When Aiden said their goodbyes at the end of 2015, many wondered how long it would be before their frontman William Francis would re-emerge in the guise of his darkwave/synthpop alter-ego William Control. As it turns out, they wouldn’t have too long to wait – the Skeleton Strings Tour was announced last month, and has seen William Control hitting four cities across the UK armed only with an acoustic guitar and some self-described “sad b****** songs”. Somewhat fittingly, the final show takes place in Manchester rock club Satans Hollow, a place whose faux-medieval-graveyard décor seems perfect for the evening of gothic-tinged music that’s to occur.
Before William Control makes his entrance though, it falls to Adam Crilly (8) (tonight billed as Crilly Ashes) to warm up the crowd. Better known as the frontman of Bristol goth-punks Ashestoangels, Crilly quickly proves himself to be both an endearing performer and a skilled musician – deftly alternating between cracking jokes and belting out emotionally charged anthems with great enthusiasm. The likes of Down We Go and Find Hell are clear favourites with the crowd, and their new acoustic arrangements are vibrant and exciting enough to draw a strong response from the audience. It also helps that Crilly may just be one of the most charismatic performers to emerge in recent times. His aforementioned sense of humour runs throughout the performance and helps to create a strong atmosphere in preparation for the night’s main event. Admittedly, not everything goes to plan (some early microphone stand mishaps rob the early moments of some impact), but on the whole, it’s a strong showing from the Bristol frontman.
If there was ever a performer whose output perfectly lends itself to a stripped-back acoustic arrangement, it’s William Control (9). Tonight the former Aiden frontman takes to the stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a laptop (monitoring a livestream feed being sent to Facebook). Opening with Disconnecting from 2011 EP Novus Ordo Seclorum sets the tone for the evening, with Control’s deep, powerful voice proving the perfect accompaniment to the toned-down musical background. Some choice Aiden covers in the form of Moment and Silent Eyes draw instant applause from the long-time fans in the room and lift the atmosphere to something akin to a celebration as the set goes on.
“How about some songs from some Manchester bands?”, Control enquires midway through the show. Clearly sated by the resulting applause, he then proceeds to break out covers of Subculture by New Order, There Is a Light That Never Goes Out by The Smiths, Everyday Is Like Sunday by Morrisey and Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division. It’s a great crowd-pleasing moment, and over the course of the evening, the list of acts covered grows to include both Elvis Presley, American singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston and Finnish ‘love-metal’ band HIM. Control’s voice seems to suit each of these picks down to the ground, and his appreciation for each act is evident in his performance. More intimate shows such as these often live or die on the basis of the rapport between the audience and performer, and tonight William Control manages this in spades.
Brief anecdotes about the project’s history and future are interspersed between songs, and the frontman’s softly-spoken, yet brutally deadpan sense of humour is at its very best. Even the seemingly-obligatory joke chants of “Play Wonderwall” are taken light-heartedly, and Control puts on a show deserving of great praise. Eventually, as the mournful London Town brings the evening to its conclusion, it becomes clear from the sheer volume of singing from the audience that this has been a special performance, and one that leaves us excited for whatever comes next from William Control.