Blue Rose Code hit the Phil Music Room as Getintothis’ Paul Clark finds he’s discovered his new favourite band.
There are bands and musicians that you stumble upon and you question why you haven’t discovered them sooner. Blue Rose Code is such a band.
Edinburgh-born songwriter Ross Wilson is back among friends and playing before a packed out Music Room at the Phil. His love for the city clearly shines through with a number of heartfelt compliments throughout the set.
First up tonight is Liverpool’s Only Child; a band for whom this writer’s eye had missed the ball. We’d been fans of Alan O’Hare’s previous band, The Trestles, but since then he’s released two albums.
Alan was back in the Music Room, the place where he launched his second album The Whale Found Its Way To The Shore back in May. It’s not the full band tonight; instead John Lawton joins him on guitar to help augment the sound. The songs still pack a punch even in their stripped down form.
Dirty Work sounds great in this style with Lawton’s guitar chiming away in the background to add a haunting pulse. The lyrics to Accidental Englishman are something that many a Liverpool audience can relate to – that sense of displacement.
Wilson’s Blue Rose Code specialises in emotionally charged numbers that tell tales of a life well lived. There are painful and brutally honest lyrics throughout the set. In some quarters Blue Rose Code’s music is described as jazz and, on occasions on the records, his music does enter that territory. Live they are more in the lineage of great British folk singers.
He has recently returned to Scotland after 17 years in exile in Bournemouth. His return to Scotland has seen him go to more gigs and meet musicians who seem to be ‘too cool’ to enjoy themselves. He was apologetic about looking like he was enjoying himself. “If you don’t not enjoy playing live, then you’re better getting a job” he says with the biggest of grins.
One Day at a Time is the band’s stab at writing a country song, which they do expertly, despite the singer’s reservations that it’s any good. It is. It came from a commission by ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, for the band to perform in Nashville.
In The Morning – Parts 1, 2 & 3, is another from the new album … And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing. He describes it as one of the sweeter numbers from that collection. The lead and backing vocal harmonies work really well. It’s one of the jazzier cuts and it doesn’t lack any of the impact live as it does on record. It’s a beautiful number that has us drifting along on the rolling notes and mesmerising harmonies.
They even slip in a brand new song, Nashville Blue, which is just guitar and keyboards. It is the same lyrical poignancy that the other tunes have. “Despite all my pretty words, I don’t know how to be in love” feels autobiographical. The sparse nature of the song highlights the power of Wilson’s vocals all the more. Sandy, a song co-written with Danny Thompson is another beautiful number that’s redolent of the imagery of the setting that is written about. True Ways of Knowing is one number which he dedicates to Liverpool. “I say a lot of shit on stage, but I genuinely mean it. I love this place”.
The partisan crowd greets Edina like an old favourite and they are now hanging off every word and strum of the guitar. The title is the old name for his home city, a place with which he is fully reconciled with after many years away. Glasgow Rain is simple and stunning even without the Ewan McGregor spoken word segment that appears on the record
“I started with misery and I’m going to end with optimism”, he says before he introduces Grateful, a song Wilson wrote after a spell in rehab.
The band leaves the stage and thankfully return for a well-deserved encore. Wilson said that they didn’t want to take it for granted that the applause would die down, so they came back on quickly just in case. There was no chance of that happening.
They end of a brace of tunes, one of them is Acquainted with the Night / Silent Drums, a song that’s inspired by a Robert Frost poem, that’s a fitting end to the night.
We could have listened to this all night. Take it from us, although we have only just discovered the joys of Blue Rose Code, don’t miss out the next time that they come and play in the city.
Photos by Getintothis’ Marty Saleh