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Vicky McClure & Jonny Owen: Svengali

March 2014

VICKY McClure was on Radio 1 discussing This Is England ‘88, the second spin-off TV series by Nottingham-based director Shane Meadows, when Jonny Owen first heard her being herself.
The Welsh actor and screenwriter had enjoyed some success with his internet comedy series Svengali and was looking out for talent to cast in a film version.
“I thought she was very funny,” says Jonny, a 42-year-old Welshman who’s appeared in TV series such as Murphy’s Law and Shameless.
“I loved Lol, this fractured character she played in This Is England, but this person I was hearing was a much bigger personality. She was funnier, more entertaining and sexier. She was talking about living with her mother, the Baftas, stuff like that.
“I went home to Wales and dreamt about her playing Michelle in Svengali.”
The comedy film, which is released this month, tells the story of Dixie (played by Jonny), a postman from South Wales who dreams of discovering a rock ‘n’ roll band and taking them to the top. He finds The Premature Congratulations, a quartet of young and arrogant but talented musicians, on YouTube, and with a demo tape in his pocket heads to London to the heart of the music industry.
It’s based on Jonny’s experiences in the Pocket Devils, an indie band he was in 20 years ago, who opened shows for INXS, Stereophonics and Catatonia.
“I told the rest of the team that I wanted Vicky for the part of Dixie’s girlfriend Michelle and there was a lot of head-shaking. She was the hottest in Britain, as she is now, and they didn’t believe she’d do it.
“But I approached her agent who said she had eight scripts and she’s gone to Russia.”
“This was mostly true,” laughs Vicky, who was shooting Anna Karenina with Keira Knightley and Jude Law.
“But there weren’t eight scripts,” says the 30-year-old, who grew up in Wollaton but now lives with Jonny “round the corner from Shane Meadows” in Beeston.
Undeterred, Jonny sent Vicky a ‘viral’ (a video clip).
“You’d got Boy George, Martin Freeman and Maxine Peake already attached to it, never mind the viral you sent me,” says the Broadchurch and Line of Duty actress.
Jonny then sent her the script and was told that she was going to ring him to talk it over.
“I’ve never told you this before, Vicky but I saw that it was a Nottingham number and before I answered I took three deep breaths!”
She laughs: “And now I’m a complete nuisance.”
“She was fantastic. Straight away she said she loved the script and wanted to do it. It was such a relief. We talked for about half-an-hour and we arranged to meet. She said ‘when we do meet I want a sausage cob.’ I thought, this is my kind of girl.”
“Well that’s normal if you’re from Nottingham,” says Vicky.
“We went to this really posh Shoreditch restaurant and had a sausage sandwich,” she adds, poshing up the latter.
This was two years ago and the beginning of their relationship.
Says Vicky: “People ask what it was like for everybody else on the film, dealing with the fact that we were together but it wasn’t like that. No-one spoke about it; it wasn’t obvious and we weren’t doing anything that made people feel awkward.”
Working together did have its moments.
“There was a scene where were going to argue and Vicky being ‘Mrs method’ said ‘Right, we can’t talk to each other today,’” laughs Jonny.
“And she was the first actress I ever met who would go through the script saying ‘I wouldn’t say any of that... or that’ and there are three pages of the script gone!
“I think that comes from the (Television) Workshop, which I’m a huge admirer of anyway,” he continues, referring to the Nottingham-based acting stable that has produced many success stories, Vicky among them.
Svengali sees her in a new light; doing comedy.
“She’s a long way from Lol,” she says of Michelle.
“People will look at Line of Duty, This Is England, Broadchurch and it’s all quite dark but being a Workshopper, I’ve been doing comedy since I was about 11. The Workshop embraces comedy in a big way. So this is a big deal for me; Vicky does funny.”
She’s already filmed another comedy, Convenience, with Austin Powers actor Verne Troyer.
“Although I’m not very funny in it; I’m quite mardy,” she admits.
“It’s funny. I think it’s a bit of a stoner comedy. I don’t know if it will get a release. Sometimes they don’t.”
As well as Vicky, there are other Nottingham elements in Svengali. Jonny was helped with the script by Sneinton-born Henry Normal, who runs TV company Baby Cow with Steve Coogan. And the soundtrack includes Clifton’s Jake Bugg.
“It was actually before he made it and I didn’t know he was from Nottingham,” insists Jonny.
After filming finished they moved in together in London but within eight months Vicky wanted to come home.
“We were coming back so often for my mum’s Sunday roasts anyway,” she says.
“I made friends really quickly here and I’d watch County and Forest, so it made sense for us to move here,” he says.
“I love the city. It’s got a lot of interesting creative people like Shane and Billy (Ivory) and Jake Bugg and Notts TV and Antenna. And the people don’t shout about it. They just get on with it. I like that.”

Svengali is released in cinemas and as a digital download to buy or rent on March 21. It's released on DVD on April 7. For more about the film go to svengalimovie.co.uk.

