Hard-to-find

Cheque One Two

Late 1970’s Britain was grimy and unpleasant, the era of strikes, dead bodies unburied, rat-infested rubbish collections and mass unemployment. Not for me though. I was happily oblivious in the suburbs of Ayrshire, whizzing everywhere on my bike, cardboard clattering the back spokes, playing in fields where houses and hotels now stand. But when you see footage of the era on the telly, it’s as if everything’s in black and white, a monochrome world where everything and everyone was kept in their place by Margaret Thatcher.

Driven by righteous fury and social discontent, the 2 Tone movement blew in like some sort of multicultural whirlwind, an era-defining mash of black and white houndstooth, Weejun loafers, button-down collars, Harringtons and Crombies. The label dropped off a perfect discography of 7″ singles and just as suddenly disappeared again.

At the label’s peak, between ’79 and ’81, just 17 singles were released. They went on releasing right up until 1985 with diminishing returns (The Specials finished what they’d started with Sock It To ‘Em, JB , the 32nd and final release) but it’s those 17 tracks released during 2 Tone’s golden spell that really endure. Many of those tracks are indelibly inked on the brain; Gangsters, The Prince, Do Nothing, Tears Of A Clown, Too Much Too Young, On My Radio, Nelson Mandela, Ghost Town….. classics one and all.

I had loads of them. Now and again on a Saturday morning I was given £1 and it always went on a 99p single. A few years later I gave them all away to a ‘Feed The World’ jumble sale, regretting it even as I handed them over. Geldof might never have said, “Give us yer fuckin’ money,” but I’m pretty sure he did say, “Give us yer fuckin’ Specials’ singles!” A selfless act but stupid too. I still rake around in the darker corners of record shops, hoping I’ll discover one of my old records, identifiable by my initials on the inside of the cover. I’d seen my dad do this with his records, so I just thought that’s what you did. Anyway, I’ve yet to turn up a Baggy Trousers or Stand & Deliver that has my pre-teen scrawl on it, but one day I might.

I do have a wee collection of 2 Tone singles though, bought for not much more than I’d originally paid for them, waaaay back when records were far from the trend they currently are. They’re great. Identifiable by the generic Walt Jabsco sleeve, they’re a portal to something special (no pun intended). Owning them, you’re part of a club, a tribe. Play them and you’re transported back to the time, the grimness of the era swatted away in 2 and a half minutes of punkish, skankalong ska. Flip them over to the b-side and you’ll often find a gem the equal (or even greater than) the better-known a-side.

Stereotype was The Specials‘ 5th single. By now dabbling in exotica and playing the sort of instruments you might find employed on an Andy Williams record, Stereotype mixed skirling bullfighter trumpets with flamenco guitars and some rudimentary primitive drum machine. The reverb-heavy backing vocals were the blueprint for what would appear on their Ghost Town single, Hammer House of Horror by way of Coventry.

The Specials International Jet Set

Stick on the other side though and you’ll find International Jet Set, a fantastic slice of wonky ska, descending basslines, eerie vocals and Rico and Dammers playing what sounds like an extremely drunk call and response of The Sun Has Got His Hat On on slide trombone and keys. Rico aside, the band were all in their early/mid 20s at the time, which, given the fact that they conceived this tune out of mid air is, to coin a phrase, really sayin’ something, bop bop shoobedoo-wop. It’s extremely well-produced, and, I say this knowing full well how wanky this will appear, it sounds really terrrific on vinyl.

The SelecterThe Selecter

The first 2 Tone release was The SpecialsGangster on one side with The Selecter‘s self-titled instrumental on the other. With more time spent on the a-side than anticipated, the b-side was flung together when John Bradbury, The Specials’ drummer suggested an old instrumental that he used to jam with an old band. Hastily reworked, more slipping and sliding trombone is offset by the offbeat rhythm guitar and filling-loosening bass. There’s spaghetti western guitar, sk-sk-sk hi-hat action and enough groove to fool you into thinking this was a tune played by a band who’d been playing it for years. Indeed, The Selecter appeared really before the band of the same name. As would appear to be the norm with 2 Tone, this is another rich production. When it plays, you feel as if you’re right in the room with the band. The mark of a great record.

