IT WOULD be fair to say Uckfield hasn’t been home to many notable musicians over the years. An exciting breakthrough talent is currently putting the small East Sussex town on the cultural map, though, and is proud to be doing so.

Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, real name Rory Graham, has been making waves with his unique fusion of rap, soul and blues. He scooped the BRITs’ Critics’ Choice Award late last year – the prize that launched the careers of Adele and James Bay. Graham might have to get used to being spoken of in the same breath. Not that he’s been tempted by the bright lights of London and the heart of the music industry – well he was, temporarily, but his hometown soon called him back.

“I lived in London for a few years but I liked Sussex too much,” he says, speaking in Uckfield’s neighbouring village Blackboys which is so remote that the mobile phone signal often blanks out completely. “I can’t live without a pint of Harvey’s.”

Graham, whose rich voice is as striking as his physical figure – his cap and tattoos seem like trademarks of his persona – points out that most people move to Brighton or London by way of escaping Uckfield. “There’s not really much going on here. In fact there’s nothing going on. If you want to spread your wings you have to choose an alternative.”

Although he grew up listening to blues records by Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker records, he MC’d with a hip-hop crew while studying at Uckfield Community Technology College. “Me and a few mates also put on our own radio station in Uckfield,” adds Graham. It took encouragement from his dad for Graham to try his hand at actual singing; at a blues jam in a local pub. His breakthrough came when he supported Joan Armatrading at the Brighton Dome after his girlfriend had sent promoters his early recordings.

As he told The Argus a few years ago, some of these songs were laid down in unusual fashion. “I made some of them while sitting on the toilet...they [promoters] seemed to like it though.” Upon relocating to Brighton from Uckfield, Graham linked up with hip-hop collective The Rum Committee. “They were the first people I met when I moved there,” he says. “I was doing a lot of open mic gigs and meeting promoters and rappers through that.”

While Brighton is known for its thriving alternative rock scene, it is not often associated with hip-hop. When Graham was living there, though (up until 2013), there were ample opportunities for aspiring MCs to flex their flow. One such platform was rap open mic night Slipjam B, where Graham and various members of the Rum Collective could often be found. Graham still sees members of The Rum Collective but “they’ve all got their own thing going on, and some people are starting families.”

All this must seem a lifetime ago for Graham now. He recently wowed the nation with a stunning performance on Later...with Jools Holland and has been announced as a headliner at The Great Escape festival this year. It will be a celebratory homecoming for the rapper and bluesman.

“I look forward to the Brighton shows because I get to see most of the people I know. Everyone gets put on the guestlist and we have a little party afterwards.” The unlikely upcoming star said he thought the BRITs award judges had “made a mistake” in choosing him as winner, given he was up against “two pop giants” in Dia Lupa and Anne-Marie.

Does the idea of crossing over to the mainstream – being played on Radio One regularly, for instance – feel strange to Graham? “I guess so, but ultimately other people decide whether you are pop or part of the mainstream anyway,” he says. “Ultimately it’s out of your hands whether you are popular.” Graham admits to being “slightly apprehensive” about the release of his debut album Human in a few weeks because “I don’t think it’s quite what people might expect”.

Whenever these pressures get on top of Graham, though, he never fails to find solace in Sussex. “At the moment it’s so busy, there’s so much going on, that it’s nice to be able to come back to somewhere nice and quiet that isn’t part of that other world. It’s that degree of separation – this is work life, this is home life.”

And his home set-up sounds the definition of idyllic – not that hard work isn’t involved. “I write at home on my piano in the afternoon and then walk down to the pub,” says Graham. “It’s pretty cool.”

Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, The Great Escape, Brighton Dome, May 20. Debut album Human released on Feb 10. For more information about The Great Escape Festival and booking, visit: