The crowd at Rag & Bone Man’s Mad Cool set is a funny shape, like a Space Invader. They’re chasing the few bits of shade available from the shadows that speaker stacks and mixing desks cast on the lurid green astroturf carpet. It is, notes the man himself, “a beautiful sight”.
Rag & Bone looks like a gangster on his hollybobs: oversized shades, gaudy T-shirt, gold chains and boxfresh sneakers. But goodness me, sir, please do cheer up. Rag & Bone Man’s music is joyless and bland, just like his banter. “Is everybody cool? Is everybody Mad Cool?” he says before ‘Skin’. “Terrible joke isn’t it.” It’s not even a joke.
And mostly he just stands there and emotes, in his one-note, Adele-like way, every song a plodding slog of quavering vocals and off-the-shelf sentimentality. “This song’s about family love,” he says before ‘Perfume’, which sounds just like the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and the next one. It’s music for people who secretly like Tina Turner’s 80s work and the Commitments soundtrack, and maybe have a sneaky copy of Simply Red’s ‘Stars’ in the car. Sure, he kicks things up a bit and shimmies a little for ‘Take You As You Are’, a Jools Holland wet dream of blarping horns and gospel backing vocals, proof, if it were needed, that faceless session bands play music quite well.
If you’ve seen Rag & Bone Man before, these criticisms might seem churlish, like taking issue at celery for its lack of complex spice sensations. But he’s been schlepping this miserable set around festivals for a couple of years now and you wonder if even he is bored of it. To be fair to him, he clearly has a sore throat, which is obvious when he’s speaking but not when he’s singing, which he does flawlessly.
He plays his one hit, ‘Human’, towards the end of course, with an additional rap bit, which hints at a little something better than the monotonous soulful gruel we’ve endured for the past 50 minutes, then he’s back to the kind of gymnastic vocals that are usually preceded by something like: “Well Simon, my dad died of cancer last year and he always said he loved my voice so I’m doing this audition in his honour.” Then he does an a capella thing to prove he can sing, before the aptly titled ‘Bitter End’.
The crowd go wild, the speaker stacks keep throwing shade. Time to Steptoe off.