His song ‘Human’ became an overnight hit and he’s one of the most in-demand performers on the music scene. But don’t be surprised if you find the man with the golden voice trying to go incognito to escape the spotlight every now and then
A few weeks ago Rag’n’Bone Man appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ US chat show. He had never seen the programme and had no idea what to expect so he says the daytime vibe “weirded him out”, but the very fact he was there at all shows just how far the 32-year-old from Uckfield in East Sussex has come in a very short time.
This time last year the singer-songwriter was finely tuning his special combination of blues, soul, gospel, folk and hip hop from the fringes of the music industry, unaware of the huge success that was just around the corner.
He had released a couple of EPs and made it onto BBC Radio 1’s In New Music We Trust playlist, but was far from a household name.
But then his brooding, smoky single ‘Human’ was released in July 2016, a musical juggernaut that became so ubiquitous it seemed to be playing in every shop and scoring every TV show trailer for the rest of the year. It was even performed on The X Factor.
The subsequent album hit number one in the Irish charts and numerous other countries. He made that album with producers including Jonny Coffer, who worked on Beyonce’s Lemonade, and Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid.
At 6ft 5in tall and heavily bearded and tattooed, Rory Graham (his real name) cuts an imposing figure but he seems thoughtful and sometimes rather overwhelmed by all the attention he is now receiving.
He thinks some people are shocked when they see him for the first time, not expecting those bluesy songs to come from someone who looks like him.
“I don’t think people know what to make of me,” he says. “They look at me and they are a bit confused. That’s been a theme for a while.
He adds: “People have a hard time with the way I look and the way I sound. They say ‘I didn’t expect you to look like that’.
“I understand how people conjure up an image and that isn’t what they see. I don’t really know how to react, I know it’s not a compliment.”
While he’s clearly chuffed by the awards that have been bestowed on him — he scored the Critics’ Choice Award at the Brits, as well as the British Breakthrough Act prize — he has found his new fame a trickier prospect.
Last day of the tour, thanks to everyone for coming out to see me. Large up to my band & crew for all the hard work, see you next time pic.twitter.com/jKrP8ojvm3— Rags (@RagNBoneMan) April 26, 2017
He explains: “It’s overwhelming at different points. I find the situation very difficult. I don’t think I was ever prepared for that, I take every day as it comes.
“Around the Brits I had reporters at my mum’s house and it’s a bit different for me now.
“I think I can go anywhere but really you have to pick and choose. I’ve got locals in Brighton where I know no one would bother me. I’ve been going to them for 15 years and nobody cares, but in London it’s suddenly everybody is looking at me.”
He says he’s trying to live as normal a life as possible: “I do the shows and I just go home, I’m not out at parties and I’m not in the bubble.” But that normality could be a distant memory if he realises his big ambitions.
“I want to play Carnegie Hall and Radio City, just because of the history. They are dream places,” he muses.
“I keep thinking about that and playing Shepherd’s Bush and how I felt about that two or three years ago, I don’t see them as being out of reach now.”
He’s back on tour now, which is what he says he loves doing. The Electric Picnic will be one his final stops of the festival season.
“I love hopping off the bus, hopefully seeing other bands. Last year I played Wildlife and realised we were playing before De La Soul. It was unbelievable.”
But he’s also keen to work on new music. “I took a week off last month and went to a studio. I’ve been writing on the road with my keys player and I wanted to put them down. I have a really clear idea of what I want my next album to sound like.
“The idea is I want it to be a collaborative record. I have heroes like Organised Noise I want to work with and I’m listening to Ivy Soul who I would like to work with.
“I said I wanted to do something with Stormzy about two years ago and I still do. I haven’t really had time yet but as I work on new material if there is something up his street I would definitely send it to him. I also want to get back into some more rap music.”
We might have only just seen the start of what Rag’n’Bone Man is capable of.