Last night at Clapham’s Grand was unexpectedly the ultimate valentine’s gig, with so-called “gentle giant” of music Rag’n’Bone Man melting the hearts of a coupled-off crowd with his unique blend of grit, blues and soul.
Rory Graham (as he is less known) is no stranger to the music industry, with a longtime relationship with a variety of genres from drum and bass to hip hop to blues since the tender age of 15. But after scooping the Brits Critics Choice award for 2017, huge success with track Human last year, and now in the running for the Brit award for British Breakthrough Act, 2017 looks set to be the Sussex-born singer-songwriter’s year. And the run down of songs, many from his newly released album Human (February 10), performed to perfection for the Brits-week gig raising money for War Child UK, certainly gave substance to that argument.
Dosed in atmospheric coloured light, gospel-inspired sounds emanated from a silhouetted Graham and his band, bringing an almost spiritual intensity to a vocally impeccable, heartfelt set. The crowd were thoroughly warmed up after tracks such as Ego, Your Way or the Rope and The Fire. Disfigured and Skin had the audience transfixed; Grace felt beautifully uplifting and he rocked out with his brilliant band on Guilty. Looking far more the heavy metal rocker than bluesy ballad singer, it was not only Graham’s music that challenged stereotypes. Endearingly pointing out his own shyness on stage, and the loudness of his colourful shirt after someone spilt rum down his intended outfit, his between-song chatter revealed a disarmingly humble demeanour: “Forgive me if I close my eyes. It’s not because I don’t want to look at you, it’s my nerves, it’s easier if I’m off in my own world…”
Each song seemed to hold a deeply personal meaning for Graham, such as Odetta, written for his friend about his daughter, and each was performed with a raw passion and honesty, with not an ounce of authenticity held back. The singer joked with the audience that his music isn’t necessarily “happy”; indeed, a soulful melancholia runs through his lyrics, and a sentimentality, such as on Bitter End. An emotional intensity, the unique quality of his octave-ranging voice, the particular grounding in sounds of the Deep South mixed with the British underground, means Rag’n’Bone Man’s songs carry a moreish, often edgy, often uplifting, energy.
Undeniably it was the lurching beat, evocative lyrics and plunging gravely vocals of Human, his breakthrough hit, that had the crowd truly whipped up. But returning on an encore with a moving a cappella Die Easy and gritty Hell Yeah Rag’n’Bone Man more than proved this talent is no one-trick pony.
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 15th February 2017.
For further information about Rag‘n’Bone Man and future events visit here.
Watch the video for Human here: