William the Conqueror

The following article was first published in the April 2016 edition of Viva Lewes magazine:

In 2007, Atlantic Records released Tales of Grime and Grit, the debut album by a young man called Ruarri Joseph. Reviewers made favourable comparisons with Bob Dylan. But working with a major record label didn’t suit Ruarri, so he set up his own label instead. The emotional intensity of his 2012 album Brother, “a love letter to the death of a friend”, led to another big change in direction. “I felt like I needed a break from those songs. I’d sung them so many times over the course of three years and I didn’t want them to lose meaning.”

And so William the Conqueror was born; a pseudonym that allowed Ruarri to perform secret gigs of new material whilst still touring under his real name. “William the Conqueror was the kind of name I probably would have given myself as a kid; that insane confidence that you can do anything, go anywhere, the world is your oyster.” So is William a man or a band? “I like the ambiguity”, he tells me. “Sometimes it’s appropriate for it to be me and sometimes it’s appropriate for it to be the band. When I first started performing, I was William but then other people joined.” Those other people are currently drummer Harry Harding and bass player Naomi Holmes, who’d previously been in Ruarri’s backing band. “I feel like I’ve found my voice since becoming William. The songwriting process makes much more sense to me now; it’s like a faucet that’s opened up.”

These days the secret is out, which is why Ruarri’s happy to announce William the Conqueror’s planned visit to Union Music Store on Record Store Day this month. The band’s also just released their first EP on CD, as a digital download and on a 10-inch vinyl record. “It’s a really lovely idea, to think that somebody is going to take a physical copy of your record and go to the trouble of putting it on. You want people to listen to it properly.” The music on Ruarri’s own turntable at the moment includes Tom Waits, JJ Cale, Willie Dixon, Bill Withers and David Bowie’s Blackstar: “a phenomenal record”.

Yet despite his striving for the perfectly-crafted song and the perfectly-produced album, Ruarri remains a big fan of live music. “There’s no better way to figure out whether a song is working. It’s like a comedian trying out a joke. Playing live is absolutely essential to figuring out who you are as an artist.” And the current incarnation of that artist is undoubtedly more self-assured than the man he used to be. “I never really found my feet with it all. This time round I feel like I know what I’m doing and what I want. I’m really enjoying it. The gigs feel really fresh. I’ve kind-of forgotten the Ruarri Joseph songs.”

Record Store Day is on Sat 16; live performances at Union Music Store from midday. unionmusicstore.com