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Sunshine From Leith

Ross Wilson has had a colourful life, growing up in difficult surroundings on a Leith housing estate, opting out of school from a very early age – “abandoning my education, I’m embarrassed to say,” – and finding himself in situations that none of us would wish to be in. Despite (or because of) this, he’s quiet, unassuming and completely humble.

His song ‘Grateful’ that opens Blue Rose Code’s 2016 album ‘And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing’ distils perfectly his life so far.

When I wake in the morning now, I try to be thankful,” he sings, in an effortless East Coast croon. “Did you know that I almost died? I’ll never be cool….I’ll never be good looking….I’ll never be rich, but Lord I am grateful.” It’s a simple song; short, direct and enhanced at the very end by a terrific gospel-tinged choir that competes with the Staple Singers for uplifting joyfulness.

Ross’s audience is grateful too. I watched him perform live over two extraordinary evenings in Irvine’s Harbour Arts Centre last weekend. A super-intimate venue that holds just 100 folk, the HAC is possibly our country’s greatest hidden secret. Audiences and performers alike have really taken to its ‘gig-in-your-living-room’ feel. The front row is a decent arm’s stretch from the headliners’ fretboards, the back row closer to the action than the front of all other ‘intimate’ venues and the performers there really respond to the cosiness of it all.

Blue Rose Code is Ross Wilson. Depending on the gig, he can have 3, 4, 5 or indeed, as when he’s fronting his amazing Caledonian Soul project, dozens of musicians on stage with him. He’s been in the HAC before as a 3 piece. On Friday and Saturday his band appeared as a duo, the sum of the parts a fraction of the greatness on display. Playing two different sets, Ross took us by the collective hand and led us through the whole gamut of human emotions. Accompanied by the fabulous Andy Lucas on keys, the duo whipped up a quiet storm of intensity.

Wilson doesn’t so much play his guitar as attack it; pinged harmonics zing across the room while back of the hand percussive beats provide rudimentary four to the floor rhythm. Listening to him play, it’s as if a tap has been turned on, a slow drip at first before gushing and overflowing, unable to be held back. Melodies cascade and tumble from his fingers, complicated arpeggios formed from open-tuned guitars and a handspan as wide as the Clyde. Jazz chords give way to ancient folk melodies that in turn part their way for minor key melancholy. It’s rhythmic, tuneful and breathtaking.

When he sings, it goes up a whole other level. Anyone can sing, but no-one can sing like Ross Wilson. It’s all in the phrasing, y’see. He stretches words beyond all recognition, he st-st-st-stops suddenly, breaking into spontaneous scatting, he barks, yelps and laughs off-mike and he takes these brilliant long run ups from the back stage to the microphone, using the dynamics of an amped-up voice like no-one I’ve ever seen. Any singers in the room over the weekend must’ve gone home with a few pointers on how to get the best from their voice in the live setting.

Behind him, strapped in for the ride of his life, Andy Lucas riffs behind the guitar on his keys; piano one minute, Fender Rhodes the next, forever on a mission to incorporate a lost blue note or a major 7th flourish. It’s a beautiful sound, incredibly nuanced yet totally spontaneous. On Friday the duo sound-checked with recent new track Red Kites. By the time it appeared in the show, it was twice as long, Andy had added a second vocal and Ross was off on some freeform guitar odyssey. For the entire weekend, Lucas never takes his eyes from Wilson’s fretboard. He knows when to cut in, when to take over and when to play softer, allowing the spotlight to shine on Wilson’s unique talent. It’s incredible stuff.

Blue Rose CodeBluebell

The music on offer is superb. Recorded, it’s quite the thing, the perfect soundtrack for a Saturday night in or a Sunday morning sudoku. In the live setting though, the songs soar, a scorching cross-pollination of Chet Baker’s stoned jazz, the voodoo folk-blues of John Martyn and the meandering twilight ambience of the Blue Nile. You really should investigate if these reference points are your kinda thing. It’s led to Ross being offered tours of Canada, the west coast of America and Australia. With 4 studio albums to his name alongside a handful of live albums and non-album EP releases, Ross Wilson has quietly built a mightily impressive back catalogue. A cottage industry with no financial help from anyone other than his supporters, it deserves a wider audience and greater recognition. He’s easily one of Scotland’s greatest talents, a real hidden gem of a songwriter and a peerless performer.

All photographs courtesy of Chris Colvin


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.

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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.