Time is flying by. A whole week has passed since I saw the incredible Rag ‘N’ Bone Man at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms. I suspected it was going to be a splendid gig and I wasn’t disappointed.
I first spotted Rory Graham, the brilliant bearded big guy, over three years ago in the Chai Wallah’s tent at Shambala festival. In my eFestivals review (here) I said, “Rag ‘N’ Bone Man is bigged up by the compere and rightfully so. The crowd exchange knowing glances. Here we have a splendid, soulful voice with the ability to shake a room, something that’s rooted firmly in a bluesy past and yet made modern by the presence of a mixing DJ. I note that Rag ‘N’ Bone Man is about to accompany Bastille on their Autumn tour. I hope that that crowd appreciate him half as much as the crowd in here.”
Fast forward to the summer that’s just passed and I caught Rory again, this time at the lovely Barn On The Farm festival. I reviewed that one for eFestivals as well (here) and commented that, “over on the outdoor stage, there were also many highlights. I first saw Rag ‘n’ Bone a few years ago on a small stage at Shambala. Even back then, you could tell Rory Graham was an impressive presence. In recent years, he’s honed his craft and added a band of fine musicians. The bassy blues of his booming voice prove to be a fine choice of Sunday evening headline set on this stage.”
It was nice to now finally get the chance to see a set away from the festival field.
It’s a packed room. I guess a combination of hard work and releasing a steady stream of quality-laden EP’s have got Rory to this point. There’s a noticeably mixed age range in the crowd. The kids push to the front whilst the older gig-goers, perhaps having caught Rag ‘N’ Bone Man’s electrifying, recent performance on ‘Later With Jools Holland’ hang around toward the back. Couples grab their spot at the upper tier balcony and peer down on the balding and not so balding heads below.
Rory takes to the stage confidently holding a guitar. With immense power, he launches his rocket of a voice into a soulful sonic boom. Every corner of the Rescue Rooms is filled with the bounce and reverberation of this wondrous gospel melt. Our knees are weakened and we’re almost down on them before the first verse is complete. The band join Rory on stage, fire up their own instruments, and we’re given brief respite from our near submission.
There’s quite a few new songs played. An album is due for release, perhaps early next year, and this is a chance to road-test some of that material. On first listen, you’d guess that those music industry insiders who’ve marked Rag ‘N’ Bone Man in their BBC Sound of 2017 nominations know what they’re playing with. Mark my words – I have no insight but Rory’s going to be pushing for a top three place.
I’m touched by the humility on offer. “I’ve hardly ever played Nottingham before and I was genuinely worried about how many people might turn up”, he ponders in a break between the songs. Surely, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man knows by now that these are not things to worry about? But, his style is not about arrogant swagger; it’s more about a polished and gentle confidence that sometimes belies the boom of his voice. He’s not afraid to mention his Mum’s critique of his songwriting or the fact that he has a friend going through a dark time. We want our pop stars to be ‘human’ and the laidback Rory connects generously. His band, session musicians no doubt with perfect pedigree, allow Rory to take the limelight. It’s a sign of their accomplished ability that you barely notice the complexities of what they play.
It’s all over far too soon. As we file out, the sense of joy about what we’ve just witnessed is palpable. “We’ll never see him on a stage that small again”, says one. “That massive guy is about to really get massive”, says another.
And I have to concur, they’re probably right.