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Blue Rose Code

Venue: Queen's Hall
Town: Edinburgh
Date: 2/12/16

Blue Rose Code is the creative guise of Edinburgh-born singer-songwriter, Ross Wilson. With three critically-acclaimed studio albums, one live album and a string of EPs under his belt and extensive tours across the UK and beyond, Blue Rose Code has assembled an ever-growing and fiercely loyal army of fans (affectionately known as 'the lovers' by Ross Wilson). Ross has also drawn lavish praise from celebrated broadcasters Edith Bowman, Ricky Ross, Bob Harris and Roddy Hart and attracted celebrity fans in the shape of Ian Rankin and Ewan McGregor.

Ross Wilson recently made an emotional move back to Scotland after a period of 17 years in self-imposed exile south of the border and so Blue Rose Code's biggest-ever headline gig at Edinburgh's prestigious Queen's Hall on 2nd December had been billed as a homecoming for this 'son of Edina'. This event had been meticulously planned over a long period and an 'extravaganza' was promised...

Support was provided by two very different and very talented acts. Ross Wilson's love of poetry (reflected in his own evocative and imaginative song lyrics) is well-documented and so the evening's entertainment kicked off with the American poet, Ryan Van Winkle (currently based in Edinburgh) treating the audience to readings of a number of his keenly observed, slyly witty and, at times, poignant and moving poems. Those guardians of the late 60s/early 70s 'Laurel Canyon' sound, Welsh duo Zervas & Pepper (Paul Zervas and Kath Pepper), then performed a selection of their self-penned Americana gems, which showcased the pair's gorgeous close harmonies.

To open the main event, Ross Wilson took to the stage to almost deafening applause and acclaim, testament to the warmth and affection of the regard in which he is held by his fans, and he immediately tugged at the heartstrings with a tender solo performance of "November's Ghost", a moving tribute to his late grandmother, Susie. Then it was time to welcome the rest of the Blue Rose Code band to the stage. For this defining gig, Ross Wilson had assembled a group of tried and tested Blue Rose Code stalwarts: an astute blend of seasoned performers and young guns, in the form of Wild Lyle Watt (guitars); John Lowrie (drums and piano); Eliza Wren Payne (backing and harmony vocals); Angus Lyon (piano and accordion); Iain Sloan (pedal steel guitar); and Nico Bruce (bass), with the multi-talented Graham Coe dividing his time between sound-desk duties at the back of the hall and occasional cello duties on stage. This line-up had the talent and versatility to provide both the tightness of sound to complement Ross Wilson's distinctive vocals and guitar and the flexibility to allow him to give full expression to the improvisational twists and turns in his songs.

The band clicked into gear straight away with the breezy "Chasing Sunlight", featuring intense vocals from Ross Wilson and the first in a series of searing, quicksilver guitar solos from Wild Lyle Watt. The Americana swagger of "One Day At A Time" gave Iain Sloan his first opportunity to inject some of his elegant and shimmering pedal steel guitar into the proceedings. The atmospheric and delicate "Acquainted With The Night" (Ross Wilson's setting of a Robert Frost poem to music) segued beautifully into the potent urgency of "Silent Drums", propelled along by some tribal drumming from John Lowrie and notable for fervent vocal exchanges between Ross Wilson and Eliza Wren Payne. The mesmerising ebb and flow of "In The Morning Parts 1, 2 and 3" saw Ross Wilson in full flow and displaying the full extent of his vocal range, beginning with a gentle half-whisper and moving through a deliciously trippy middle section towards the passionate exhortation of the closing part.

Ross Wilson's noble and heartfelt take on the Davy Steele classic, "Scotland Yet", allowed the audience to join in the choruses, to quietly stirring effect. Accompanied only by elegant jazz piano from John Lowrie, Ross delivered an outstanding, soul-drenched vocal on the rueful ballad "Nashville Blue", which seems destined to be a standout track on the next Blue Rose Code album (" spite of all my pretty words, I don't know how to be in love..."). He then took to the piano himself to treat us to two brand-new (as yet untitled) songs, which featured his distinctive song-craft and poetic imagery (interestingly, one of these songs included in its lyrics the title of his last album, "...And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing").

For the first guest appearance of the night, Ross Wilson warmly welcomed the young Glasgow-based singer-songwriter, Beth Malcolm, to the stage. Ross had been so impressed by an online video of Beth covering one of his songs, the achingly beautiful "Skin & Bones", that he invited her to sing it as part of his show. This was the cue for a polished and quietly impassioned performance from Beth, with Ross contributing feathery harmonies on the choruses. If this song had the audience welling up, then Ross Wilson's gentle and vulnerable vocal delivery on the tender and gracious break-up song, "Pokesdown Waltz", heightened by Angus Lyon's plaintive accordion, brought a tear to the eye of many ("...the only regret that presides is I do wish I'd kissed you goodbye...").

The opening notes of "Edina", Ross Wilson's affectionate and apologetic tribute to his native city, produced a loud cheer from the audience. In the setting of this emotional homecoming gig, this signature song of Ross's had never sounded so heartfelt nor seemed so appropriate. To close the show, Ross gave a warm welcome to more special guests, the massed ranks of the Edinburgh Contemporary Choir and the Glasgow Contemporary Choir, who positioned themselves at each side of the stage to add some authentic and heady gospel flavour to "Grateful", another of Blue Rose Code's signature songs ("...I'll never be cool, I'll never be good-lookin', I'll never be rich, I know, but Lord I am grateful..."). This was "Grateful" as it was surely destined to be heard and it brought the house down. The audience demanded more and Blue Rose Code duly obliged with a blistering performance of the rousing and anthemic "Oh North", with the band pulling out all the stops, the choirs pouring out gospel fervour and the audience singing and clapping along ecstatically. What a fabulous finish to a magical night of music and, as the band took a series of bows, the affection and euphoria in the grand old hall were palpable. As Ross Wilson himself is wont to say, "love, love, love....."…

With this towering performance, Blue Rose Code delivered the promised extravaganza, in spades. Ross Wilson is a highly talented singer, songwriter and musician, who pours everything into his live performances, inspiring the musicians around him and touching the hearts and souls of the listeners. Very few artists inspire the same levels of loyalty and devotion from their fans and it can surely only be a matter of time before Blue Rose Code's unique and irresistible brand of Caledonian Soul secures his place at the top table of singer-songwriters in the UK.

When he finishes his current UK tour later in December, Blue Rose Code plans to take a well-deserved break from touring in the UK for much of 2017, so that he can give his full attention to producing his fourth studio album....although there will be a short tour of Ireland in early February.

David Ferguson

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