Rag'N'Bone Man - "Human (Accoustic)"
After years on the fringes of the UK hip-hop scene, Rory Graham – AKA Rag’n’Bone Man – has struck gold with his massive hit ‘Human’.
The ‘Elton John Call’ has, for a long time now, been as sure a sign as you can get that an up-and-coming singer is doing better than OK. And Rag’n’Bone Man – AKA Rory Graham – has just had his. “It was an unknown number,” he remembers. “And I don’t like answering unknown numbers. But all the people I was with in my manager’s office were like, ‘Nah, answer it’. I answered and he’s like, ‘Dahhhling, it’s Elton!’ I just went, ‘F**king hell.’ He just goes, ‘F**king love you, I think you’re brilliant.’ He’d just rung to say how good he thought I was and how he loved my material. It was great!”
The song that piqued Elton’s attention – and a lot of other people’s too – was, of course, ‘Human’, Graham’s bluesy, smoky lead single from his forthcoming major label debut. It’s one of those songs that has, for reasons that neither its creator nor anyone else can quite ascertain, taken on a life of its own. Intended as “a little ramp to the record”, it’s exploded out of all proportion since its July 2016 release: omnipresent and rising as far as Number Two in the Christmas chart, it was even performed on The X Factor by Emily Middlemas (“I thought she sang it quite well, to be honest,” says Graham), after which Simon Cowell declared, “No one has heard this song, but it’s going to be a huge hit.”
Now 32, Rory Graham was born in Uckfield, a small town in East Sussex. From the age of about 16, he wanted to be a jungle DJ or MC and put on parties in his local area “just with mates and stuff. We’d put on a night in the local pub, then get kicked out.” In 2008, he moved 18 miles up the road to Brighton and immersed himself in the then-vibrant hip-hop and open mic scene. “At the start it would kind of been more about freestyling,” he says. “But then I started to sing over the beats. And then came a realisation that maybe I was alright at rapping, and people seemed to enjoy it, but when I sung it was a real difference. Just the reaction of people, I was like, ‘I think I should do that, ’cause it feels better.’ He’s being modest here. The voice that characterises Rag’n’Bone Man’s music is truly a showstopper, sounding like it’s emanating from someone who grew up in the Deep South of 1950s America rather than a rainy British seaside town. Surely he must have known it was something special? “Well, I realised it was in tune,” he shrugs. “I realised it wasn’t bad, but I didn’t realise that it was distinctive or that there was anything particularly different about it. It was when old dudes would come up to me at jam nights and be like, ‘I’ve been playing for 40 years and I have to say your voice is f**king incredible’ and stuff like that. Then I’d be like, ‘Well, if they’re saying it, there must be some sort of truth to it.’”
And they are right. His voice is captivating and intriguing. It calls to mind other earthy singers of early eras of blues and jazz. He’s got a magic in the gentle way he handles his voice and yet the abandon to which it is used it breathtaking. Like King Kong holding Alice Faye, he uses brute strength and innate sensitivity to create something beautiful.
So today, with my humanity on display, I choose Rag'N'Bone Man’s "Human (Accoustic)" as my, with rare power, with rare sensitivity, with magic in the breath, song for a, wild and wonderful, I see the tenderness behind the rage, fight for the peace you’re looking for, Friday.