Rag’N’Bone delivers a performance at an intimate free show at Birmingham Town Hall that you can’t help but feel you really should have paid for.
2017 saw Rag’N’Bone Man – real name Rory Charles Graham – win the Critic’s Choice Award and Best Newcomer at The Brit Awards, fill venues across the world and sell over one million albums.
He’s an arena level artist, however, tonight he sings to just 600 lucky competition winners (and a few journalists), courtesy of Absolute Radio and Free Radio.
Walking onstage sporting a Guns N’ Roses t-shirt, his band kicks into regular opener Reuben’s Train – originally by 60s American bluegrass band The Dillards. It’s a melodramatic interpretation which leads straight into ‘Wolves’ itself with bluesy dust bowl vibes.
The hour-long performance tonight is a real tour-de-force; the band are incredibly tight, dancing between funk, gospel, hip-hop and R’n’B with ease. The simple, backlit stage projected huge, skewed shadows of guitars and drumsticks onto the walls of the historic Town Hall.
The singer is in talkative form tonight, introducing many of the songs and the stories behind them. Before ‘Ego’, he explains: “This is about people with big heads, not in the physical sense. This is dedicated to Donald Trump.” followed by: “Sorry, I f**ked up a few times there because I’ve had a cold and I’ve burst my eardrum, but you guys don’t give a f**k, do ya?”
These quotes are fairly indicative of his stage banter this evening, as he sips on something that is “warm and full of alcohol”.
Modest, cheeky, uncensored, and perfectly willing to chat to hecklers, you get the feeling that Rag’N’Bone Man and Rory are one and the same – there’s no act. He may have a voice like a whiskey sippin’ angel, but he’s a true potty mouth and the editing team will have fun sorting this out for daytime airplay.
Highlights are ‘Grace’, opening quieter than other tracks, the set breathes. It’s here that his voice – laid bare – envelopes the audience, like a warm blanket. This was followed by a piano and voice rendition of ‘Skin’ which was an exposed, emotional and stunning masterclass in performance.
These are hallowed ‘magic moments’ that are both achievable in the stadia he’s becoming used to but so much more intense in an intimate setting like the city’s Grade I listed concert hall.
‘As You Are’, which is performed as a duet, gets a warm reception from the crowd, it fills the room with a feel-good vibe that has the audience grinning from ear to ear, and the odd tear or two.
From that the energy remains high – as the band rattles through ‘Guilty’, ‘Human’ – which flows into a slow funk, ‘Bitter End’ and ‘Hell Yeah!’
The Brits beckon once again for Rag’nBone Man – they’re just around the corner, and tonight affirms his chances.
Words and images: Gareth Griffiths