Saturday, 30 March 2019

GIG REVIEW: Blue Rose Code - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Thursday 28th March 2019

The last time Ross Wilson brought his Blue Rose Code operation to the Kitchen Garden (November 2017 to be exact) a wandering mind could be excused pending the imminent birth of his first child. Fast-forward nearly eighteen months and the update of mother and child doing fine set the scene for another impassioned performance by one of Scotland’s leading singer-songwriters. The format may have changed from a band set up in 2017 to a duo one this time, but the songs, connecting qualities and sweet sound of Caledonian soul planted a guarantee of a top class evening’s entertainment. Prior to these two visits, a solo Blue Rose Code graced the bricked walls of this venue proving that whatever the format: the control, poise and creative exploits of Ross Wilson evolve into a fascinating show.

The 2017 date was part of a wider tour to promote the most recent full-length Blue Rose Code release THE WATER OF LEITH. That album is now in the archives with many other recordings, so it was of little surprise to hear plans afoot for the next record. Sparking off his excellent guitar-playing accomplice Lyle Watt, Wilson eased through a couple of riveting sets to thrill the pulses of a dedicated gathering of Blue Rose Code fans almost packing the Kitchen to its capacity.

To increase the soulful spin on the evening, the support came from Birmingham based singer-songwriter Philippa Zawe. This talented young performer used a forty-minute opening set to increasingly blossom as her heartfelt folk songs took on an extra dimension when the depth of her vocal acumen extended. This was an opening set a cut above the norm and witnessing this artist for the first time marked her out as one to watch on the local scene.

Material for the main act drew from an abundance of sources as Wilson set about interweaving stories, anecdotes and amenable chat into a batch of songs stretching across two sets. Recently recorded numbers like ‘Red Kites’ and ‘I Will Lay You Down’ mingled with older tunes such as ‘Edina’ and ‘Whitechapel’. Evocatively celebrating the musical diversity of his homeland, a moment of pure audience connection sprang out of ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ and a reworking of modern day Edinburgh anthem ‘Sunshine on Leith’ breathed new life into a blast of populism. Proudly representing the Blue Rose Code familiar was ‘Pokesdown Waltz’, while leading the less familiar was ‘Wild Atlantic Way’, the latter introduced as a track inspired by the west coast of Ireland and unravelling as a piece of Celtic union.

Through these and several other songs in a fully equipped performance, the engaging lure of Wilson’s expressive character, and a voice adding finesse to an urban grit, gripped an audience formed of Blue Rose Code devotees and some who occasionally dip into his world. Regardless of which camp you reside in, fully immersing into the work of one man, in whichever guise, possesses a unifying agent for all present.

One format that the Kitchen Garden will never see is Blue Rose Code in its most lavish form complete with full orchestra and special guests. We were informed that Blue Rose Code: This is Caledonia Soul is making an appearance south of border later in the year (Union Chapel London in September to firm things up) to export a show that went down a storm at Celtic Connections and Edinburgh Fringe. As appetising as that may be, we in Birmingham are content to some extent to get what is presented on an ever increasing regular basis as stripped down, the music of Ross Wilson is still in an accesible form to savour. A successful Kitchen Garden return re-enforced this view.