YOU have got to hand it to Rob Da Bank. The DJ, promoter and man behind Common People festival knows how to pick a winner – but even he must have been licking his lips when he landed one of the biggest stars of the past year for this year’s spectacular in South Park.
Rag’n’Bone Man has gone from being practically unknown to becoming a global concern in no time at all – his reputation sealed by his soaring anthem Human, released last year, and debut album, a few months back.
Since then, the bearded, heavily-tattooed 32-year-old from Uckfield in Sussex has barely had time to think.
Rory Graham, to give him his real name, has certainly come a long way since his early days as a drum & bass MC going under the name Rag ‘n’ Bonez – inspired by old episodes of Steptoe and Son shows. We can’t get enough of that voice, and his individual blend of gospel, folk, soul, blues and hip hop.
His Common People show, sharing a bill on the Bank Holiday weekend with the likes of Pete Tong, Sean Paul, Wild Beasts and Foals, comes ahead of sets at Glastonbury, Isle of Wight, and Rob’s other festival, Bestival in Dorset. And he can’t wait.
“I love hopping off the bus, hopefully seeing other bands,” he says. “Last year I played Wildlife in Brighton and realised we were playing before De La Soul. It was unbelievable.”
At 6ft 5in tall and with a deceptively hard-as-nails appearance that would make you flinch if you bumped into him in a dark alley, Rory doesn’t look like the smooth soul and blues singer, and admits some people are shocked when they see him for the first time.
“I don’t think people know what to make of me,” he says. “They look at me and they are a bit confused. That’s been a theme for a while.
“I’ve just been in America where people came to my show on word of mouth and didn’t know what to expect.”
He adds: “People have a hard time with the way I look and the way I sound. They say ‘I didn’t expect you to look like that’.
“I understand how people conjure up an image and that isn’t what they see. I don’t really know how to react, I know it’s not a compliment.”
If anyone, we have Rory’s dad to thank for getting him this far, for it was he who encouraged his son – a notable figure on the Brighton hip hop scene – to sing the blues in a local pub. That led to him self-releasing an EP called Blues Town and saw him booked for acoustic gigs, including one supporting Joan Armatrading. He also played in a band called Rum Committee.
He admits he had no idea fame was going to come knocking quite so loudly.
It was, of course, Human released last July that established him as a household name – appearing almost everywhere and even being performed on The X Factor.
It reached number two in the UK charts and topped the charts across Europe. Now he is busy conquering America.
While he’s clearly delighted by the awards that have already come his way, such as the British Breakthrough Act and Critics’ Choice Award at the Brits, he is not a fan of fame.
“It’s overwhelming at different points,” he says. “I find the situation very difficult. I don’t think I was ever prepared for that, I take every day as it comes.
“Around the Brits I had reporters at my mum’s house and it’s a bit different for me now.
“I think I can go anywhere but really you have to pick and choose. I’ve got locals in Brighton where I know no-one would bother me. I’ve been going to them for 15 years and nobody cares, but in London it’s suddenly everybody is looking at me.”
And he is not one for working the celebrity circuit. he is managing to keep a level head.
“I do the shows and I just go home,” he says. “I’m not out at parties and I’m not in the bubble.”
But that’s not to say he doesn’t have big ambitions.
“I want to play Carnegie Hall and Radio City, just because of the history,” he says. “They are dream places.
“I keep thinking about that and playing Shepherd’s Bush and how I felt about that two or three years ago. I don’t see them as being out of reach now.”
Judging by the reaction to his debut album, Human – which charted at number one and is this week still at number three – he is right.
At the helm was producer Jonny Coffer, who worked on Beyonce’s Lemonade, and Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid and the result was Human, debuting at number one in the album charts and staying in the top five ever since.
He says he is now keen to get working on the follow up: “I took a week off last month and went to a studio,” he says. “I’ve been writing on the road with my keys player and I wanted to put them down. I have a really clear idea of what I want my next album to sound like.
“The idea is I want it to be a collaborative record. I have heroes like Organised Noise I want to work with and I’m listening to Ivy Soul who I would like to work with.
“I said I wanted to do something with Stormzy about two years ago and I still do. I haven’t really had time yet but as I work on new material if there is something up his street I would definitely send it to him.
“It would be nice to do something with Rum Committee under that banner.
“I also want to get back into some more rap music – and to make some more hip hop.”
Rag’n’Bone Man plays Common People festival, South Park, Oxford, on Sunday May 28. For tickets go to commonpeople.net