Cocked your ear towards industry gossipers over the past month or so? If so, you’ll have only heard one name: Rag’N’Bone Man. Over a few decisive weeks, Rory Graham has gone from one of Columbia’s 2017 prospects to the recipient of the much talked about BRITs Critics’ Choice Award, beating Dua Lipa and Anne-Marie to the prize.
His victory was announced this morning (December 8), but things started happening for Graham at just the right time. You can bet that if any of the panel’s various selectors looked at each other in the office or the pub and asked, Who are you gonna pick for the BRITs thing? the first name to come to mind was his.
He’s even had his single, Human, covered on The X Factor (by eventual semi-final loser Emily Middlemas, but it’s doubtful the label are treating that as any kind of omen). For a new act readying his major label debut (Human, the album, is out February 10), that represents a very big deal. Especially coming from a drum and bass and hip-hop obsessed blues singer with enough gravel in his vocal chords to concrete a patio.
Put simply, a lot of people have heard his music now, and as a campaign strategy, isn’t that always the principal aim?.
To be specific, Human has been certified platinum in three countries and gold in four, notching up 55 million streams and topping iTunes charts in 25 territories. It just completed itt second week at the top of the UK's Official Trending Chart.
Before The X Factor exposure there was September's Later… With Jools Holland performance, which of course served as a much fuller introduction to Graham’s clear talents.
It was classic Jools: a new act turning up all unassuming and delivering a show to remember. Is anyone still banging on about the performances from Beth Orton, Jamie T or Madness from that episode?
Incidentally, he'll be in Jools' studio for more of the same on New Year's Eve. Hootenanny!
Away from the television, Rag’N’Bone man has been touring hard, both in support of Tom Odell and under his own name. When Music Week interviewed him for our On The Radar slot in November, he was in a car park in Leeds reminiscing about a gig in Swindon the previous evening. If he knew, he did a totally convincing job of coming across as totally unaware of his impending fast-track service to the very precipice of pop stardom.
Whatever you think of the Critics’ Choice Award and the idea that recent winners may not have scaled the heights their predecessors have (which is part of a wider discussion over breaking talent), names like Adele, Emeli Sandé and Sam Smith are undeniably big.
In that context, the 31-year-old Graham is an interesting choice. He’s understated, hardworking (his discography stretches back to 2012 and he got his Warner/Chappell publishing deal a year later, which has led some to question his ‘newness’) and seems like the kind of guy who’ll be totally unbothered by what could happen to him next year.
The quote that sticks in the mind most from our conversation is this one: “I don’t know that I fit into a pop world. I think we’re gonna have to force it. I listen to the radio and it’s so dance and hook-orientated. I hear my songs and I’m like, I don’t know where that fits. But hopefully I’m wrong and it does.”
Now, he’s looking like being even more wrong than he was back then.