Those 2 Tone sleeves were designed by Jerry Dammers after seeing a picture of Peter Tosh (above, right) on the cover of The WailersWailing Wailers‘ LP. Liking his ‘defiant and Jamaican and hard‘ image, Dammers created the ubiquitous Walt Jabsco. But you knew that already. Pop art for disenfranchised youth. And wee boys like me who rode the Sillar’s Meadow speedway with all the fearlesness of Evil Knievel.

Hard-to-find

This Is The Modern World

The good old days. A world of half-day closing and half-pints at lunchtime. A world of “‘allo Mrs Jones, ‘ow’s your Bert’s lumbago?“,  black and white telly where “Leeds are playing in yellow” and pop groups are “bigger than Jesus.” A world where you got today’s news tomorrow and change from a two bob trip to see two top films at the La Scala. A world of Dansettes ‘n desert boots, when the 7″ was king and the clothes you wore were an extension of the music you listened to. Aye, the good old days, when R’n’B meant rhythm and blues rather than Rihanna and Beyoncé.

Sittin’ On My Sofa by The Kinks is a fantastic piece of throwaway pop. On the b-side of 1966’s Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, it’s rarely mentioned when the genius of Ray Davies is discussed. And why would it? It’s hardly a lyrical tour de force. There’s no wry observational wordplay going on. And there’s no interesting baroque pop arrangement or well-constructed melodic break to hang your hat on. It’s a 3 chord R’n’B stomper, flung together with insistent urgency. That’s all. And that’s all y’need.

*( I find if you read the above paragraph in the style of the much-loved Brian Matthews, it adds to the overall feel of the piece).

OK chaps,” Shel Talmy perhaps said from the control room that day, inbetween long drags on a Rothman’s King Size. “We need a b-side. We’ve got half an hour then we’re outta here. Whadayagot?

They had this.

The KinksSittin’ On My Sofa

It’s battered and bruised but plays as good as it first did, 51½ years ago.

Wall to wall AC30s at room-rattlin’ volume. Snarling guitars. Ropey backing vocals. A bit of feedback in the sloppy solo. They even found time to overdub a barrelhouse pianer. Four perfectly turned-out heads, bobbing in time to the glorious racket they’re making. It sounds as though the band enjoyed playing it. By 1966 The Kinks were writing increasingly sophisticated songs and on the cusp of a run of concept albums, so it must’ve been great to get back to the days of dusty coffee houses and 12 bar blues. I’d love love love to have been in the same room when they recorded it. Great, innit?

Bands nowadays who describe themselves as ‘mod’ because they’ve got a Pretty Green top and a Small Faces CD between them really need to up their game. Look, listen and learn, losers. Look, listen and learn.

Hard-to-find

New Year, Old Me

Sometime around the beginning of January, Plain Or Pan celebrates its birthday. This year I celebrate completing 11 years of writing. No mean feat, as anyone who blogs will tell you. Were it not for this small corner of the internet I doubt I’d have been able to muster up the necessary clout to meet and interview some of my heroes and favourite artists.

A blog that began as an outlet for me to share all manner of what I thought was great music/alternate takes/demos and general trainspottery flim flam now has a powerful reach. On any given day there will be visitors from around the world; Buenos Airies, Brisbane, Bolton…. I used to be obsessed by stats and internet traffic figures. If I wrote a new article, how many people would read it? Would anybody read it? Nowadays it’s less of an issue. As I go boldly into year 12 I’ve realised that my best articles endure. There are things I wrote in 2007 that turn up via a Google search and still prove popular today. There are articles that I thought were fantastic when published that proved to be slow burners but have now been read, reTweeted and shared on social media thousands of times. It’s very humbling. And satisfying.

Up until a couple of years ago I always shared an annual compilation for download, a ragbag collection of the most popular tracks from the previous year. Problem was, Plain Or Pan started to become a bit too popular and the internet police metaphorically popped round a couple of times and asked me (politely at first) if I wouldn’t mind removing the download link. In order to keep the wolf from the door, I no longer do this. Instead, this year I’m going to share a few links. For anyone who’s a recent visitor to the blog you might find something of interest. To any long-time readers, there might be something here that you missed first-time round. As always, feel free to link/share anything that piques your interest. Thanks for popping round, leaving comments and generally giving me the green light to keep writing. And that thing I mentioned about stats and internet traffic? Bollocks! I want as many hits on here as possible.

