is jam packed for opening act, Hudson Taylor. The three piece from Dublin waste no time in winning over the female followers of Bugg’s crowd and, although the Mumford and Sons comparisons are easy to make, the faultless harmonies and raw acoustics could be more likened to The Everly Brothers or Simon and Garfunkel. Standout track ‘Cinematic Lifestyle’ is evidence of how meticulously crafted these songs are, while freshly penned set closer ‘Called On’ carries a falsetto rich melody that wouldn’t be out of place on a lost La’s album. Who needs Irish charm with songs like that? Read our interview with Hudson Taylor here.

There’s a hushed atmosphere as Valerie June takes the stage next. Leaflets and posters depicting elaborate dreadlocks and advertising songs like ‘Tennessee Express’ are littered around the venue – it’s hard not to be intrigued. Initially appearing with just an acoustic guitar and a lone backing singer, June breaks out with a voice bearing the grit and soul of the Delta and a finger picked guitar style to match. She introduces herself with a pleasant Southern Drawl and it only takes two songs to demonstrate the range and power in her voice. It’s easy to forget that, actually, this is Cambridge in 2013 and not 1930’s Mississippi as June breaks into a spellbinding cover of Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroad Blues’. Closing with the moody, blues inspired ‘You Can’t Be Told’, June assures us that she is one to watch.

Anticipation builds as Jake Bugg’s stage is set in the shadows with minimal drums and acoustic guitars. Casually dressed in a polo shirt and jeans, the lights focus on the 18 year old who greets the crowd with acoustic reggae inflicted ‘Fire’ from his number one debut album. Bugg rattles through some of his earlier songs; ‘Kentucky’, ‘Love Me The Way You Do’ – both are older tracks but still get the audience tapping their feet and singing along. The Dylanesque ‘Trouble Town’ seems to really get the crowd going and the young singer steps things up a gear as he belts out the chorus. His interaction with the audience in between songs is minimal, yet Bugg conveys a sense of reserved mystery throughout the gig; he lets the songs do the talking. Although his singing is far more impressive in a live setting than on the record, it is Bugg’s guitar playing that is on notable form tonight. When compared to the gig at London’s 100 Club last year, there are a few additional touches here and there, especially in the crowd favourite ‘Lightning Bolt’, which finishes off a fast paced set with some improvised guitar. After an encore featuring a seamless cover of Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, Bugg applauds the audience and leaves the stage. It feels like he’s been around for years, but with his first arena tour later this year, this is only the beginning: something is changing…