All hail, King Ruarri! I'm late to this party, but thankfully I arrived just in time to take in William The Conqueror's intimate Tynemouth Surfcafe gig, and in good time for the release of their brilliant second album (released in February), 'Bleeding on the Soundtrack'. Quite how this band and their founding member / frontman Ruarri Joseph have eluded my radar up to this point in time is something I find hard to understand. Yes, there's a plethora of new music available on too great a number of platforms etc etc but this is the type of music I love, and the band are signed to one of my favourite record labels, Loose.
In case you are also late to this party, here's what you've missed out on so far. Ruarri Joseph is a Scottish born, New Zealand raised, Cornwall further raised singer songwriter in the vein of Ray LaMontagne. After releasing four solo albums during 2007-2016, all of which received critical acclaim and met with moderate commercial success, Joseph decided to ditch the solo career in favour of collaboration, commenting "Ruarri Joseph had come to represent something that ironically didn't feel like me. I was somewhat lumped in as a folky singer songwriter, which helped pay the bills, but it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing." Occasional backing players Naomi Holmes (bass) and Harry Harding (drums) were recruited and there soon followed a debut album, 'Proud Disturber of the Peace', with its far rockier sound than anything Joseph had previously released. One song from that album, 'Tend to the Thorns' was justifiably nominated as UK song of the year at the UK Americana awards.
The songs on 'Proud Disturber' had been knocking around for a while, kept on the back-burner by Joseph as they didn't really fit with his solo performer persona. 'Bleeding on the Soundtrack' is to be the second album from William the Conqueror and like its predecessor, it forms part of a trilogy of autobiographical records capturing different periods in Joseph’s life. Whilst the joyous debut celebrated a free and easy late childhood spent in idyllic Cornwall, 'Bleeding on the Soundtrack' is a darker more disturbed foray into later adolescence then adulthood. A tale of addiction, divorce and crossroads.The trilogy idea was inspired by Hermann Hesse’s book 'My Belief' which housed three separate essays on innocence, disillusionment and faith with 'Bleeding on the Soundtrack' undoubtedly representing the disillusionment period.
OK, so now you're up to speed.
Seeing the band live is an absolute testament to Ruarri Joseph's decision to call time on the folk singer and to become the grungy southern rocker that clearly is his natural state. Like all the best bands of this type (Hiss Golden Messenger, Wilco), one of the most appealing aspects to how they play live is the seemingly effortless, natural vibe, blended with an obvious enthusiasm and infectious enjoyment. These are my favourite gigs.
Songs from the debut record are played alongside the title track and others from 'Bleeding ..' and it's 'Bleeding on the Soundtrack' itself that is the undeniable highlight in a show which boasts very many close seconds. Ruarri may be the main man, but as he is at pains to stress, this is a team effort. Before the show he told me "Harry and Naomi sometimes played backing for me when I was solo but there was some alchemy at play, some chemistry going on and it seemed daft to have them in the background. They're such unique people with so much to give. Aside from the playing we're like family, and we make life easy for each other." The closeness is apparent and lends itself to a sound that is simultaneously relaxed and loose, yet also tight and precise.
We also spoke about the new album, and what might lie beyond. "The first album was about discovering music as a kid and it becoming an excuse to be as loud as possible. 'Bleeding' moves from the innocent youth to the disillusioned teen years. It refers to getting everything out of your system in some ways. If you can’t afford a therapist, become a songwriter!"
Esteemed producer (and ace musician in his own right) Ethan Johns was at the helm for the new album and I wondered what that was like, and what he brought to the process. "An honour. He’s one of us, by which I mean he’s a musician! He knows when to steer you away from the rocks or make you go hurtling towards them, floating around the studio like the most lovable wizard. Love him."
Ruarri also has positive things to say about his label. "Loose are about building a relationship with artists rather than looking for the fast buck. Plus they put the Felice Brothers albums out."
Getting ahead of myself a bit, I ask about album three in the trilogy. When can we expect that, and does it already have a title? Ruarri is reluctant to be pinned down, saying "I have no idea when and yes there’s some titles kicking around but 'William' is about remaining malleable until the last minute so I won’t decide on one yet. Something else might come up."
'Bleeding on the Soundtrack' is released on 15th February 2019 via Loose. A UK tour will follow and a little bird has told us that a Newcastle date is planned.