Rag'n'Bone Man on his duet with Pink and playing live again: ‘We are in a good place now'

The UK singer discusses his struggles with fame and his new album 'Life by Misadventure' ahead of his Dubai concert

Being a pop star is a confidence game, says Rag'n'Bone Man.

The sustained level of adrenalin coming from touring serves not only to promote new music, but to keep some of the nerves at bay.

“This is an unusual job because we are tuned to being on the road,” he tells The National.

“When the pandemic happened we were in the middle of a tour. Once the shows stopped, we as a band got rusty and our confidence was broken. We have been working really hard to get it back on this latest run of shows and we are in a good place now.”

The singer-songwriter, real name Rory Graham, will perform at the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai on November 26.

More than embarking on a series of international tours stretching until next summer, the optimistic new step by the Brit Award-winning artist comes courtesy of his second album, Life by Misadventure.

Out in May, the album finds Graham – renowned for his stark 2017 anthem Human – moving on from pop curiosity to staking his claim as a star in his own right.

Lead single All You Ever Wanted has the kind of sunny hooks deservedly making it a UK radio favourite. The track also serves as a showcase of Graham's dynamic vocals, effortlessly moving from fragile croon to a roar on the chorus.

The plaintive Talking to Myself, meanwhile, finds him lyrically entering the vulnerable territory frequented by fellow British singer Michael Kiwanuka, with its unvarnished assessment of Graham’s contributions to a previous broken relationship.

Working with Pink

The centrepiece, however, is Anywhere Away From Here, an emotionally fraught ballad on which Graham duets with pop star Pink for an ode to resilience in the face of insecurity.

Initially composed on a guitar in his bedroom, the song, he recalls, was inspired by some of the anxiety caused by the worldwide success of Human.

If his inconspicuous appearance, including a range of facial tattoos, made him occasionally stand out, having a global chart-topper left him feeling defenceless, he admits.

"I had a hard time feeling comfortable with myself in certain social situations," he says. "There would be times where I would go to an airport in the UK and have moments where I felt a lot of people were just staring at me and I would just wish someone would fish hook me out of that situation

“It is hard thing to deal with when you don't feel comfortable in your own skin and I wanted to express that in an honest way without people thinking I am just moaning."

It was during the end of the production process that Graham realised the song worked better as a duet and he only had one name in mind.

"Pink was my first shot and I knew that if I was ever going to do a duet with anyone it was going to be her first. Fortunately, she came back straight away and said, 'Yes, I love the song,' which is pretty cool," he says.

"I think a lot of people would think that I did this for the credibility because she is pop star. I just love her voice and it sounds great on it."

A worthy introduction

What also helped was the enduring appeal of Human, which Pink reportedly cited as a reason for collaborating with Graham.

Taken from the critically lauded debut album of the same name, the stirring melange of arresting blues and trenchant hip-hop beats was largely the world's introduction to Graham.

Hardcore fans will know that it was his latest music incarnation after establishing the indie UK hip-hop group Rum Committee. Performing as Slip Jam B, the group supported US acts Pharoahe Monch and KRS-One, before releasing the 2012 album Boozetown.

With Rum Committee failing to take off, Graham formed a collaboration with producer Mark Crew in 2014 and went on to reinvent himself as Rag'n'Bone Man.

Graham describes the move as a natural evolution.

“The hip-hop influence remains in my work. The thing with that kind of music is that it gives you a keen appreciation of music samples,” he says. “It gives you great knowledge on how things should sound and where these sounds, such as a particular snare drum from a Black Sabbath song, come from.”

Even with the knowledge of these disparate references, Graham wasn’t totally prepared for Human to become such a global hit.

"I felt it would be a massive song or do absolutely nothing," he says. "The song had a particular sound that people just latched on to, which is great. But I always viewed Human as a door-opener that would allow me to show people what I can do.”

Rag’n’Bone Man will perform the Coca-Cola Arena, Dubai, on Friday, November 26. Tickets from Dh145 are available at ticketmaster.ae

Updated: November 23rd 2021, 10:40 AM