Blue Rose Code is the pseudonym of singer-songwriter, Ross Wilson, a native of Edinburgh and currently based in Bournemouth. Having sold out a three-night residency in the small back room in the Acoustic Music Centre during the Edinburgh Fringe last year, it made sense to book Blue Rose Code into the much larger main hall at the same venue for this year's Fringe gig and it too was a sell-out.
The past year has seen Blue Rose Code's profile and stock rise considerably, evidenced by a SAY Award nomination (Scottish Album of the Year) for the second album "The Ballads Of Peckham Rye", a number of successful tours, a series of sparkling performances on radio and television, lavish praise from BBC broadcasters Ricky Ross, Roddy Hart and Edith Bowman, recognition from Ross Wilson's beloved Hibernian Football Club and the acquisition of a celebrity fan in the shape of Ewan McGregor. The year also saw a challenging period in Ross Wilson's personal life, which required him to face his demons once more, but I am happy to report that Ross appears stronger through dealing with this adversity, acquiring a peace of mind and sense of gratitude which he has channelled into writing a new collection of his beautiful songs, which have now been recorded for his eagerly-awaited third album.
There was a real buzz in the air as the audience queued outside the venue on a balmy Edinburgh evening and this was reflected in the loud and affectionate welcome for Blue Rose Code, as Ross Wilson took to the stage. The first song, "Grateful", performed solo at the piano, personified the mellow and serene threads running through much of the new material. This awe-inspiring gospel song (which will feature McCrary Sisters on the album version) produced a deeply soulful vocal from Ross, as he declared "…..I'll never be cool, I'll never be good-looking, I'll never be rich, I know, but Lord I am grateful…" Still solo but switching to guitar, Ross treated us to the tantalising twists and turns of the breezy "Boscombe Armistice". This had been billed as a (mainly) solo gig but, for the next song, Ross welcomed onto the stage two of the guest musicians who would join him at various points in the show: Eliza Wren Payne (vocal harmonies) and "jazz hands" himself, John Lowrie on piano. This trio delivered a stunning version of the extended tour de force which is "In The Morning, Parts 1 and 2", which followed the thrust and urgency of part one with a dreamy segue into the mesmerising ebb and flow of part two.
More new songs followed. The wistful "Rebecca" was played solo and then came the cue to welcome the other guest musician for the evening, Edinburgh-based jazz trumpeter Colin Steele, who joined Ross (on piano) for the atmospheric and soulful "Glasgow Rain" and "Favourite Boy", an elegant and free-flowing ballad. Ross Wilson has openly acknowledged the influences of John Martyn and Van Morrison in his music to date but the bruised beauty of these two songs appeared to owe more to another of his influences, Tom Waits. Bringing Colin Steele into the Blue Rose Code fold recently has proved to be a bit of a coup. Colin was used very sparingly on the last Blue Rose Code album but he is rumoured to feature more prominently on the next album and his cool take on celtic-tinged modern jazz is bound to enhance the mellow vibe evident on many of the new songs.
Eliza Wren Payne and John Lowrie then returned to add special textures and colours to the achingly beautiful, tender and gracious break-up song "Pokesdown Waltz" ("…Oh, my love, my darlin' we tried, but I could not make it right….") and the country-ish swagger of "The Right To Be Happy". Eliza's gorgeous feathery vocals complimented Ross's perfectly and John's delicate piano flourishes proved the old adage that sometimes less is more.
For his last solo offering of the evening, Ross treated us to a brand new song, which was written too late for inclusion on the forthcoming album. This was "Sandaig", a quietly stirring and poetic evocation of the landscapes and generous hospitality enjoyed during a weekend spent in the Knoydart Peninsula, centred on a gig Ross had played with his good friend and inspiration, the renowned double bass player, Danny Thompson. To close the main set, Ross Wilson summoned all three of his guests to the stage and led the Blue Rose Code quartet through three of the gems from his back catalogue. "Edina", Ross's affectionate and bittersweet tribute to his native city, was masterful and featured cool and sweet solos from John and Colin. The bold and assertive "Whitechapel" and the rousing "One Day At A Time" gave Colin Steele the opportunity to show off his trumpet chops with a series of blistering and beautifully-constructed solos. Quite a finish……and an encore was inevitable.
The trio of Ross, Eliza and John kicked off the encore with the fragile beauty of "Love", a perennial fans' favourite which has never yet featured on a Blue Rose Code album (although Ross assured us that it would be on the next album). Colin joined in again to contribute more of his signature trumpet playing on the effervescent "True Ways Of Knowing", Ross's musical interpretation of an iconic Norman MacCaig poem. The quartet rounded off a magical evening of music with the anthemic "My Heart, The Sun".
This was a breathtakingly brilliant performance from Blue Rose Code, underlining Ross Wilson's prodigious talents as a songwriter, vocalist and musician, as well as his uncanny ability to surround himself with the kind of outstanding musicians from whom he can draw inspiration.
With this new collection of uniformly elegant, graceful, mellow and, at times, mystical songs, Blue Rose Code has developed a brand of uniquely Scottish Caledonian Soul and it is to be hoped that the forthcoming album will bring Ross Wilson the levels of recognition and acclaim which his talent and hard work merits.
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