Rag’n’Bone Man at Shepards Bush
Rag’n’Bone Man at Shepherds Bush 20th April 2017
My first time at the renowned Shepherds Bush Empire, I step into a crowd full of energised people, the room overflowing with electricity and excitement.
Dan Caplen is on stage as I arrive, warming up the crowd in anticipation for Rory Graham, better known as Rag’n’Bone Man. Walking in half way through Dan Caplen’s set I am impressed. His area of music is not usually my cup of tea, as it’s loosely based around R’n’B, but he throws in unexpected ideas, one track I catch he even plays the cello and the piano within the same song! The band surrounding him are as equally energetic as him and it’s no wonder the room seems so enthusiastic. He ends his set on a high, as he encourages the audience to join him in the chorus of his final song, one that probably very few people in the room have ever even heard, and that in itself is an achievement.
It’s safe to say that Shepherds Bush is now hyped up and ready for Rag’n’Bone Man to make his way to the stage. After a little wait he does just that, walking on to the stage, calm and collected considering the crowd is now in uproar at his humbled entrance. Reaching for his guitar, Rory begins the set solo, starting with St James Infirmary Blues made famous by Louis Armstrong and the high-ceiling room echoes with his astonishing raw voice and the accompaniment of his electric guitar. This soulful beginning is only a taster for what the rest of the night will bring.
Within seconds we’re straight into one of my favourite tracks Wolves, and the curtain bearing his stage name drops to the floor, revealing an even bigger backdrop and more importantly, his 5 piece band who are as happy to be there as Rory is. I’m impressed that throughout the set, he keeps a mix between songs from his new album and his tracks from his older one too, sticking to his roots such as his collaboration with Dirty Dike, and the mournful but soulful Lay My Body Down and Life In Her Yet. It’s clear to me that he has also been working on his stage craft, as the last time I saw him play Manchester’s Sound Control a year ago, his stage presence was quite different, somewhat shy and very much kept himself behind the microphone. Still as humble, he now however makes use of the stage walking up and down to connect with the audience, and having a little shimmy every now and then, and expressing his genuine happiness at being able to play there. Oh, and he also keeps checking to make sure we’re all happy too, which of course receives ecstatic applause and cheers. Alongside telling us how happy he is, and laughing that his songs might not outright show that, he is also ridiculously appreciative. Continuing to thank us throughout the show, it’s obvious that he is almost surprised and amazed by the love and support of his fans, something he very much deserves. Looking around the venue, I’m somewhat surprised by the age range of the audience who are mostly all older than me but may be the liveliest audience I have ever witnessed.
He sends the audience into another frenzy with new single Skin, which stepping away from the full band version, he performs using only his voice and the piano to serenade the room. This is a highlight of the show for me as stripped back this way it takes the song to another level, and it’s so clear that this man really is something special with genuine talent. As the song comes to an end, the crowd erupts and Rory stands in awe as applause and cheers and enthusiasm continues long after the song finishes.
Another highlight for me is track Guilty from album Wolves. Already a fan of this song, there is something electrifying about see this gritty song live that I can’t even explain it. If this doesn’t get the crowd going enough, then slipping straight into his hit single Human sets the place on fire with exhilaration will. It goes without saying that the audience practically scream the words as they sing along to the well-known track. It’s all over too quickly, and the end of the night is in sight. To close the set (although of course everyone knows there will be an encore- there has to be!) Rag’n’Bone Man ends as he began: along on stage. However, this time there’s not even an instrument in sight, just Rory’s incredible voice and let’s face it this is what it’s really all about. Completely exposed his rich voice captivates the entire room with his rendition of Blind Willie Johnson’s Die Easy and we are all left speechless.
Although the last song would be hard to top, the gathering of fans continues to scream, cheer, holler and stomp their feet in hope that if they make enough noise, he will come back on stage. And sure enough, the band, who have all also been amazing throughout the night, especially his exceptional backing vocalist who even has a solo during the set, come back on stage full of pride. The final songs of the night Bitter End and Hell Yeah! (another favourite of mine) are the perfect ending, with Hell Yeah! being so full of life and energy that it’s contagious.
The third Rag’n’Bone Man gig I have attended, I can confirm that this is the best yet and I hope this talented man will continue as he has been doing. It would be a shame to see him get sucked into the mainstream pop world as there is so much more to him than that and he deserves every success he receives.