  • Ian Rankin picks six of his favourite songs. From 4 and a half years ago, this is the most-read article ever on Plain Or Pan.
  • Here‘s an article on the enduring appeal of The Beatles It’s All Too Much. This article was Plain Or Pan’s biggest hitter in 2014.
  • It occured to me that I haven’t featured The Fall nearly as much as I should’ve. Here‘s one I wrote earlier. 2011, to be precise.
  • I once rather proudly wrote an entire piece on Kraftwerk in German. It never got the kudos it deserved, sadly. Either that or my pidgin German was really bad. There’s a similar one on Sly Stone that’s written in French. Et pourquois-pas?
  • The flawed genuius of Chuck Berry. This article appeared again, pratically word-for-word when Chuck passed away.
  • It’s not all music round here, y’know. Here‘s my piece on Alex Higgins, written in my head as I drove home from holiday.
  • Here‘s one of my Andy Murray articles. This fairly fired around Twitter, getting picked up by the sports networks and syndicates, garnering all manner of nice comments and dozens of new followers.
  • And here‘s one on the London Olympics. Remember them?
  • Mainly though, it’s about the music. Johnny Marr has long been my hero, so it was something of a thrill to secure a 20 minute phone interview with him (it ended up being almost an hour and a half) where, amongst other things, he chatted about the records he was most-proud of having played on.
  • Likewise, just short of a year ago Mike Joyce was good enough to play the same game. As someone who generally doesn’t get involved in Smiths articles, what followed was a brilliant interview and, dare I say it, article.
  • While we’re on The Smiths, the article I wrote about Morrissey nicking huge chunks of lyrics from Victoria Wood went yer actual viral on that there Twitter. I came home from work to find my phone lit up like a Christmas tree with social media notifications. More of that, please.

Lastly, unlike your favourite bands, much of my earlier work is far from my best, although this line from the end of an article on the imminent release of Radiohead’s game-changing name your price In Rainbows made me laugh…..

 

If you’re a guitar geek, here’s how Thom set up his gear in 1997…….

radiohead_thom_1997.gif

Of course, these days he plays a bit of piano, some Apple Mac and a smattering of Fair Trade wooden spoon.

(And I wouldn’t want it any different)

Hard-to-find

Everything Flows

We get older every year.

And you don’t change, or I don’t notice you changing.

All my life I’ve been a glass half-full person; upbeat, looking forward to what’s around the corner, never looking back with regret.

I used to love New Year. Our house was the open house, the one with the oldies in one room doing and saying alcohol-induced daft things (“Why d’you have two Christmas trees up?” inquired a particularly wonky-eyed neighbour one year) and the youngsters in another saying and doing equally alcohol-induced daft things. You can imagine. The kitchen became a melting pot of three sets of friends (mine, my brother’s and my sister’s, with a fair amount of crossover) and young-at-heart oldies, keen to hear about the bands we were listening to and eager to discover if we were just as daft as they had been at our age.

Real, actual pipers piped and drummers drummed as they marched up and down our hall. Scott Pyper was the piper. And Neil and Angus, the drumming Bell twins (or maybe one of them was a bagpiper) literally brought the bells in. I always thought that was pretty great.

Strangers arrived and were (mainly) welcomed with open arms. The future Mrs Pan, coming to meet my parents for the first time, remarked that she had been in our house one Hogmanay in years gone by. There must have been hundreds of different people over the door between 1982 and the tail end of the 90s. It was the best of times, offset only by the thumping hangover that would last well into the second week of January.

The past few years have been different. I’m now the young-at-heart oldie in the kitchen, keen to hear about the music the young folk are listening to, safe in the knowledge that, despite that well-known phrase, youth is not wasted on the young. It would appear that they’re all having a great time.