Review: Jake Bugg, Capital FM Arena

February 20 2014

Pictures by David Baird

There is a line in Storm Passes Away, the final track on Jake Bugg's second album, Shangri La, that sums up what a lot of us have been thinking.
"They keep telling me that I'm older than I'm supposed to be," sings the 19-year-old, stood in front of 9,000 people in the city's largest venue, his latest achievement in a two year career that includes two hit albums, tours with Noel Gallagher (a mate who he texts music queries to), a show with the Stone Roses, another with the Rolling Stones, US TV appearances, a worldwide fan base as far as Japan and South America, award nominations, a million record sales... and then some.
It's hard to believe he is still a teenager, from Clifton, who four years ago was playing open mic nights for free at the Maze and the Rescue Rooms.
After tonight's gig Wollaton actress Vicky McClure, currently starring in the BBC drama Line of Duty, who appeared in Jake's video for Two Fingers, admitted she was mouth agape for much of it. "He was incredible. I can't believe how good he was up there on that stage. And so young..."
That older-than-his-years songwriting attracts the broadest fan base I've seen at any gig. There are kids here, some as young as six. One mum at the bar said her three-year-old is a big fan and sings along to the words of his songs in the car. One imagines she skips past Two Fingers on the CD player - a toddler singing "skin up a fat one" at nursery wouldn't go down well.
There are the Mod cropped middle-aged blokes who miss Oasis. And even granddads who just appreciate classic songwriting that they first fell in love with during the Sixties.
Jake's music is drawn from that decade's folk, psychedelia, garage rock and pop but also the Seventies for country and even punk.
But it's back further still for the intro music, an old blues number accompanying the dimmed lights before he appears with a four-piece band and rips into Shangri La's opening track There's A Beast Inside And We All Feed It, before treating the crowd to their first singalong; Trouble Town, the early single about growing up in "speedbump city".
The lights from a sea of phones illuminate the thousands standing on the arena floor, who sing every word to Seen It All, another track from his million-selling self-titled debut.
He's in black, of course, but it's a suit jacket rather than leather, maybe smartening up because mum, dad and grandparents are there.
He does country rocker Me And You then another homegrown anthem, Two Fingers, about his escape from a Nottingham council estate.
No-one begrudges that. The boy done good.
It's half-an-hour before the acoustic is replaced by one of his two £20k vintage electric guitars, as the jacket comes off to reveal the uniform Fred Perry shirt, collars up.
Messed Up Kids, Kingpin, Slumville Sunrise, Taste It, What Doesn't Kill You... they're the rockier side of Jake, prompting a spray of beer and old school moshing in the middle of the floor.
But then he sedates with the tender Broken, the highlight for many of his debut. 
Like his heroes Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Bugg says little on stage. He never has. He isn't a talker, a showman, an extrovert... just a musician. But he knows this is special.
"Thank you for making this night very special," he says, adding: "I never thought i'd get to play here."
Apart from introducing the odd songs and thanking us, it's all he says for the whole 80 minutes he's on stage.
Yes he's played to bigger crowds; 17,000 saw him headline Splendour last summer. But this was a landmark gig. Family and friends were in the crowd. He even had his cousin Scott Bugg's band The Swiines open the show. They looked nervous, almost apologetic, but no doubt lived up to little cousin's expectations, keeping the crowd busy with a set of powerful Mod rock.
For the encore Jake stood alone and delivered Song About Love, the new single that is Shangri La's answer to Broken. But he was always going to end with an explosion and Lightning Bolt did just that, the crowd at their liveliest.  
As the band walked off, Jake stayed to applaud those who'd supported him along the way, waving to every corner of the vast arena and no doubt taking it all in.

Those of us who have been following Nottingham's music scene for a decade or two know his success is unprecedented. For Jake, well, he doesn't know anything else. When I spoke to him last year as this gig was announced, he was dreading turning 20, as if time was marching on. But when he does leave his teenage years behind next Friday, what else is there left for him to achieve?

Jake Bugg on the Brits

February 2014

JAKE Bugg will be heading to the Brit Awards in London tonight to see if he can beat the likes of David Bowie and John Newman to pick up the British male solo artist gong.

But the 19-year-old from Clifton doesn’t think he’ll win. And nor is he a fan of the event.

“It’s boring,” he says. “I don’t really want to go but I might as well. I’ve got nothing else to do.”

The ceremony at the O2 Arena, which will be broadcast on ITV1 tonight from 8pm, includes performances by Katy Perry and Arctic Monkeys.

“I love the party afterwards, don’t get me wrong, they’re great but the actual event is pretty boring when you have to watch those crap acts perform,” says Jake, who is also up against Tom Odell and James Blake in his category.

He went to the awards last year when he was nominated for British breakthrough act, losing out to Ben Howard.

London Grammar, the band who met at the University of Nottingham, are up for British breakthrough act tonight.

“I haven’t got a speech prepared – I don’t expect to win,” says Jake.

After shows in Australia and the US, he recently started his UK tour that comes to the Capital FM Arena tomorrow.

It will be his biggest indoor gig to date, with 9,000 people expected, and follows his headline slot at Splendour in Wollaton Park in front of 17,000 people.

He will be the first Nottingham artist to headline a show at the city’s biggest venue. It follows the No. 1 success of his self-titled debut album, which has sold more than a million copies, and the No. 3 success of the follow-up Shangri La.

It will be the first time he’s been back to the city since Christmas, when he spent three days with his family.

Prior to that was a fleeting visit in November when he played a secret gig in front of 200 people at The Maze in Mansfield Road.

Later this year Jake, who turns 20 on February 28, will be touring South America for the first time.

Today and again on Friday, Jake will be teaching songwriting skills to 16-18-year-old students at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

He’ll be showing them how to perform his song Broken and one of the students will join him on stage at the 5,000-capacity venue on Friday night to perform it.

“We need initiatives like this to inspire young musicians,” he says.

It will be his first gig at the Royal Albert Hall.

“It’s such an iconic venue and so many of my idols that inspired me have performed there. I can’t believe I am following in their footsteps.”