MusicOctober 31, 2017

The two-minute guide to Rag’n’Bone Man


The Brit Award-winning blues singer with a hip-hop heart just announced he’s coming to New Zealand in April.

What’s a Rag’n’Bone Man?

Rag’n’Bone Man in the stage name of Rory Graham, an English musician described by the Telegraph as having “the body of a viking and the voice of an angel”. The name Rag’n’Bone Man is reportedly inspired by his love for the classic BBC sitcom Steptoe and Son, about father and son rag and bone men living in Shepherd’s Bush, London. Historically, dating back to the 19th century, a rag-and-bone man was someone who scavenged unwanted household items (ie rag and bone), carrying them around in a grotty sack slung over his shoulder to sell to merchants.

Where did he come from?

Graham was born in 1985 in Uckfield, East Sussex, the place of last known sighting of famous missing person Lord Lucan. He first started performing as a drum’n’bass MC called Rag’n’Bonez as a teenager, like a real-life character from People Just Do Nothing. “A lot of kids I grew up with were really into jungle and we did our own crappy little pirate radio station things,” he told the NME. After some success as a member of Brighton hip-hop collective Rum Committee, he struck out as a solo artist in the early 2010s.

What does he sound like?

Rag’n’Bone Man’s sound is located somewhere near the crossroads of hip-hop, soul and blues. Graham’s biggest selling point is his powerful voice, which he pairs with blues-inflected hip-hop tracks to create what a Guardian review described as “Joe Cocker singing over the chunkier bits of Moby’s Play.” Others have compared Rag’n’Bone Man’s appeal to that of Adele – a down-to-earth bloke with a fresh take on an old sound and a voice that can stop people in their tracks.

What has he done?

A handful of Rag’n’Bone Man EPs were released between 2012 and 2015. The one that got him the most attention was 2014’s Wolves, which featured a guest spot from Vince Staples, while ‘Bitter End’ off his 2015 follow-up Disfigured got the attention of BBC Radio 1. But 2016 single ‘Human’ eclipsed everything that had come before by several orders of magnitude – it hit the charts worldwide (peaking at #2 in the UK, #1 in a handful of European countries and #11 in New Zealand) and currently sits at a casual 322 million Spotify plays.

His debut album, also called Human, came out in February this year, going to #1 in the UK and #3 here. Later that same month Rag’n’Bone Man picked up Breakthrough Act and Critic’s Choice at the Brit Awards – the latter an honour which has been won by the chart-smashing likes of Adele and Sam Smith in previous years.

What are the hits?

The ground-shaking ‘Human’ is the one you’re most likely to have heard before – it sounds like something that might play over a montage of American football players getting psyched up before the Super Bowl. The follow-up single ‘Skin’, with its spine-tingling, stadium-ready chorus, is similarly epic, while ‘As You Are’ is a good example of the sweeter, more soulful side of Rag’n’Bone Man.

Want to dig into the back catalogue? Try ‘Bitter End’ from the Disfigured EP, ‘Guilty’ from the Wolves EP and the title track from 2014’s Put That Soul on Me EP.

Rag’n’Bone Man is performing at Horncastle Arena in Christchurch on 3 April, TSB Arena in Wellington on 5 April and Spark Arena in Auckland on 6 April 2018. Spark has an exclusive pre-sale for Spark customers, available from 12pm Tuesday 31 October to 12pm Thursday 2 November.

Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

Get The Spinoff
in your inbox


Hollie Smith’s new album is her first in five years. Photo: Tina Tiller

Hollie Smith is emerging into the light

Hollie Smith has braved a relationship break-up, confidence issues and multiple lockdowns to make her new album happen.