Raleigh Ritchie

Raleigh Ritchie, Jacob Anderson: meet the man with two sides to his tale.

Tshirt by SUNSPEL, black cotton zip detail jacket by DSQUARED2

Tshirt by SUNSPEL, black cotton zip detail jacket by DSQUARED2

Raleigh Ritchie is having a wardrobe crisis. It’s the eve of him taping a primetime performance on The Graham Norton Show, probably his biggest television appearance to date, and he has nothing smart to wear for the occasion. “I’m a down dresser,” he says. “I like sweatshirts, hoodies, jackets.”

You’d think, when you become one of the country’s most hyped new artists, an abundance of free clothes and a legion of stylists would mark an end to any desperate dashes down the high street. “Sometimes people send me stuff in their collection and it’s not really what I’d wear. There is some nice stuff, which I’m very grateful for. But I like having a contingency plan.”

A night of panic buying is the latest grown-up moment for 25-year-old Raleigh, who earlier this year released his debut album, You’re A Man Now, Boy. “I don’t think I’ve ever truly felt like an adult,” he says, talking about its title track. “I feel completely ill prepared for the world. Only when you get a bill or you’ve got to pay your rent does it suddenly become apparent that they never really teach you about that stuff at school.”

The record, which includes a collaboration with Stormzy on the track “Keep It Simple” is over four years in the making. During that time Raleigh, who also acts under his birth name Jacob Anderson, was cast in one of the biggest TV series in the world. He plays Grey Worm, commander of the Unsullied in Game of Thrones. But you’re more likely to find him in the studio than on set in Spain, which only accounts for a couple of weeks of his year. “It’s like a third job, saying these two things aren’t related,” he says, sighing. “But I’m proud of both.”

You can see why he’s eager to keep his jobs separate. He doesn’t want his music to seem like a vanity project, and he’s weary of cynics mistaking him for an actor just playing the role of a musician. “Sometimes, because of Game Of Thrones, people think that I’m essentially the equivalent of a trust fund kid. People assume I didn’t have to work to get a fucking album finished and made.”

The sincerity of his songwriting puts paid to that, especially on the single “Never Better”. “I wrote that four years ago,” he says “Certainly at that point, it was my most honest song. I’m talking very literally about what was going on.” Its opening verse captures Raleigh at his lowest. “Beaten within an inch of my life,” he sings, “I was my own victim, tried out therapy, kept getting hits in, All I saw was red light, even my fucking therapist couldn’t get my name right.”

“It was decided for me in one way or another,” he says. “I wasn’t going to do therapy. It wasn’t working for me. It was at that point where I met my girlfriend (Mr Selfridge and War and Peace actress Aisling Loftus) and suddenly I could trust somebody with stuff I hadn’t told anybody before.”

While songwriting is Raleigh’s go to medium for working through his problems, he wasn’t always so comfortable as a performer. “At school I just found writing songs very helpful for my head,” he says. “But I never had the confidence to sing the songs myself.” He gave them to his classmates, but soon realised that they weren’t performing them with enough authenticity. “People say to me ‘You sing, you do so some acting, you must be really confident.’ But I’m really not. When it comes to vocals, I can never quite reach the potential I want to reach in my head. I’ve always had that block on me where I’m not going ever to be an acrobatic vocalist.”

Raleigh moved to London to pursue music when he was 17, leaving behind Bristol. It wasn’t until after he left that he began to appreciate the city’s rich music culture. Portishead is now one of his favourite bands. “My dad listens to lots of roots and dub, which is organ-shatteringly bassy. My mum used to have parties and the bass would come up through the floorboards. She’d listen to a lot of house and techno, that kind of boom-boom-boom, I remember so well. I’d hear that sound in my sleep.” The first record he bought was Missy Elliott’s Miss E, So Addictive. (“That’s the cool answer, he says, “I’ve got uncool answers.”) His mum already owned a copy but he wanted his own.

When it comes to releasing his own music Raleigh, who is mixed race, is keen to point out some of the “systematic” double standards he’s noticed in the industry. “The categorisation of my music is very interesting. I think people have been afraid to call what I do pop and I can’t really see why that would be, other than the fact that I don’t necessarily look like your average pop star. It’s more palatable for some people to call me RnB than it is to call me pop and I think that’s certainly to do with my race.” He cites FKA Twigs as a fellow victim of this lazy categorisation, whose singular music is also often filed as R&B. “As far as I’m concerned that’s a backwards way of thinking. To call her R&B is reductive to what she does do.”

He stresses that artists shouldn’t be afraid to speak out, mentioning the “bullshit” opposition to Beyonce’s politically-charged Super Bowl performance.” “There’s been a lot of really fucking horrible hate crimes happening in the States over the last couple of years that’s really pushed people to speak up against it. We have that over here to an extent. There is similar abuse of authority in this country.”

One of his role models is Kendrick Lamar, whose recent performances have addressed racial inequality. One of Raleigh’s first live shows was supporting him in 2013. “I think at time I was so nervous that when I first met him I thought that he hated me, because he was so quiet. But seeing stuff recently has completely recontextualised it. He’s not the kind of person who talks to fill a space. He is speaking up. He is making his voice heard and it’s awesome.”

As we speak, Raleigh is about to return to screens for Game of Thrones’ much-anticipated sixth season. Of course, he’s completely sworn to secrecy about the plot. Not that that’s difficult for him. “People make it easy for me because they don’t want to know. They don’t want spoilers! If I start talking about it, even if I say ‘Oh, when I was in Spain,’ people say ‘No, no, no! Stop speaking, stop talking, don’t tell me.’”

In between, he’s already begun writing his next album (“Officially I’ve set myself a deadline. But that doesn’t mean I’ve got anything yet!”), and he’s reconciled his dual life as a musician and actor. “It doesn’t matter what people think at this point,” he tells me. “I’ve given up on trying to convince people that I deserve to make music because I do it anyway. I want to do things in my life that I enjoy. I want to be happy and I want to be at peace.”

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Raleigh Ritchie

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