“I’m going to start with my most miserable song.” Thus opened the 10th Glasgow Americana Festival, the words spoken by Ross Wilson of Blue Rose Code as he opened his set with a solo rendition of the achingly beautiful “Pokesdown Waltz”. Well, Americana (and Country) fans do love their misery so no complaints there then especially when it’s a curtain raiser for Wilson’s latest sold out show in Mother Glasgow, the dear green place having clasped this Leith born troubadour to its bosom. And while there’s a pedal steel on stage this is no country song jamboree, no tears in your beers, more reflections in a rain swept loch. Wilson and his current line up deliver his increasingly Celtic ruminations with wild flurries of notes which capture the grandeur of the Highlands along with the more introspective moments one has come to expect from a writer who has used his songs as a confessional on more than one occasion.
Tonight the band was a five piece, Wilson joined by Wild Lyle Watt, guitar, Eliza Wren Payne, vocals, Iain Sloan, pedal steel, Nico Bruce, bass and John Lowrie, keyboards. Throughout the show Wilson reassembled them in various configurations, a trio to a quintet as the members came and went. One of the delights in seeing Blue Rose Code is this prospect of a moveable feast, familiar treats served up in various guises, a trait that spills on to the records with Wilson often offering remixes of well kent songs, ever restless, ever searching. This was apparent from the start with “Pokesdown Waltz”, a song often performed on keyboards but which tonight featured Wilson and guitar turning the song into a bittersweet acoustic ballad reminiscent of early John Martyn. Following this the band came on for the sweeping lilt of “Brave Cedars and & Pied Wagtails” before dipping into the Celtic soul of “My Heart, The Sun”, both from the latest album …And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing. “Chasing Sunlight”, the new single, was a bright, almost bossa nova jaunt with Wyatt offered an opportunity to dazzle with a flurry of notes wrung from his guitar before they launched into the mini suite of “In The Morning” which ebbed and flowed wonderfully, Wren’s vocals a balletic waltz with Wilson’s warm voice as the trilogy drew to its conclusion.
Wilson, an ex pat until recently returning to Scotland, took some time to talk of his ongoing immersion into Scots music before welcoming Ross Ainslie (of Treacherous Orchestra) on stage for a rendition of “Sandaig” then paid tribute to singer Davey Steele on a stirring “Scotland Yet” with another guest, Kathleen McInnes singing wonderfully. Post Brexit, post referendum, post all the crap that’s been going on this was an affirmative declaration that there is hope somewhere. In a similar fashion Wilson bridged the gap between the twin towers of Edinburgh and Glasgow with his supremely affecting version of “Edina” and the corresponding “Glasgow Rain”, the latter moody and reflective, the sentiment familiar to anyone who has trudged rain-slicked streets in the dead of night. The set ended with “Grateful”, the song Wilson recorded with the McCrary Sisters but again given an overhaul here with a Southern Soul snap worthy of Tony Joe White.
There was a support act in the form of Roseanne Reid. Another artist with a link to Leith she was nominated in the Radio Two Young Folk Awards last year. Reid delivered a set of surprisingly mature songs given her apparent youth. Supping from the same well as Mary Gauthier and Gillian Welch Reid’s voice was wizened and withered as she sang a Justin Townes Earle cover along with several songs from her new EP. Her last song, “And I Loved Her So”, with a sly western lope in its delivery, just outstanding.
We must mention a break in the proceedings tonight as Blue Rose Code halted midstream to bring Fallen Angels Club promoter Kevin Morris to the stage delivering a birthday cake to him to celebrate 10 years of Glasgow Americana. Party hats and streamers galore for a well deserved salute.