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Rag’n'Bone Man Live


O2 Apollo, Manchester
29 October 2021

I have always been a little cautious over new artists who score in a major way from a single that dominates the airwaves, pushed strongly by their record company and the BBC. And it’s not unusual for these new artists to become major international artists on the back of that single, relentlessly promoted song. The inverse is also true: without ‘that song’ success, to even the most modest degree, is illusive unless the act has the most special and distinctive talents. In 2016 the song ‘Human’ hit the airwaves big-time and deservedly so. It had everything - melody, lyrics and the most passionate, expressive baritone vocal. It also dodged the ‘mainstream bullet’ in that it was a mature and literate composition without gimmicks or over-production or a dance beat. Rag ‘n’ Bone man (aka Rory Graham) had arrived and relatively quickly in industry terms. To describe Graham as different is an understatement. He is a physically big man in every way which probably contributes to the power of his baritone voice.


My aim has always been to experience selected acts in live performance and especially those who have progressed on the back of a successful single and/or album release. And that’s why I’m in Manchester tonight. Now I knew that the show was sold-out with 2,514 standing and 986 seated (the Apollo’s capacity) fans paying over £40 to catch Graham’s performance. What I wasn’t prepared for was the sight of the longest snaking queue I have ever seen at Manchester’s Apollo. With car parks full the delay in finding parking space meant I missed the first support act and only just caught a few songs from the second support act.


Emily Burns

Emily Burns is a 27 year-old British singer-songwriter. She was born in Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland, but raised at Rugby, Warwickshire, England, where she attended Rugby High School For Girls. Her music style is influenced by artists such as Tove Lo, Kehlani, Sigrid and Banks. Burns entered the Live and Unsigned competition in 2010, reaching the final to perform at the indig02. She was subsequently invited to attended a masterclass at Abbey Road Studios, where inhouse producer Rob Cass signed Burns to Cave Productions, leading to the release of the single ‘Plasters, Glitter and Glue’.


She performed at numerous festivals, including a tour of the Czech Republic and appearances on two different stages at the Secret Garden Party. Emily also had a slot on the BBC introducing stage at T in the Park in July 2013, which led to ‘Plasters, Glitter and Glue’ being play-listed on BBC Radio. Burns also performed on SB.TV and Mahogany Sessions in 2013. Burns then proceeded to play at BBC Radio Big weekend in Middlesbrough in 2019. Burns started working as a receptionist at Abbey Road Studios in 2014, which led to meeting producer Sound Of Fractures, who produced her first major single ‘Take It Or Leave It’, which was released in November 2016. Burns signed to record label 37 Adventures in July 2017 and released her first single with the label, ‘Bitch’, in January 2018 followed by her second single, ‘Girlfriend At The Time’, in March 2018. Burns released her first EP, SEVEN SCENES FROM THE SAME SUMMER, in July 2018. Burns released two four track EPs throughout 2019, MY TOWN and PDA. She released a third EP, I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE THE WORST, in July 2020.

Burns glowed white set back on the large stage and looking a little lost in the environment. With her guitar and backing tracks she conquered a large audience with her fragile voice and ethereal, gentle songs. This was a short, brave performance by this unknown singer-songwriter. My only criticism was that she should have been located to the front of the stage rather than in the shadows at the back. That said, the audience provided genuine and generous applause in typical Manchester fashion.

Emily Burns:


BRIT and Ivor Novello award winner Rag ‘N’ Bone Man tours his second album, LIFE BY MISADVENTURE. Written with some of music’s true greats, this record by Rory Graham, is all about growing up and moving forward. In his unmistakable voice, it’s words of love to friends, family and himself as he delves into his past, present, and future.”

The first thing that struck me as I made my way to the stage pit was the nature of the audience that covered a wide spectrum that even included children accompanied by parents. There were students, retirees; the whole box of dice; which spoke volumes about the appeal of this young singer-songwriter to music-lovers. In fact I’ve rarely seen such a diverse audience. The next thing I noticed was the subtle but very effective stage set which was made up by full length curtains draped on both wings of the stage that effectively formed a funnel with Graham at the front to the drummer at the rear. He was backed by a full band and a couple of backing singers located at the front of the stage (rather than discreetly placed behind the act, as is usually the case). The reception for Graham as he appeared stage-centre was enthusiastic, genuine and very, very loud.


I have yet to hear the star’s latest offering and so this was my first opportunity to hear the songs starting with the strong opener ‘All You Ever Wanted’. Graham impressed with the way his voice easily filled the large auditorium while the song was typically personal with a memorable melody. Graham seemed a little tentative at first but with the most loyal fans in front of him and great instrumental support by song two he was in his element; relaxed, natural and happy.

By song three (’Skin’ from his previous album) he was performing on all cylinders, had acquired a guitar and was chatting comfortably with his 3,500 fans. There was an interesting moment halfway through the song when I was zooming in on that weathered , warm face. He seemed to look straight at me and smiled. In covering hundreds of shows it was the first time that I had been acknowledged and it was at that moment that I realised the real appeal of this young artist: he’s genuine, loves his trade and dare I say it, is human.


What followed was 99.9% of the new album contents plus the best bits from his previous release. I was tempted to leave earlier due to the size of the crowd and Covid fears (I counted a handful of mask-wearers) but I retreated to the back of the auditorium to hear the rest of one of the best live performances I have witnessed in the last ten years. Listening is one thing, but Graham revealed another compelling dimension on stage that places him high up the ladder of live performers.



All You Ever Wanted
Fall in Love Again
Time Will Only Tell
Somewhere Along The Way
Old Habits
Changing Of The Guard
Anywhere Away From Here
Talking To Myself
Be the Man
Party’s Over
Hell Yeah
(Calvin Harris & Rag’n'Bone Man cover)


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