Rag’n’Bone Man at Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Rag’n’Bone Man, the alias of 32-year-old Rory Graham, is an intriguing prospect live just as he is on recording. Beginning alone on stage with only a white Les Paul and a spotlight, he sings a raw version of American roots standard St James Infirmary. However, as soon as this is over, the stage bursts into an old-school light show of smoke machines and flashes as he is cast in enormous silhouettes behind himself. “I’ve shaken off my chains,” he sings in Wolves, and he means it.
Recognised for his tall, tattooed, bearded frame, when he speaks Graham is remarkably unassuming; he can talk to the audience on a human level. The men in attendance – who must range from 20 to 60 – yelp and whoop like the mums and wives beside them. In fairness, Rag’n’Bone Man has developed a sound that can be many things to many people. This is heard no more clearly than in single Human, from his debut album of the same name. An ambient saxophone, a sing-a-long chorus, a danceable beat that could be remixed nicely into a club tune – it’s a formula that has been tested before, and it works. He even includes segments of rap in some of his tracks, which sometimes work but sometimes disturb the flow.
Stories of the creation of his songs are also genuinely interesting; he is clearly immersed in the music he plays, having worked with a whole host of producer and collaborator friends and he even notes that one of his tunes, Perfume, is based on the novel of the same name by Patrick Süskind. Skin, Rag’n’Bone Man’s new single, is by far his most accomplished track, melding his many styles and talents perfectly.
“I didn’t think I’d be playing here,” he says of the Empire. Many similar artists have come and gone, but they don’t have Graham’s soul. Close your eyes and you might be in a club in Detroit listening to Motown Records’ latest outfit. But despite the singer’s obvious talent for music and artistry, his ability to hold a tune and his effortless affability, he is hampered by his newness and a sound that has been recycled and rejigged too many times already. Rag’n’Bone Man is within reach of the magic formula that will set him apart from that crowd, and the thought that he may be able to find it and put it to use is an exciting prospect indeed.
Photos: Mike Garnell
For further information about Rag’n’Bone and future events visit here.
Watch the video for Skin here: