The Memorial Hall, Marlborough
It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to see an artist whose last album went straight to number one and has since gone four times platinum, in a super intimate venue in a market town. However, a couple of weeks ago, (05/09/21), indie record shop, Sound Knowledge, located on Marlborough Highstreet, hosted an evening with blues-rock musician, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, at the Memorial Hall in Marlborough, to promote his newest full-length release, Life By Misadventure.
The venue was perfect for a couple of reasons; first of all, it’s all seated, but not the kind of seated arena where you’re either really high up and there’s the illusion that the artist is nothing but a blurry blob in the distance, nor does it mean your view can be obstructed by a person who is 6 foot, but decided it would be a great idea to add high heels and a floppy hat into the mix for their gig outfit (this is an actual scenario that I have encountered at a show, and I couldn’t really get my head around it… literally – I couldn’t see anything). Instead, the auditorium is made up of tiered benches surrounding a large, round stage that protrudes into the audience that can be seen from every angle of the room, whether you’re right down at the front or at the very back with the sound technicians – there’s no missing out! Second of all, the acoustics within the venue were incredible, giving natural reverb to Rag ‘n’ Bone Man’s (real name Rory Graham) already flawless baritone vocals, making it the best location for a concert of an artist with such atmospheric songs.
The fifty-minute set opens with lead single from the new record, All You Ever Wanted, a feel good, pop banger that wouldn’t feel out of place on George Ezra’s 2018 sophomore record, Staying At Tamara’s, with its jangly guitar riffs, feel-good lyrics and catchy hooks, offering a perfect taster as to what is to come. For the very first moments of the opener, Graham’s vocals seemed lost within the vast variety of instruments being played live on the stage, however by the time the first verse rolls around, this appears to have been fixed and the sound quality is immense.
In the beginning, the audience are hesitant to get involved, and the atmosphere seems almost tense, with everyone remaining seated and unsure whether or not to sing along. And whilst some of Graham’s tracks are not necessarily made to get up and dance to, more get lost in the atmospheric, vintage aura musicality, it only takes a few songs for everyone to loosen up a bit, and start having a good time. This is partially down to the friendliness and warmth that Rag ‘n’ Bone Man radiates within his stage presence, making sure to engage with the crowd and have a chat between each song, whether it’s to describe the writing process behind the next track on the setlist, or to banter with a particularly confident feeling spectator.
The sound levels settle just in time for Alone, a stand out track within the set, as a result of its initially slow, reverbed up guitar and atmospheric vocals led,
opening, that to some extent is resonant of The 1975’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, closing track, I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes), laying out the foundations to be built upon, in order to lead into something much bigger, in this case, in the form of a swirling and climatic tune.
The stage is washed out in a melancholy blue shade, with the spotlight initially on Graham, before lifting and shining on his equally talented band, who deserve as much hype as the man himself does, especially because of the atmosphere that they bring to this number, and other stand-out, emotionally led pieces among the setlist, really helping the track to swell and engulf the listeners, transporting them somewhere else for a while. As a whole body of work, the newest studio release, Life By Misadventure, is the perfect escapism album, with its ethereal musicality and cathartic lyrics, and live, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man does the recorded versions of his tracks justice and then some.
The set draws to a close on arguably Graham’s biggest hits: Human, the title track from his previous album, and Giant, a collaboration with producer and DJ, Calvin Harris, that was inescapable upon its release in 2019, and still remains a staple track on Radio 1 and pretty much any TV show soundtrack that is searching for a good piece of background music. In this setting, however, it is merely background music, with the audience reception being the biggest of the evening, as one by one, each row of people who had remained in their seats for the majority of the show, get up to dance to the final song of the evening, eagerly moving in time with the euphonious sounds of the trumpet, and ensuring that they loudly sing along to the “ooh” after opening line of the chorus, “I am giant”.
By 8pm, the show is over. Rag ‘n’ Bone Man makes a swift departure from the stage, following a quick peace sign to the audience, leaving his band behind, still playing the closing instrumentals of Giant, in a jam-style fashion, before eventually following Graham’s exit. In short, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man’s Marlborough affair was a quintessential Sunday evening gig, not just because of the delight demonstrated by my party also in attendance in light of the concept of a concert boasting one of the biggest pop stars of current time in an intimate setting with no support acts on the bill, and a show that is done and dusted by 8, allowing time to get home and have a cuppa in front of the TV, but also because of the uplifting nature of his work and how well it translated to such an incredible, one off venue. Rag ‘n’ Bone Man is definitely one to go on your gig bucket list, and if you’re near Marlborough, absolutely make sure you check out not only their store, but also the other big names that Sound Knowledge are pulling to the Highstreet very very soon! You’d be a fool to miss out.