Monday, 13 November 2017

Blue Rose Code - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Sunday 12th November 2017

There are only certain artists that can get away with an opening live song as a tribute to a recently departed friend. This was certainly no warm up number for Blue Rose Code as Ross explained the circumstances to a packed Kitchen Garden audience, ensuring the faithful were with him right from the off. Further relevance for ‘Over the Fields (For John)’ opening the set was unravelled with a dedicated intent to play the new album in its recorded sequence. A brave attempt to re-enact an album that froths will all the trademark creative energy, which has defined the evolution of Blue Rose Code as a fluid outfit.

This was Ross Wilson’s second visit to the Kitchen Garden in just over twelve months. Last October he played a solo gig and gave a special performance extracting all the traits that make him such an innovative singer-songwriter. This time, in true Blue Rose Code pot pourri, the format was extended to a trio, though still a far distance from the double figure ensembles that present the operation in full flow. Fair enough, venue constraints play a big part, alongside other factors, but whatever the configuration there is no mistaking the outstanding attributes of an artist, now re-established as a Scot in exile.

In harness with guitar player Lyle Watt and Andy Lucas on piano, Ross set about delivering the bulk of THE WATER OF LEITH in the first part of the gig before reverting to some old favourites in the latter stages of the show. The highlight of this portion of the evening was the exceptional album closer ‘Child’, originally designed as a message to a younger Ross, but taking on a new focus in light of his impending fatherhood. This state perhaps had him more on edge than usual, but in a positive way. Without the lavish stringed arrangements, extended brass, ten-minute jazz instrumentals and the multi-lingual vocals of Kathleen MacInnes and Julie Fowlis, it was always a tough task to capture the true essence of a record. Yet the stripped down arrangements and accomplished musicianship of his trio partners gave an intriguing slanted view that spun the record on a different axis without losing any of its craft.

Highlights in the second segment of the show were the up tempo numbers ‘One Day at a Time’ and ‘Chasing Sunlight’, which brought a degree of animation to a crowd, who were probably quite content to just sit back and soak up the music on offer. Alongside the two earlier mentioned songs which bookend the new album, the other pick of the evening was another splendid airing of ‘Edina’. The local references to his Edinburgh upbringing have since taken on a new twist with Ross curtailing his long awaited return to settling in his homeland and reverting back to being ‘a Scot’ south of the border. For an artist who repeatedly is likened to John Martyn, we were left the closing gift of Ross covering the great man’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Know About Evil’. A suitable end to an evening bristling with homegrown artistry.

Reverting to a post gig play of THE WATER OF LEITH does draw a thick line between the recorded status and how it was presented this evening, but merits co-exist. This concisely defines Blue Rose Code, a loose amalgamation of sounds, formats and creative whims. Where Ross Wilson meanders to in the future is anybody’s guess. One final certainty is that it will be filled with boundless quality and continue to cement his role as one of the country’s leading all-round singer-songwriter, and wider musical talents. 

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