When Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Britain’s multifaceted, genre defying virtuoso hit the stage for last week’s show at the Manchester Academy, Flick of the Finger sent reporter, Ian O’Brien and photographer, Sally Lord, to see what all the fuss was about.
Rag ‘n’ Bone Man – from tarmac to dirt track ‘n’ back
It’s a sad fact that not all performers connect with their audience. Some just step on stage and do their thing like they’re performing to the bathroom mirror with a hairbrush for a mic.
This is why not all performances are as frantic, frenetic and generally kick ass, cardiac corrective as Wednesdays nights offering from Rory Graham, AKA Rag ‘n’ Bone Man.
Playing to a sell out crowd at the Manchester Academy, the audience are a mixed bag of post teen music scene tourists, purists, pissheads, students and fans – with the latter, by far the majority.
‘At Manchester Academy, there’s a calm before the storm’
A well-received set from lone guitar troubadour, River Matthews, helps relax a restless crowd until the Rag ‘n’ Bone band begin taking position.
As final checks and last minute adjustments are carried out, a towering figure appears from stage left and a hush descends the room.
This is the calm before the storm and it lasts until Graham, sporting a vintage burst Starfire with 2K pups and Digsby tremolo – not a guitar I’d expected to see – turns to face the crowd.
He scans the room, finds focus and then, looking for all the world like a kid at Christmas…cracks a smile. At that very moment the circuit is complete, the connection is made and the storm rolls in.
The crowd begin to cheer, signifying that this juggernaut of a show is well and truly on the road.
And what a road it is; stretching back from northern English tarmac to Deep South dirt track as Graham, picking out a simple blues riff, begins to sing.
The hush returns but this time it’s reverential. To make a sound right now would be like farting in Church or laughing at a funeral.
It’s hard to reconcile what’s actually taking place when Rag ‘n’ Bone Man performs. Everything is at odds, and yet everything fits.
Here’s a guy looking like a Samoan gang member, singing like the lead in a gospel choir and playing a Korean made DeArmnond costing less than a Mexican Strat’.
But before you can fully grasp any of this, the simple, haunting twelve bar hymn turns into a loud and dirty intro to Wolves, already a firm favourite among fans.
Now the crowd explodes and Graham, for his own part, explodes right back. He carries on this way for a full ninety minutes.
Showcasing a slew of new songs, interspersed with firm favourites, the show is already looking like one for the books.
A melodic mix of blue notes, power chords and rapid fire machine gun rap is both disorientating and refreshing at the same time. It feels good, not knowing what might come next.
And just as the crowd are settling into the ever shifting groove, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man launches into the Columbia released hit, Human, to a roar from the audience that almost drowns out the band.
As the night draws to a close, Die Easy, from Bluestown, brings us back to that hushed, reverential place where the whole thing began.
Based on the traditional gospel, In My Time of Dying, famously recorded by Dylan on his 1962 debut album, Graham’s version not only stands its ground, but brings something to the table too. Anything less would be out of character.
Encore? What encore?
An encore follows, but honestly, I don’t hear it. My ears are ringing from a century of song and tradition brought together by an unlikely guy from the south west of England.
Leaving The Academy with photographer, Sally Lord, we head to the car, lost in thought.
As I fumble for my keys, Sally breaks the silence: “He’s gonna be fucking massive,” she says, quite simply. And she’s right.
With his name already mentioned in the same breath as Isaac Hayes and even Gil Scott Heron, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man is all set to outlast many of his contemporaries.
So, if you’re serious about music, go see him. Download something. Put some coin in this guy’s hat, because artists like this don’t come along too often and there’s always dues to be paid.