Blue Rose Code is the nom de plume of Ross Wilson, an Edinburgh-born singer-songwriter who is based currently in Bournemouth. Ross brought the latest, five-piece, incarnation of Blue Rose Code to Edinburgh's Voodoo Rooms on 26th April as part of his UK Spring Tour. This tour had a dual purpose: to promote Blue Rose Code's recent album, "Live At St Pancras Old Church, London", and to showcase some of the new songs which will feature on the third studio album, which will be recorded over the coming months. Following hard on the heels of both an exquisite session on BBC Radio Scotland's "The Roddy Hart Show" and the breaking news that Blue Rose Code's second studio album, "The Ballads Of Peckham Rye", had been long-listed for this year's Scottish Album Of The Year Award (the SAY Award), Ross Wilson's return to his Edinburgh roots had an air of celebration and there was a real buzz of anticipation among the audience at this sold-out gig.
First on stage was Blue Rose Code guitarist, Edinburgh-based Lyle Watt (the self-styled Wild Lyle Watt), who delighted the audience with a sparkling short solo set of acoustic guitar tunes. The highlights included Lyle's own composition, "Song For Tommy", an imaginative Nirvana cover and his delicately haunting interpretation of an old bagpipe tune.
As a further treat, Edinburgh-based acoustic folk/bluegrass duo, The Jellyman's Daughter, also wowed the crowd with a nicely-judged selection of original songs from their eponymous debut album and a couple of covers. Emily Kelly and Graham Coe were both in fine voice, individually and in their delicious harmonies, and Graham's distinctive cello sawed rhythmically and soared gracefully in a series of breathtaking solos. Particularly impressive were the original songs, "The One You're Leaving" and "Honey"; and a striking cover of "The Way It Will Be" by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings.
Finally, to rapturous acclaim, Blue Rose Code took to the stage. For this leg of the tour, Ross Wilson (vocals and guitar) was joined by the aforementioned Lyle Watt (guitar and mandolin) and Graham Coe (cello), plus Nico Bruce on double bass and the versatile John Lowrie doubling on drums/percussion and piano. Clearly delighted and buoyed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the welcome, Ross Wilson informed us that this was the ideal time to catch the band, which was "…now tight, but not yet jaded…" Through a wide grin, he also told us that "…we'll need a bigger room next time…"
The first new song, "In The Morning, Parts 1 and 2", opened the set in stunning fashion. The thrust and urgency of part one segued dreamily into the delicate, trippy ebb and flow of part two, which recalled the awe-inspiring grace and jazz-tinged mysticism of vintage Van Morrison or John Martyn. This was followed by another impressive new song, "Chasing Sunlight". Blue Rose Code's first two, critically-acclaimed studio albums, "North Ten" and "The Ballads Of Peckham Rye", were well-represented in the set, with many of these older songs now re-imagined by Ross Wilson to further enhance their appeal. In truth, each and every song was performed impeccably but, for me, the highlights from the back catalogue included the fragile and spine-tingling simplicity and beauty of "Love" and "Skin & Bones"; a barnstorming take on "The Light Of You" (propelled along by Nico Bruce's rumbling bass and John Lowrie's tribal percussion); the breezy americana swagger of "One Day At A Time"; and the boldly assertive "Whitechapel".
The striking, evocative and poetic imagery evident in Ross Wilson's lyrics make him ideally-suited to setting classic poems to music and the set was studded with three such gems. Firstly, Ross's ephemeral imagining of the Robert Frost poem "Acquainted With The Night" segued into the gospel-like fervour of his own anthemic "Silent Drums". Secondly, Ross's musical take on Norman MacCaig's "True Ways Of Knowing" sparkled like the dancing sunlight on one of the late poet's favourite Highland mountain streams. Last, but most certainly not least, was Ross's musical interpretation of Hugh MacDiarmid's "Scotland", a poem of reconciliaition, which was sung with delicate restraint and featured spellbinding audience participation in the gently-hummed choruses.
No Blue Rose Code gig in Edinburgh would be complete without the two songs most closely associated with Ross Wilson's native city. Sprightly mandolin from Lyle Watt ushered in the rueful signature song, "Ghosts Of Leith", which references a troubled period in Ross's earlier life, which led to his exile in London ("…and I'm never coming home…"). In contrast, "Edina" is an affectionate and bittersweet tribute ("…would you forgive me, what do you say, Edina?..."), delivered with great feeling by Ross and graced by John Lowrie's elegant piano and Graham Coe's uplifting cello.
Another new song, "Pokesdown", referenced a more recent challenging period in Ross Wilson's personal life and is possibly the most tender, gracious and moving break-up song you will ever hear. The set closed with the spirited and country-tinged "Julie", featuring joyfully raucous audience singalong on the closing choruses.
To begin the encore, Ross and Lyle treated us to the anthemic new song "My Heart, The Sun", before the rest of the band joined them on stage for the final song of the night, "(This Is Not A) Folk Song". This pulled out all the stops, with a raw, passionate vocal from Ross Wilson and some outrageously good acoustic blues guitar licks from Lyle Watt (which so delighted Ross that he was barely able to compose himself and finish the song…).
Ross Wilson has once again assembled an outstanding group of musicians, who help bring the freshness, dynamism and energy which the songs deserve. Ross generously asserted that "…these guys make me sound good…" The band clearly enjoys playing together, as evidenced by their regular exchanges of smiles and nods of appreciation.
Aside from his considerable talents as a songwriter, guitarist and band-leader, Ross Wilson diplayed yet again his prodigious vocal range: from the clear enunciation of his soulful and gently-whispered words of love, longing and regret; through powerful and emotive delivery; to improvised ad-libs and celebratory roars of approval or exhortation.
Blue Rose Code has never sounded better in a live setting and the quality of the new songs seem to guarantee that the eagerly-anticipated third studio album will be another one to savour and cherish. Ross and the band will return to play in Edinburgh (in a bigger room!) during the Fringe in August and 'the lovers' will be out in force. Book early to avoid disappointment……
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