Treading a fine line between emotionally-charged and downright traumatic, Blue Rose Code brought his story to Leaf Cafe. Getintothis’ Paul Riley finds solace in a happy ending.
We love Leaf. For an intimate show with great sound and atmosphere, you can’t really go wrong. For this reason, it is a fitting home for Mellowtone, one of Liverpool’s finest and longest-standing promoters of all things of a folk & roots nature. The anticipation of another night of such aural goodness was piqued by their recently-released compilation Ten Years. As the name suggests, the album showcases selections present and past, from some of the incredible talent that has graced Mellowtone’s events. Deciding on the tracklist for this was an unenviable task, but one that will hopefully bring such incredible artists as Jeff Jepson, The Prelude and SJ Downes to new ears.
The Prelude are no more, Jeff and SJ have moved out of the city, but folk & roots still has a large pull in Liverpool, as was evidenced by an appreciative and knowledgeable audience at tonight’s show.
One of the most important elements of folk is the tradition of storytelling. A single acoustic leaves a lot of space for vocal performance, and Blue Rose Code (aka Ross Wilson) shows a depth of self-knowledge and experience that belies his youthful appearance. He has lived a life that is tragic and inspiring in turn, and has a gift for portraying this experience in such a way that makes his audience hang on every word without feeling at all over-the-top or self-pitying.
This is a difficult trick to pull off, but his music is infused with the quiet authority of one who has lived the stories he shares. A brief resume would include a difficult childhood in an Edinburgh high-rise council flat, the death of a beloved grandmother and a decent into drug and alcohol abuse. Moving to London, he failed to leave his addiction behind, and rehab followed. He has proposed marriage, lost loves and forsaken music before eventually finding a quiet happiness that began in a spell in New York, playing small shows to crowds in Brooklyn.
All the highs and lows of his life are shared onstage, and with the sincere joy of his rediscovery and emancipation from addiction, he is a mesmerising performer. Stand-out tracks included Edina, an apology to the city of his birth, as well as One Day at a Time and Step Eleven, which both look back at his drinking days and the tribulations of recovery. One song naturally led to another as the narrative built up, and through speech as well as song, he built up a rapport with the audience that would be the envy of many more recognised artists.
With such emotionally-charged subject matter, the experience of watching Blue Rose Code could have been overbearing, but his salvation is the key to his ability to entrance an audience. While in that council flat, his grandmother opened his eyes to the world of music. From Chet Baker to John Coltrane by way of Motown, he credits music for his happy ending. Without his ‘unholy trinity’ of Van Morrison, John Martyn and Tom Waits, his story could have been so different, and that knowledge and joy made his performance something very special.
The Ballads of Peckham Rye has recently been longlisted for the Scottish Album of the Year alongside artists such as Idlewild, Paolo Nutini and Belle & Sebastien. Not bad considering Blue Rose Code is unsigned with no label or PR backing. The album is streaming in full on the SAY website. We urge you to check it out.
Photographs by Getintothis’ Martin Waters