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Rag’n’Bone Man

Not exactly, as presumed at the time, a rags-to-riches success story on the strength of his `Human’ smash-hit of summer 2016, English-born, blue-eyed soul singer RAG’N’BONE MAN had his roots in the blues by way of a few rare EPs. As unconventional an artist as one could imagine, the big man sported a shaved head and a grizzly beard (that only a mountain man could be proud of); plus a nose-ring, tattooed arms, a hoodie and ill-fitting jeans. By and large that’s what made this artist unique; a breath of fresh air in an industry so up its own behind with X-Factor acts that it normally couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Hats off to the people at Sony/Columbia Records for giving the man a chance; the repayment of two Brits for “Breakthrough Act”, and “Choice” award in 2017, was well deserved – for once.
Born Rory Charles Graham, 29 January 1985, Uckfield, East Sussex, the lad grew from being expelled from King’s Academy Ringmer to taking up MCing with a drum ‘n’ bass posse. As Rag ‘N’ Bonez – his brief initial moniker (garnered by watching repeat Steptoe & Son episodes) – the singer ventured to Brighton, in order to give a “leg-up” to a number of rap/hip-hop outfits such as Rum Committee.
On the back of support slots to PHAROAHE MONCH, KRS-ONE and even JOAN ARMATRADING (the latter at a Brighton Dome gig), RAG’N’BONE MAN issued a CD-r in November 2012. The EP in question, `Bluestown’, was an impressive debut from the artist, and one which opened a few doors that led on to High Focus Records producing his respective 2013/4 follow-ups: the `Dog’N’Bone EP’ (featuring Leaf Dog), and the 12-inch `Put That Soul On Me’.
Produced by Mark Crew at Best Laid Plans Records, 2015’s WOLVES {*6} – a mini-album/EP that was to glean a belated, post-breakthrough Top 30 place – pushed out the envelope with his attempts at combining efforts with established acts such as VINCE STAPLES, KATE TEMPEST and Stig Of The Dump.
Columbia/Sony were now happy to fully endorse Graham’s RAG’N’BONE MAN persona when they discovered he’d an ace up his sleeve. The aforementioned `Human’ was a monster smash all around Europe almost overnight. Very similar in some respects to HOZIER’s `Take Me To Church’ from a few years back, many holy-minded pop pundits knew their “Rag Man” was a potential star.
As the year petered out with the chart-topping song still ringing in their ears, RAG’N’BONE MAN re-emerged with an almost copycat effort in `Skin’. A soaring single and one to grace the Top 20 nonetheless, it at least forced him to show his full hand. Normally a parent album waits only a few weeks to see the light of the day; but several months(?) – that was a red flag. In the event, HUMAN (2017) {*6}, was neither great, nor was it anything close to bad. Instead for a No.1-selling album it received above-average pass marks; although download singles, `As You Are’ and `Grace (We All Try)’, failed to generate further high-end chart triumphs.
For the ensuing few years, RAG’N’BONE MAN took on the mantle of collaboration act, which wasn’t at all unusual in these OTT times. The first of these singles, LOGIC’s `Broken People’, featured in the Will Smith movie, Bright. And though this did little to soar among similar themes, Graham was compensated when BUGZY MALONE and PROFESSOR GREEN, respectively, secured minor dints for `Run’ and `Photographs’. Proving that talent always prevails over adversity, Scotsman CALVIN HARRIS and RAG’N’BONE MAN kicked off 2019 with a `Giant’ No.2 hit; a record almost the spit of GNARLS BARKLEY’s `Crazy’.
© MC Strong/MCS Aug2019

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