Also, the past couple of New Years has seen my glass half-full upturn to half-empty. My dad’s illness eclipsed all my thoughts at the bells. Would we still have him this time next year? It was the unspoken question, the one you dared not speak aloud for fear of jinxing things. We now know the answer, which is why the bringing of the bells tonight will be particularly reflective. We’re having the quietist New Year in living memory, where at the bells I’ll raise a glass in my dad’s memory and kick hard the arse of 2017 as it slinks out of sight, the shittiest year of my life. What can 2018 bring that could be anything worse?

As the song says, everything flows.

If you stick the glorious Teenage Fanclub on at, oh, I dunno, five past four this afternoon, the bells will be due just as the final fried ‘n frazzled notes of Raymond’s and Norman’s twin axe attack fade away.

Off with you, 2017. I hope we never meet again.

Teenage FanclubEverything Flows

Hard-to-find

Sloppy Mondays

It’s panto season right now, and last Friday Happy Mondays found themselves playing Kilmarnock’s Grand Hall, right through the wall from the conjoined Palace Theatre where an assortment of bit-part actors and actresses more accustomed to the outer reaches of Scottish television productions were hamming their way through an innuendo-packed Dick Whittington. Oh yes they were.

The ‘Mondays clearly felt the need to put their own panto spin on what was a gloriously ramshackle night. Bez played the court jester perfectly, greeted with cheers and mile-wide smiles whenever he bounced onto the stage and into his boggle-eyed four-step shuffle.

With a pair of maracas permanently set to ‘shake’, he’s stage left, then stage right, then up a speaker stack, then swinging off a microphone stand, then kissing Rowetta, then swapping his t-shirt with some equally boggle-eyed guy in the audience.

He’s the focal point for a band who despite their undeniable groove are as static and stony-faced as the Easter Island statues.

The role of panto villain falls to Shaun. “Check out our kid!” he drawls, looking stage left towards his bass-playing brother Paul. “Look at ‘im. ‘E’s a right miserable coooont!

Nowadays dressed in mildly expensive rather than wildly expansive clothing, he has all the air of one of those ex football casual ne’erdowells you’ll meet in the opening scenes of The Bill. “Get down from there, Bez,” he implored in the same voice you’ll know from the opening lines of Mad Cyril. “You’ll get yourself killed!

What’s the difference between me and B?” he asks the audience, as Bez ungloriously tries to remove himself from the top of the speaker stack at the front of the stage. “Bez is a grandfather.”

Oh no he isn’t!

Oh yes he is!

Oh! Yes, he is.

Think about that for a second.

 

It’s not just his dress sense that’s undergone a radical rethink. At Happy Mondays’ Barrowlands show at the tail end of the 80s, Shaun freely puffed on never-ending metre-long spliffs, sitting plastic-faced on the drum riser for the entire gig. Shaun still remains rooted to his spot between the keyboards and drums, but these days he vapes vigorously during all the instrumental passages. He vapes! Suck on that, Keith Richards!

Shaun doesn’t do much else. He never removes his jacket. He never even unzips it. He’s wrapped up for winter even if it feels like the summer of love in here. Occasionally he’ll sidle up behind Rowetta and indulge in a spot of dirty dancing. Rowetta, co-vocalist since those heady days of 1990 is tonight’s panto dame. Alarmingly shorter than I had remembered – she looked like someone had taken a photo of her from back in the day and squashed it without keeping the aspect ratio the same – she wobbled onto stage in custom-made, mile high Adidas platforms, reappearing every other song wearing a different Grand Central Design-inspired costume.

Do what you’re doing, sing what you’re singing, go where you’re going, think what you’re thinking,” she belts out during opening number Loose Fit.

I’m thinking, Rowetta, this is going to be brilliant. And I’m not wrong. It’s a clever opener. The band saunter on in dribs and drabs, easing themsleves into the riff. Rowetta arrives in full-on panto dominatrix role, slowly circling the stage, whipping up a storm with a set of kid’s streamers, building the excitement until Shaun slopes on, all hunched shoulders and hands in pockets swagger. I swear the clock at the back of the hall did a quarter of a century slow-motion reverse.

