William The Conqueror, the Lexington, London, 21st May 2019

“What’s up London?” Out on a 21 date tour to promote the second of his autobiographical trio of albums under the moniker of his alter ego, “William the Conqueror,” the praise continues to pour in for Ruarri Joseph’s three piece band, on a roll after a series of sold out shows at Ireland’s Kilkenny Roots festival recently. The second of the trilogy, ‘Bleeding on the Soundtrack’, marks a metaphorical journey from childhood into adolescence – with loose themes related to addiction, separation and life’s upheavals – and the battle between his older more subdued persona and his younger, more gregarious self, the band’s name a form of disguise which brings its own kind of freedom to stretch out both musically and creatively. There’s also something of a step change in terms of the musical development and confidence which exudes from this triumvirate, who appear to have an almost telepathic understanding of one another on stage.

Joseph is a man of few words – at least where between song banter is concerned – leaving his music and songs to do the talking. His lyrics are also of the oblique kind with something of a stream of consciousness feel although there are plenty of humorous and clever rhyming couplets, particularly on the opening song, ‘Path of the Crow’. The groovesome ‘Madness on the Line’ which follows has an almost disco like feel with Naomi Holmes’ throbbing bass lines and an infectious “whoo-ooh” backing vocal. A couple of new, as yet untitled songs feature tonight, although the first half of the set includes many numbers from the new album, including ‘Be So Kind’, ‘Thorn In My Side’ and first single from the album, ‘The Curse of Friends.’

The back end of the set really sees William the Conqueror moving through the gears, with ‘Tend to the Thorns’ from the first album, ‘Proud Disturber of the Peace’, in particular, exhibiting some powerhouse drumming from Harry Harding which is met with generous audience applause. The debut album is given a further airing as the band ease their way into ‘Cold Ontario’ with its “so they say” chorus line, which contrasts with the foot stomping ‘Did You Wrong.’

The band take us on a bluesy ramble through ‘Thank Me Later’, a highlight of the new album which starts in languid fashion but soon builds to a crescendo (as do many of their songs). The words here, “I’m a loser at heart, complicated to boot” – and its shouted out final line – “Not the sink but the WHOLE FUCKING KITCHEN,” have the song developing into something of a William the Conqueror anthem. A supercharged ‘Looking for the Cure’ further ups the intensity levels, while the title track off the new album leans into a spoken word intro, before it escalates and then roars, “Jet black!” like the engine in the lyrics to the song.

This is music that bears repeated listens and is even better in a live setting. Lyrically sophisticated, the song, ‘Bleeding on the Soundtrack’, is a warning to choose your heroes wisely with its less than subtle allusion to Kurt Cobain. The stark “He succeeded with a shotgun / Pulled the trigger with his toes” line met with the kiss off ending…“but I liked his clothes.”

Ending with the gorgeously affecting ‘The Burden’ and the title song from their debut album, it’s a very well-judged 80 minute set which will have fans licking their lips at the prospect of what’s yet to come from this band. In the modern era of music streaming, where all but the super successful appear left with endless touring as a way to make a living, it’s proving ever harder to tip whose likely to succeed. However, William the Conqueror appear better placed than most – with their combination of rock, indie, Americana and grunge – to break through to the mainstream.

With thanks to David Handley for use of his photos.

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