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He’s only Human: The rise and rise of Rag’n’Bone Man

As he prepares for a busy summer of festivals, IQ speaks to those behind the scenes to discover the secret to Rory Graham's meteoric live success

By Rhian Jones on 03 Jan 2018

Rag'n'Bone Man at Rock im Park 2017

Rag'n'Bone Man at Rock im Park 2017


image © Stefan Brending (2eight.de)

Last year, Rag’n’Bone Man became the first new British act to truly break through a market that had been stagnant for the best part of a year.

After charting at no1 across Europe with lead single ‘Human’, his debut album hit the top of the UK charts in February and he’s just played three sold-out shows at the 5,000-capacity Brixton Academy in London as part of a 19-date European tour. For those who weren’t behind the scenes, the Sony-signed artist was an overnight success. However, it was a robust live strategy devised three years prior and led by agent Alex Hardee at Coda that built a strong foundation for what was to come.

From the start, Hardee’s strategy has been to underplay capacity in order to keep building demand. He explains: “We knew at an early stage that Rag’n’Bone Man was going to have a successful live career as we could see the reaction among fans, and he was selling tickets even before things took off on radio. We always believed in his live talent; even when we had no headline media we knew it was just a matter of time before radio caught up.” When radio did catch up, it was with ‘Human’ in Germany, where the track ended 11 weeks at no1 on the singles chart in November 2016. It also peaked at no2 in the UK and France, and charted at no1 in Austria, Belgium and Switzerland.

Rag’n’Bone Man’s first headline tour took place in four club venues across the UK in 2014, followed by six more shows in March 2015. In November 2016, he played four shows on Tom Odell’s tour and then sold-out the majority of an 18-date European headline run ranging from small clubs to 2,000-cap. venues. He returned to play 21 more dates in bigger venues in early 2017, including two at the 2,000-cap. Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. His latest headline tour, the Overproof tour, took in two shows at Glasgow Academy (2,500) and Manchester’s O2 Apollo (3,500), alongside the three at Brixton and ten across the rest of Europe in October and November. A further European run will take place from February to May 2018 under the name of the Grande Reserve tour, and he’ll visit Australia and New Zealand in between.

In London, a sold-out show at the 10,000-cap. Alexandra Palace will take place in March 2018. Hardee’s booker Matt Hanner, who took over from Andy Clayton a year ago, says: “We’ve slowly stepped up his profile in London where we’ve always sold out, and we continued to try and do that to make sure there was demand for that next jump. That meant we felt comfortable doing three Brixtons, and instead of pushing on to doing arenas, we’ve sold out Ally Pally and left demand in the market for the next campaign.”

“Instead of pushing on to doing arenas, we’ve sold out Ally Pally and left demand in the market for the next campaign

Kilimanjaro Live promoter Carlo Scarampi has been working London and Rag’n’Bone Man’s hometown of Brighton, where he sold out the 4,500-cap Brighton Centre in November. “It all started to come together at the beginning of summer 2016 when people were getting to know ‘Human’,” Scarampi remembers. “When Shepherd’s Bush went on sale at the end of 2016, the tickets just flew, and the three Brixtons sold out in a morning, as did Brighton Centre.” The Brixton shows were the last to be promoted by Kilimanjaro, with Live Nation set to take over from Alexandra Palace onwards.

The London story mirrors that of Germany, where the first show Live Nation GSA promoter Ioannis Panagopoulos got involved with was at Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg in 2015. “We’ve gone from playing 200-cap. club shows to 1,500-cap. venues, and now we are between 3,500- and 5,000-capacity all in one year,” he says. There was a standalone show at Hamburg Stadtpark in the summer, followed by dates at the Columbiahalle in Berlin and Samsung Hall in Zürich. Further dates in Germany and Austria will take place next year.

Mojo’s Kim Bloem joined the team after being blown away by Rag’n’Bone Man at Eurosonic in 2016. She got him on five festival bills in the Dutch market that summer, including Lowlands and North Sea Jazz Festival. A sold-out, 700-cap. club show in Amsterdam in November last year was swiftly followed by a sold-out date at the Melkweg (1,500) in April. Capacity doubled again for a sold-out October show at 013 in Tilburg, and Bloem is confident about shifting 6,000 tickets before the end of the year for a show at AFAS Live in April 2018.

So what are the factors behind Rag’n’Bone Man’s live success story?

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 75:

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