Happy MondaysLoose Fit (from Baby Bighead bootleg, 1991)

Let’s see ya, then!” he says, removing his sunglasses for the first and last time of the night. We’re off and running. This tour is billed as the 24 Hour Party People Greatest Hits tour. Whether that means a retread of the debut album (it doesn’t, as it transpires) or we’re due a run through of 30 years of Happy Mondays’ greatest material (it doesn’t quite do this either) is clearly open to creative interpretation. I’m not entirely convinced the band themselves knew what they would be playing each night of the tour.

Now and again Shaun’ll lean over the set list. “Fookin ‘ell!” he’ll moan. “Here’s another one we ‘aven’t played since 1986.” It’s a terrific choice of songs on offer, from the clattering industrial funk of Clap Your Hands and Freaky Dancing to the Balearic-kissed Donovan and Bob’s Yer Uncle.

Happy MondaysKinky Afro (from Baby Bighead bootleg, 1991)

Stand-outs were a filthy Kinky Afro, a steroid-pumped 24 Hour Party People and a helium-high Hallelujah, dedicated to Kirsty MacColl. A euphoric mid-set Step On, a song that didn’t really do it for me back in the day (too populist for this old grump, y’see) did its very best to raise the roof on Friday night. The encore – an e-longated and trippy run through of Wrote For Luck was almost worth the price of admission alone.

Happy MondaysWrote For Luck (from Baby Bighead bootleg, 1991)

I say almost. Tickets for the gig were quite expensive. For a 30th anniversary show, you might expect it to be longer than 14 songs, over and out in about an hour and 20 minutes. I certainly did. By the time the last notes of WFL had stopped crashing off the Grand Hall’s walls, most of the band had run from the venue, steadfastly refusing any requests for signatures and selfies and were in a car on the way to their hotel “somewhere near Glasgow.” It’s the one gripe I have. That, and the fact I’m still waiting on the “quick 5 minutes” interview I’m sure they promised me before the show.

 

Hard-to-find

Somewhat Marrvellous, Somewhat Disappointing

My work today took me to Kilmarnock’s grand old Grand Hall, scene of the Ballroom Blitz and the venue in which during October 2015 Johnny Marr played a one-song soundcheck (The Headmaster Ritual) to an audience of one (me) before playing then signing my trusty old Telecaster and a couple of Smiths records before being joined by his band for the soundcheck proper. I was there today for a multi-agency course, part of which involved networking the room by finding the other lost souls who happened to have the missing parts of the same jigsaw that I’d found on my chair when I arrived. “Snowman?” some fellow room circulator would ask uncomfortably in your general direction. “Sorry, I’m an elf,” was my standard ridiculous reply. Once located, my fellow elves and I were allocated a table and a task, part of which involved telling a story to someone at your table. Given the venue and the fact that the chap next to me had already mentioned Gruff Rhys and Super Furry Animals, I fancied that he’d quite like my Johnny Marr story. As it turns out, he did, especially when I got to the punchline about how he played Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others on my guitar, his silver nail polish twinkling with each open-stringed twang.

There’s a version of Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others that appears on the new-ish Queen Is Dead box set. It’s listed as a demo and has all the hallmarks of a band finding their uncertain way with a new tune, but it’s quite spectacular. Johnny’s riff hasn’t quite developed into the full-blown shimmer of the album version, but, much like a moonlit sea in your favourite Mediterranean bay, it sparkles with a lucid quicksilver glisten, 80s chorus pedal effects ‘n all . It’s worth stopping to consider that Johnny was only 22 years ‘old’ when he wrote and recorded it, which brings more than a tear of frustrated disbelief to my eyes every time I think about it. When I was 22 I was still trying to master the bastard F chord. Johnny, of course, would choose to play his F by sticking a capo on the 4th fret and playing the much easier C chord, but how was I to know that back then?

The SmithsSome Girls Are Bigger Than Others (demo)


There’s a general feeling amongst the Smiths community that there was a great opportunity lost with the box set. I have to admit to a creeping sense of disappointment with it. It looks great and it sounds great, which is surely all that really matters, but at the eyewatering retail price (that I happily paid) I can’t help feeling a wee bit let down. I’ve lived with it since October and rather than dive in feet first with a hamfisted and potentially regretable review, I’ve waited this long before making my mind up.

