A little over two years ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Rag’n’Bone Man at The Joiners in Southampton. He was touring his latest EP, ‘Disfigured’, and was preparing for another sold out show.
As I walked to the venue I remember being very nervous, it was my first ever face-to-face interview and I was unsure what to expect. The interview time was arranged a few hours before the opening of the doors, so my first task was to figure out how to get in… After a few trial and errors I found a fire escape round the back and to the side, this was my opening. Rory and his team were in a meeting, discussing various subjects about the night ahead. After an awkward hello and a brief explanation of what the hell I was doing there, it was established that an interview had been scheduled… Rory abruptly came over with a beaming smile and introduced himself. All the nerves and built up tension that I had been feeling slowly eased away, as we entered into deep conversations about his roots in the hip-hop scene in Brighton with Rum Committee, attending open mics at Slipjam B and forming friendships with local MCs and DJs. Speaking fondly of his time in Brighton, he explained how he quickly became embedded in the hip-hop community.
“I used to go to Slipjam B, which was just like a monthly open mic in Brighton for rappers, you know you do whatever you want basically, the DJ would play a beat and I would freestyle over it, but I would sing as well, and that’s how I met everyone really, that little community, sort of hip-hop community, you know you get to know everybody really quick…”
The connections he made during this time were integral to kick-start his life as a musician, and from there he released a series of mixtapes and EP’s, with ‘Bluestown’ (2012) being the most significant of these, his staggering vocal capabilities and jazz, blues and hip-hop style stood out from anything else that was on the market at the time.
As Rory admitted to me that was part of the problem, the mix of different genres and influences made the project hard to define and market, but it was a step in the right direction.
“Bluestown was a bit of a mess, it’s a bit of everything, at the time I’d only really started recording my own music and writing my own stuff along at all…we had so much that sounded different to put on one thing, we were like, how do we label it, what do we call it, do we call it a mixtape, album, an EP or whatever, it was just a little bit of everything really.”
Following on from ‘Bluestown’, Rory became well-connected with established UK hip-hop label High Focus Records, releasing a collaborative project with hip-hop artist Leaf Dog entitled ‘Dog n Bone’ (2013) and his own solo EP ‘Put That Soul On Me’ (2014). These projects were much more refined and marketed for the audience that High Focus Records had built, allowing Rory to build on his ever-growing reputation and gain new fans in the process.
He became a big part of the underground hip-hop scene in the UK, establishing a unique position as one of the most forward-thinking singers in a rap scene desperate for accomplished vocalists.
Wanting to keep the upward trajectory going, Rory then made the decision to sign to South London-based record label Best Laid Plans, which is interestingly co-run by Dan Smith from Bastille. On this label he would continue to expand his sound, laying down the groundwork for the success that was to come. Both ‘Wolves’ (2014) and ‘Disfigured’ (2015) were critically received, with tracks such as ‘Bitter End’, ‘Life In Her Yet’ and ‘Lay My Body Down’ all reappearing on his debut number one album ‘Human’ a few years on. And why the hell not? When revisiting both of these projects you realise that Rory was definitely onto something, combining all of his different influences and managing to harness his sheer talent and powerful voice, with his storytelling really coming to the fore.
His live show was very good as well. After sitting around awkwardly for an hour or so after the interview had finished, and consuming what has to be the saltiest battered sausage that I’ve ever had from a local chippy, it was time to see the big man live, and salty battered sausage aside, it was one of the most memorable nights I’ve had. Commanding the stage he joked and played around with the crowd, his raspy and stunningly beautiful voice reeling off numbers from ‘Wolves’ and ‘Disfigured’. Here’s his track ‘Hell Yeah’ that I managed to capture live from the event.
In a live review that I wrote after, I said
“the next time Rag’n’Bone Man is on tour he won’t be playing in front of hundreds, it’ll be thousands. Watch this space.”
He’s currently on a sold out European tour, playing venues such as Melkweg in Amsterdam and Shepherd’s Bush in London. With a debut number one album (‘Human’), which was the fastest-selling male debut album of the decade, and ‘Critics Choice’ and ‘Best Newcomer’ awards at the Brits… You could say, that for once, I was speaking some sense. It’s fully deserved as well, he’s taken all of his influences and the experiences he’s had and made a truly remarkable album. The title track ‘Human’ was one of my favourite songs of 2016, its honest lyricism, and the powerful voice that Rory possesses create a beautiful, and somewhat inspirational song.
One thing that I took away from interviewing Rory was just how down-to-earth and genuinely nice he was, it was my first interview and I probably (definitely) mucked up a few times, but he took it all in his stride and answered every dumb question that I had (even about how to grow a good beard…)
Sidenote; “…shampoo your beard, but don’t condition it because it goes greasy”
‘Human’ was just the start of big things for Rory, and to be honest I couldn’t be happier for him.
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