I begin this post with one eyebrow arched in the direction of the tagline at the top of the page: ‘Outdated Music for Outdated People’ it reads, a tagline carrying more than a knowing inference that if you’re of a certain age you’ll like the subject matter herein.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 Their component parts are everything an (outdated) person such as you or I might look for in ‘new’ music; every mention of the band will point out a hint of the the wild, Celtic soul of the double denim ‘n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 Code – Over 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 Code – To 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 Code – Bluebell
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.