It does look great. Sturdy and big, with the black shadow of the famous album cover looking righteous and regal on the front. (It is The Queen Is Dead, after all). But what was wrong with the original’s iconic racing green colour? Or the inner sleeve artwork? Where’s the Salford Lads Club image? That’s as much a part of Smiths’ heritage as the music itself. The new image, the girl wearing the Hatful Of Hollow t-shirt at the Westminster riots is a cracker. It says more than 1000 words ever could, but it’s a modern image. I get it. I appreciate why it’s there. But to include it at the expense of the original is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Perhaps Stephen Wright, the photographer that day at Salford Lads Club wanted a hefty fee for including his picture. Who knows?

And what about sleevenotes? Most box sets of this gravitas carry an extended essay from one or more of the makers and shakers. The Queen Is Dead has nothing. Smiths geeks such as myself love eeking out new information. When Mike Joyce told me a few months ago about the colour of shirt Morrissey was wearing when he recorded I Know It’s Over, well, stone me! I had to lie down in a darkened room for over 4 minutes. It’s mindless minutae to some but total treasure to me. And I’m far from alone in Smithdom. Where were the pictures of the recording sessions? The Smiths larking about with half-filled tea cups? Andy Rourke making bunny ears behind Morrissey’s untoppable quiff? They just weren’t there. That’s what was disappointing.

And the music? Well, it sounds fantastic. Johnny has done a smashing job remastering it. It’s clean, vivid, shiny and new, which I can say no more about my well-thumbed original. From now on, the new version is my go-to copy. I still have the original, of course, beautifully autographed by the wunderkid guitarist, so it’s not as if it’s going anywhere anytime soon, but I doubt I’ll ever play that particular copy again.

The demo tracks sound fantastic. Compared to the slightly ropey mp3s that circulated a few years ago, these sound like freshly-minted masterpieces. My problem is the lack of demos. There are, if you know where to look, more versions of these tracks out there, the parping Penny Lane by way of Coronation Street take of Frankly, Mr Shankly for starters. It’s by no means an era-defining complete set.

The SmithsFrankly, Mr Shankly (demo)

 

Likewise with the live album. I like the sleeve image of a skewed and wonky Jack Kerouac which, if you squint a bit and use your imagination, looks a wee bit like a morning after the night before Johnny. It would’ve made for a decent budget-priced release in its own right. It’s taken from a late-era Smiths show, with an interesting career-spanning setlist played by a band at the top of their game. It’s good ‘n all, but it sounds kinda flat. It certainly doesn’t have the metallic feral velocity of the Rank album. If you want to hear late-era Smiths in all their volume, stomp and glory, that’s the one for you. And as with Rank, it’s an incomplete show. Maybe the box set includes all of the show that was recorded, but I doubt it. What a missed opportunity!

For the vinyl lover – and there are literally thousands of Smiths fans who bought this boxet – the non-inclusion of the Derek Jarman-filmed Queen Is Dead promo is a glaring miss. There were other opportunities. What about a download code? That’s standard with any vinyl release nowadays. They might even have considered a second live disc of QID-era tracks. There’s that terrific Thank Your Lucky Stars bootleg that does the rounds. It’s sensational. And what about a cleaned-up version of the only ever live take of Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others? It’s worthy of inclusion for Morrissey’s extra Carry On Smiths verse alone.

The Smiths  – Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others (live, Brixton Academy, 12.12.86)

Maybe I’m expecting too much. Maybe not. But in an era when anyone from Bon Iver to Bon Jovi can get away with releasing a 10th Anniversary Edition album with all manner of bolted-on goodies, it does look like the people looking after The Smiths sold us short. The gullible fools that we are.

Hard-to-find

Code Crackers

I begin this post with one eyebrow arched in the direction of the tagline at the top of the page: ‘Outdated Music for Outdated People’ it reads, a tagline carrying more than a knowing inference that if you’re of a certain age you’ll like the subject matter herein. Not only that, but that you very likely also have the capacity to recognise your own status as an old fart, stuck, like my original copy of Bringing It All Back Home, in the grooves of yesteryear, unable to break out of the rut, incapable of turning that dial much farther away from the musical welcome mat that is BBC 6 Music, much less jump on board the next big thing.

I’m so stuck in the past that I can’t listen to a new band without yawning about how Pixies or The Beatles or the Velvet Underground or bore, bore, bore, someone else has done it already. Did I stop to think about how it works both ways when it dawned on me that I’d discovered the wonders of Neil Young via Teenage Fanclub? Did I heck. These days, I find it hard to spot talent in front of my very eyes until they’re three albums to the good and the act is suddenly playing the ABCs and O2s of the world. “How did they get so big?” is a familiar out-loud ponder when I read the gig listings. “Who even are they?

 

Blue Rose Code is such an act, four impeccable studio albums to the good, equally at home in Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall as they are in the backroom of a forgotten East End pub. Their component parts are everything an (outdated) person such as you or I might look for in ‘new’ music; every mention of the band will point out a hint of the the wild, Celtic soul of the double denim ‘n flares era Van Morrison, a reasonable intake of the voodoo folk/blues of John Martyn and a smattering of Chet Baker’s late night jazz. For what it’s worth, to these ears they’re all that and more. If you like Elbow or the Blue Nile or Talk Talk or Joni Mitchell, you’ll love Blue Rose Code. Chances are, you know that already though.

Blue Rose Code come billed as a band when really it’s a vehicle for Ross Wilson, native of Leith, onetime of London and Bournemouth and occasionally of Manchester, to channel his fantastic songs from head to fingers and out into the world.

Pre-Blue Rose Code I was messing around in bands to little success. Blue Rose Code will always be me, but by taking on the mantle of a band name, I can play gigs with 3 musicians or 5  musicians or however many the budget allows.”

With Ross, there’s no pretence that he’s here for anything other than to disseminate his incredible songs to whoever is listening.

Blue Rose CodeOver The Fields (For John)

The titular John is John Wetton, ex of Roxy Music and King Crimson, whom Ross befriended during his time living in Bournemouth. John passed early in 2017 from cancer. His recurring end of days phrase of “Everything’ll be OK – we all go home,” struck a powerful chord with Ross and a song was born. Having recently lost my dad to cancer, well, I’m not embarrassed to say this song gets me every time.

Ross is canny enough to surround himself with the best players on the scene. His songs are just the half of it – it’s the music and the arrangements that complete them. On The Water Of Leith, the songs come wrapped in richly-embelished form. The critically-lauded launch gigs in Edinburgh and London featured a full complemement of musicians including pedal steel, a brass section and an expanded string orchestra which you can hear to great effect on To The Shore.

Blue Rose CodeTo The Shore

At his back to back Irvine shows recently in the small but perfect Harbour Arts Centre, those aforementioned budgetary constraints meant that it was a far more stripped-back but no less powerful Blue Rose Code who took the stage.  There was a tangible moment during the Friday show when the melodies tumbling freely from Ross’s acoustic guitar floated out into the ether, swirled just above the heads of the rapt audience and weaved in and out of the beautiful noise created by the electric piano on the right and the fluid, meandering electric guitar on the left and hung suspended for the briefest of moments. This was music you could practically touch, reach out and put in your pocket, the combined talents of three musicians creating something that was far greater than the sum of their parts.

When I’m asked to describe my music,” says Ross, “I usually say that people who don’t like folk music would call me folk, and people who do like folk wouldn’t.

Blue Rose CodeBluebell

The Water Of Leith skips happily between genres. Guest artists include multi-platinum country star Beth Nielsen-Chapman (that’s her on Over The Fields) and modern-day Scottish traditionalists Karine Polwart and Kathleen MacInnes. Ross semingly has no problem getting potential collaborators to work with him. Given the need to pigenohole music it might come as a surprise that he’s a massive fan of Drake. You might be even more surprised to learn that his dream collaborations would be with Kanye West and Garth Brooks – “People I wouldn’t ordinarily be expected to work with,” he explains.

In the past week or so, Ross has celebrated his own birthday, witnessed the birth of his baby daughter on the same day and been awarded Scottish Album Of The Year by tastemaker and shaker The Skinny, so who’s to say that Kanye collaboration is out of the question?

You can get your copy of The Water Of Leith in all the usual places. A very limited run of vinyl is available for sale here. I’d be quick if I were you.